JT takes sides in music war

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The Super Bowl will give Amazon.com a leg up in the digital music race it’s running against Apple Inc’s iTunes Store.


And not just any leg: Justin Timberlake’s leg.


The boy band heartthrob turned Grammy-winning R&B singer will appear in a spot for Pepsi during the televised event on February 3, kicking off a year-long $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) giveaway of MP3s, CDs, videos, consumer electronics and other items on Amazon.


Back in 2004, PepsiCo Inc and Apple forged a similar partnership, which started with an iTunes Super Bowl commercial promoting legal music downloads, to the tune of Green Day’s version of I Fought the Law. The companies gave away 100 million free iTunes downloads that, with rising iPod sales, helped push Apple to the forefront of the digital music industry.


Working with Amazon this year is a big deal for Pepsi, which said it will spend more on its “Pepsi Stuff” campaign than on any past marketing effort. For Amazon.com, the arrangement could mean even more. In September last year, Amazon launched a digital music store and committed to sell only MP3-format tunes, which can be copied to multiple computers.


But as a rise in sales of digital tracks last year failed to offset the overall decline in album sales, the big labels have rapidly begun retooling their digital strategies. When Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG signed on to sell DRM-free songs, they chose to do so on Amazon and not iTunes, where more than 70 per cent of digital music is sold.


“The record labels are quite annoyed with Apple for the situation – CD sales are declining, and digital sales are not making up for it,” said Philip Leigh, a senior analyst with the research group Inside Digital Media.


Leigh said the record companies want more flexibility in the way digital music prices are set. Amazon allows some flexibility, but Apple’s 99-cents-a-song pricing still dominates the market.


While the companies would not disclose financial terms of the deal, teaming up with Pepsi has the potential to transform Amazon into a major player.


Leigh said music lovers who may not think about copy protection today will quickly embrace DRM-free music as they buy new computers and devices and face the hassle of moving libraries full of DRM-protected songs. “The mass market consumer doesn’t want these complications,” he said.


Danny Socolof, president of Mega Inc, the Las Vegas marketing firm behind “Pepsi Stuff”, said Amazon’s decision to sell MP3s meshed nicely with one of Pepsi’s brand values: choice.

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