Universal Music Enterprises, the catalog and special-products division of Universal Music Group, this week is launching a label venture that exclusively distributes its product through digital distrib

Universal Music Enterprises, the catalog and special-products division of Universal Music Group, this week is launching a label venture that exclusively distributes its product through digital distribution channels.

The label, called UMe Digital, will service individual songs, EPs and full-length albums to leading download and streaming services, including iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster. Content will also be available to the digital arms of retailers such as Virgin, FYE and Tower.

Physical CDs will not be distributed by the label either on- or offline.

UMe says the new venture recognizes the growing opportunity in the digital-distribution market, which is expected to top sales of 100 million downloads in 2004.

"It's hard to imagine that every label will not have a similar download-only imprint at some point soon," says UMe president Bruce Resnikoff.

The move looks to be the start of greater exploration of digital-only distribution opportunities by the major labels. Warner Music Group is reportedly developing a similar venture.

More than a half-dozen releases from UMe are set to bow tomorrow (Nov. 23), including works by Parthenon Huxley of post-Jeff Lynne-era ELO; Rusty Anderson, session musician for Paul McCartney and Ricky Martin; Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and R.E.M.; Elton John guitarist John Jorgenson; Black 'N Blue, featuring KISS touring guitarist Tommy Thayer; and Shania Twain/Amy Grant guitarist Will Owsley. Also in the mix are emerging acts the Shazam and Dan Reed.

Resnikoff says the label's A&R efforts will focus on acts that have an established name and/or built-in fan base but don't fit into the limited shelf-space environment at physical retail. Initially, UMe Digital is signing only acts with completed albums.

Resnikoff says UMe Digital acts will be promoted via targeted press publicity, inclusion in broad genre-oriented print advertising campaigns and music placement in television shows, films and commercials.

Videos, where applicable, will be serviced to online streaming services like Launch, AOL and MTV.com.

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