CBS makes Last.fm first in music

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NEW YORK - CBS Corp. unveiled its future vision for social music network Last.fm Wednesday, positioning it as the biggest free, ad-supported online music service that allows for full-length, on-demand song and album streams.

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves is betting the move will make the digital music service another solid ad contributor in his company's portfolio.

"It is clear to us that communities built around great content are increasingly driving traffic and revenue online," he said. And CBS promised that Last.fm would provide advertisers with "many unique opportunities to reach a highly targeted and engaged audience."

Quincy Smith, president for interactive at CBS Corp., wouldn't specify the expected financial windfall that the new format of Last.fm could bring for CBS, but implied that the site's makeover would not have occurred if it was not expected to be quite substantial.

Under deals with music biggies Universal Music Group, Sony/BMG, Warner Music Group and EMI Group, as well as various independent lables, Last.fm is now offering full-length tracks and albums for a total of more than 3.5 million songs.

At a launch event here Wednesday, CBS Corp. and Last.fm executives touted this as the largest licensed music catalogue for on-demand use in the business.

"Adding such a tremendous collection of content to Last.fm will help it grow by leaps and bounds," Moonves predicted.

Users are limited to listening to each ad-supported track a maximum of three times before they are prompted to purchase it from one of the site's e-tail partners -- iTunes, Amazon.com and 7 Digital. Martin Stiksel, one of the site's co-founders, said Last.fm plans to expand the number of partners in the near future.

But the company also plans to change the economics of online music for artists.

Last.fm now offers the individual user artist recommendations, concert information and music videos based solely upon which recordings the user chooses to listen to.

A key new feature that is now available is the "Artist Royalty" arrangement, giving new and rising recording artists that have not signed with a label the advantage of uploading their own music and gain revenue directly from Last.fm each time a user listens to one of their tracks.

"We're building a platform to help redesign the music economy, enabling artists and labels to earn revenue according to how people listen, rather than how they buy," said Last.fm co-founder Felix Miller.

The new version of the site went live Wednesday morning in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. The service is expected to become available worldwide in the coming months.

CBS acquired Last.fm in May of 2007 for $280 million from co-founders Stiksel, Miller and Richard Jones, all of whom have remained on board.
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