The French government has unveiled its promised music card initiative, which offers discounted streaming service access and cheap downloads to consumers aged 12-25.

The "Carte Musique" was officially unveiled yesterday (Oct. 28) at a press conference held in Paris hosted by France's culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand.

Available only to music consumers resident in France and within the specified age bracket, the card is available to purchase for €5 ($6.9), €10 ($13.9) or €25 ($34.8) and can be used to spend double those amounts at a variety of online music stores.

iTunes, Amazon, Orange and VirginMega are among the 14 download stores participating in the initiative, which has the backing of all four majors and European indie labels. Classical music oriented platform Qobuz and subscription based services Deezer and MusicMe have also signed up to the promotion, which is designed to combat illegal file-sharing and encourage music purchases among France's youth.

Nokia, Spotify and French mobile carrier SFR have not as yet signed up, although Mitterrand said he expected them to soon join the initiative, which will be backed by a viral video marketing campaign in partnership with French bank Credit Mutuel.

The French government will invest €25m ($34.8 million) a year into subsidizing the scheme, which was one of the recommendations contained in a 2009 "Creation & Internet" report overseen by Patrick Zelnik, CEO of French independent label Naïve. That report proposed a variety of measures and initiatives to grow legal digital services in France (Billboard.biz, Jan.24).

Government subsidy will be capped at €5 million ($6.9 million) per download site to prevent any one platform gaining a monopoly on the discounted sales, said Mitterrand, who cited the funding cap as a key factor in delivering "a diverse offer, which is crucial to the success of legal [music]."

Mitterrand said he expects the music card promotion to result in a sales and profile boost for smaller download platforms included within the scheme, which is due to run for two years. Initially, 1 million music cards will be on sale per annum.

"If young people buy on music platforms, then we've won the game", Mitterrand went on to say, although he conceded that it would be impossible to ensure that only customers aged between 12 and 25 use the music cards.

Denis Ladegaillerie, CEO of French digital distributor Believe and president of French trade body SNEP is a fan of the music card promotion.

"This is the right timing," Ladegaillerie says, linking the music scheme to the recent implementation of France's controversial three-strikes legislation. As previously reported, French body HADOPI began sending its first warning messages to online infringers via ISPs earlier this month.

"We have a high quality legal offer, now accessible for a low price with the music card, and HADOPI [to drive users to these services]," says Ladegaillerie .

French songwriters' and publishers' collecting society Sacem has also welcomed the music card launch, which it expects to "contribute significantly to the development of the digital market."

In a statement, Bernard Miyet, chairman of SACEM's management board, said: "SACEM hopes that this first measure stemming from the "Creation & Internet" report will constitute a decisive step towards developing legal on-line music services, and will counter the mass, unauthorised exchanges that for years have caused a considerable loss of earnings for music creators and editors."

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