June 22, 2008 11:32 pm

Beatles seek to join video game revolution

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Beatles representatives are in talks with two companies to create a Beatles-themed video game in a move that could pave the way for a broader licensing of the Fab Four’s catalogue.

The representatives have held discussions with both Activision and MTV Games, the respective makers of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, in which players strum along to favourite songs or form virtual bands.

A final deal would be worth several million dollars, according to a person familiar with the talks, and could be reached in a matter of weeks. However, it would have first to win the blessing of both Apple Corps, the company established by the band to oversee its business interests, and EMI, the UK music group that owns the Beatles master recordings. Both declined to comment.

The surviving Beatles and their heirs have been cautious about exploiting their material on new platforms. They were slow to re-issue their albums on compact disc.

In spite of repeated discussions, EMI and Apple Corps have yet to license Beatles recordings for digital use, including for sale through Apple’s iTunes music store.

Apple Corps has become more active in recent months since Jeff Jones took over as chief executive.

The company, whose board includes Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono Lennon, has allowed Beatles compositions to be used on American Idol and in a Las Vegas show.

Martin Bandier, chief executive of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which controls more than 200 Beatles copyrights, said the exposure on American Idol had yielded a number of inquiries, including from mobile phone carriers.

“To my view, it’s only a matter of time before we see Beatles songs that are the original recordings in motion pictures, in television work, and yes, maybe even one day in a commercial,” said Mr Bandier, arguing that sensitivities about commercialism should be balanced against the merits of exposing the band to a younger generation.

The Beatles could help sway a battle between Activision and Electronic Arts, the biggest US video game publishers. Activision has generated more than $1bn so far from Guitar Hero as sales approach 20m units.

EA, in partnership with MTV, introduced Rock Band in November. Thanks to added functionality, the game has sold more than 3m copies.

An Activision spokesman declined to comment on whether it was competing for Beatles rights. MTV said: “We are talking to virtually every major rock artist all the time about ways we might get them involved in Rock Band.”

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