Sony in cloud-based streaming push

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Sony is set to steal a march on rivals Spotify and Apple by launching a cloud-based music streaming service in the highly lucrative US market.

Sir Howard Stringer, Sony chief executive, is expected to announce at the Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas details of Sony’s Music Unlimited launch in the US.

The launch comes as rivals are racing to bring out their own music streaming services in the US, which remains the world’s biggest market for recorded music with sales worth $4.6bn in 2009.

“The US is just so vast as a music-buying country that you can see why it is hugely desirable for new music services to crack the market there,” said Charles Bradbrook, media partner at Deloitte.

The market for music streaming, which allows consumers to house their music on remote servers for use on a range of internet -connected devices, remains relatively small at the moment. However, companies are betting that, as more consumer electronics devices become connected to the internet, demand for such services will grow.

Attempts by Spotify and others to launch in the US have thus far been delayed by the complexity of negotiating licensing terms with record companies and music publishers.

Spotify, which has more than 10m users across Europe, had originally pledged to bring its “unlimited” music service to the US in 2009, then publicly set a deadline for the end of 2010. However as yet, the European start-up remains in discussions with the four major music labels – EMI, Warner Music, Sony and Universal – over the terms of the launch.

Apple bought Lala.com, a US music streaming site, in December 2009 for an undisclosed sum. Google has signalled that it wants to launch its own cloud-based music services.

Sony has tried to challenge Apple’s hold on the music sales market before but was forced to abandon its Connect music download store in 2008 amid a poor take-up for the service.

Sony launched its Music Unlimited service, which it developed with UK-based Omnifone, in the UK and Ireland last month. The service offers access to 6m songs through Sony’s PlayStation 3 games consoles, internet-enabled televisions, Blu-ray players as well on the Vaio and other personal computers. Users can also listen to streamed versions of songs from their existing music libraries, including iTunes.

In the UK and Ireland, Sony is charging £3.99 ($6.22) a month for a basic service and £9.99 a month to be able to download tracks on demand.

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