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MTV-RealNetworks-Verizon Music Service: The New Cream?

Long on superlatives and short on specifics, today's announcement that power trio MTV, RealNetworks, and Verizon Wireless are joining forces to take on Apple in digital music had a certain hastily assembled quality, as if the three companies had hooked up last night in a crowded bar. Anyone who uses iTunes, a Mac, and an iPod for their digital music library knows that the most powerful advantage of the Apple
Long on superlatives and short on specifics, today's announcement that power trio MTV, RealNetworks, and Verizon Wireless are joining forces to take on Apple in digital music had a certain hastily assembled quality, as if the three companies had hooked up last night in a crowded bar. Anyone who uses iTunes, a Mac, and an iPod for their digital music library knows that the most powerful advantage of the Apple system is its seamlessness.The new version of Rhapsody, as the Real-MTV-Verizon offering will be called (whenever it launches - officials on today's conference call didn't say), doesn't exactly sound seamless. Rhapsody will be "the music service of choice" across MTV Networks' MTV, VH1, and CMT, while Verizon will be the exclusive partner for mobile downloads. (iTunes' one weakness is no mobile downloads, a glaring lack that observers expect Steve Jobs to fill by end of year.)

Rhapsody customers will be able to access programming from MTV, VH1 and CMT, and Verizon Wireless subscribers will be able to download music to their V CAST-enabled phones as well as transfer digital music to their phones from their PC. At some point Verizon will allow copies of songs purchased over the air to be sent directly to a customer's Rhapsody account, and vice versa. The challenges of making all that work together are non-trivial, as the wonks like to say.

The JV Rhapsody America will be headed by Michael Bloom, who oversaw the unsuccessful Urge, MTV's attempt to build a digital-music service with Microsoft. The company will not even be headquartered in one place, with offices in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Hey, why not Reykjavik?

The principal owner of the joint venture will be RealNetworks, which has seen its sun sink slowly in the West as the music-download business has taken off. Real's share price has lost 51% of its value since the beginning of this year.

"By bringing together the cultural and musical heritage of the MTV Networks family with the functionality of Rhapsody and the reach of V CAST Music, it's like we've put the best lead singer, drummer and guitarist all on the same giant stage," crowed Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks' music group.

He's forgetting what happens with such supergroups: they tend to be bombastic, riven with ego clashes, and short-lived.