3 major record companies in joint venture with MySpace to launch new online services

LOS ANGELES – News Corp.’s MySpace said Thursday it will launch an online music venture designed to turn the social networking site’s trove of musician profile pages into portals for selling everything from concert tickets and band merchandise to the music itself.

Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group Corp. are participating in the new venture, dubbed MySpace Music, which will roll out gradually in coming months.

Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed, but each of the music companies will receive an unspecified equity stake in the new company, said Chris DeWolfe, MySpace co-founder and chief executive.

The fourth-largest music company, EMI Group PLC, is not part of the deal.

DeWolfe said MySpace is in licensing talks with “everyone” but declined to say where discussions stand with EMI, home to artists such as Coldplay and Norah Jones.

MySpace Music will enable artists to sell music downloads, concert tickets, merchandise such as T-shirts through their profile pages and ringtones through News Corp.’s Jamba mobile service unit, MySpace said. “We believe that the Web is becoming increasingly more social,” DeWolfe said during a conference call. “MySpace Music is a new way of experiencing music online that everyone can participate in.”

Fans also will be able stream audio and video for free through the profile pages.

DeWolfe said some tracks will be sold without copy-protection safeguards but noted that the major labels had committed only to experimenting with offering content in an unrestricted format.

The company declined to discuss pricing or other revenue details.

MySpace has more than 5 million profile pages showcasing major label artists, independents and unsigned acts. All those artists would eventually be able to take advantage of MySpace Music’s offerings, the company said.

MySpace Music will operate as a separate company, with a president who reports to DeWolfe and to a board of directors that will include representatives from the recording companies.

MySpace had been discussing the venture with music companies for several months, and MySpace and Universal Music apparently overcame a major hurdle in the process – a copyright infringement lawsuit Universal brought against MySpace in 2006.

Representatives for both companies declined to comment Thursday when asked whether a settlement had been reached.

Sony BMG is a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG.

Shares of Warner Music rose 2 cents to close at $5.81. News Corp. shares rose 17 cents to $20.17.