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New music services wow cellphone users

CANNES, Jan 26 – After Apple’s hit iPhone revolutionized the mobile music scene, a slew of new services are being rolled out around the world by major cellphone makers who believe there are huge possibilities on the horizon.

Mobile phone giants Nokia, Blackberry and Sony Ericsson all turned out in force at this year’s MIDEM, the music industry’s biggest annual event, to promote their latest offers in hopes of cutting a slice from Apple’s dominant share of the music market.

Nokia’s user-friendly "Comes With Music" (CWM) service, which the world’s premier handset giant launched in Britain in October 2008, was one of the first out of the starting blocks.

With unlimited use and downloads of the service’s four million tracks, it sets the bar high.

"2009 will be a very, very big investment for us in music," Nokia senior executive Tero Ojanpera told a MIDEM conference this week, saying the group planned to launch the new service in Singapore and Australia in first quarter 2009, then in Europe.

Sony Ericsson was quick to follow with three key new improvements to its latest mobile music offer, PlayNow, which the group claims can help fight the massive problem of illegal downloads.

Blackberry, whose recently launched its Blackberry Storm is proving a hit with users, is also determined not to be left behind. The US smartphone leader is adding a host of new applications, including music and links to social online communities attractive to younger users.

With one billion handsets sold every year, industry leaders at MIDEM highlighted the crucial role that music downloads play.

"You only have to look at Japan, where 90 percent of all digital music sold is downloaded on to phones to see what a mobile download market can be," said former chairman and CEO of the EMI Group, Eric Nicoli.

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But aside from Asia, mobile phones have failed to deliver the promised riches that both the telecom and music industries hoped for a few years ago.

"The mobile market has not broken through as everyone expected," Elizabeth Schimel of Nokia told a workshop organized by the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) here.

MEF values the global entertainment market at around 25 billion dollars in 2008 and estimates half of all digital music sold goes via mobile phones.

Up until now, the high cost of music-enabled phones has been an obstacle but now Nokia hopes its new models are priced to match the pockets of the key 18-35 market.

In Britain, for example, customers can choose between a 40-pound (58 dollars, 42 euros) monthly subscription to its new music service, or buy a Nokia phone that comes with a free 12-or 18-month music subscription included in the price, depending on the telecom operator.

While early consumer feedback in Britain to the new Nokia service has been upbeat, "it’s also a good learning curve for Nokia," Nokia’s Dave Williams told AFP.

Sony Ericsson, which launched its Walkman phone a few years ago, brought its "Play Now Plus" unlimited subscription service to Sweden before Christmas.

This new service, along with the group’s new "a la carte" "Play Now Arena" music download service, will also be gradually rolled out across other markets around the world, Sony Ericsson’s Victor Fredell told AFP.

Sony Ericsson includes a track recognition feature that means users can identify a song and download information about it.

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