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Apple Launches DRM-Free Music and Offers YouTube Content on Apple TV

30 May, 2007 By: Billy G., Erik G.

Apple Inc. is making it easier for consumers to get digital entertainment.

Apple beginning in mid-June plans to offer user-generated video streams from YouTube on Apple TV, the $299 set-top box system that allows users to watch Internet-based content on their television.

YouTube members also can log onto their accounts on Apple TV. The full catalog of YouTube videos will be available in the fall.

Apple May 31 bowed an upgraded Apple TV unit with four times the capacity (160GB) than the original model for $399.

Meanwhile, last week Apple answered the pleas of iTunes Music Store users by offering songs free of digital rights management (DRM) copy protection technology, and at improved sound quality, for $1.29 apiece at its newly launched iTunes Plus store.

The DRM-free tracks — without Apple's FairPlay DRM technology, which limits songs and movies bought at iTunes to use on Apple iPods, the upcoming iPhone and approved computers — will play on other portable music devices as well, such as Microsoft's Zune.

“Our customers are very excited about the freedom and amazing sound quality of iTunes Plus,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “We expect more than half of the songs on iTunes will be offered in iTunes Plus versions by the end of this year.”

The DRM-free tracks are encoded at 256 KB per second, as opposed to Apple's 99-cent, DRM-laden 128 kbps tracks, making the DRM-free versions closer to the sound quality of the original recordings. EMI Group PLC has signed on to offer the initial set of songs from its roster of artists such as Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Pink Floyd, Joss Stone and John Coltrane, as well as more than a dozen of Paul McCartney's classic albums available on iTunes for the first time.

“This is a tremendous milestone for digital music,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group. “Consumers are going to love listening to higher quality iTunes Plus tracks from their favorite EMI artists with no usage restrictions.”

Users can upgrade to the new versions, when available, for 30 cents a track. Apple will continue to encode its iTunes Plus songs and its original library of 99-cent in AAC format, as opposed to MP3.

Apple's iTunes library has more than 5 million songs, 350 TV shows and more than 500 movies, and has sold more than 2.5 billion songs, 50 million TV shows and more than 2 million movies, according to the company.

Alan McGlade, CEO of MusicNet, a digital music provider to such outlets as Yahoo, MTV, Virgin Digital and Microsoft, said it would be up to consumers to determine if the 30 cents extra for DRM-free tracks is worth it when compared to other offerings, such as subscriptions.

“Apple's DRM-free store will not move the bar significantly because DRM-free represents a limited market share of the music available today and a 30% premium over the traditional 99-cent download — it's not cheap,” McGlade said.

Separately, Apple has launched iTunes U, an area of the iTunes Music Store devoted to free educational content such as language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights and campus tours from top U.S. colleges and universities, including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University and MIT.

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