Yahoo Music Service Officially Launches

Yahoo! Music Unlimited, the company's subscription music service, has left beta and Yahoo is preparing a massive marketing blitz to promote its new offering. Powered by the Yahoo! Music Engine, the service brings to the table over 1 million songs at 192kbps with a cost 60 percent less than rivals Napster and Real.

Despite claims that Yahoo's low beta pricing wouldn't last, the company has kept the subscription service priced at just $4.99 USD per month when paid annually or $6.99 USD monthly. Customers can stream or download an unlimited number of songs to their computer, as well as transfer tracks to portable devices.

As with any such service, the songs will become unplayable if the subscription lapses. However, Yahoo also offers a la carte downloads for just 79-cents. Those who wish to forego the monthly subscription fee can also download individual songs for 99-cents - the same pricing as Apple's iTunes Music Store.

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Downloads can be played on a total of five PCs or transferred to compatible portable devices. Because tracks are in Microsoft's WMA format, however, they are not compatible with Apple's popular iPod.

To coincide with the official launch, Yahoo! Music Unlimited has received a facelift and now sports a more refined interface. The Yahoo! Music Engine, which also serves as a full media player replacement, has been tweaked as well since its beta debut in May.

Speed and performance of the software was a major area of enhancement in the final release, developers say. Plug-ins, which can add support for Shoutcast or other features, still play a central role as well.

Community features are not limited to plug-ins, however. Yahoo! Music Unlimited attempts to differentiate itself from iTunes and other services by focusing on personalization. Users can setup profiles of their musical likes and dislikes, which are used by Yahoo to create custom home page of recommended artists and songs.

Yahoo is readying a major advertising campaign called "This is Huge" to kick off the general release. Commercials will be shown during the MTV Video Music Awards on August 28 with the tagline: "Over A Million Songs - 5 Bucks a Month - This is Huge." Ad placements are also planned through the end of the year.

Company officials say they want to establish Yahoo! Music Unlimited as "the standard" service for digital music fans by hyping its low price. Yahoo will utilize its extensive online presence to push the music service using banner ads and tie-ins to Yahoo! Messenger.

Future iterations of the software promise to bring faster device transfers and improved syncing, along with better playlist generation and celebrity playlists - a feature offered in Tunes. Yahoo's music catalog, which is powered by MusicNet, will also be enhanced with more charts, exclusive content and classical music.

Yahoo! Music Engine runs on Windows XP and Windows 2000. Yahoo! Music Unlimited is initially available only in the United States, but international support is expected to follow.

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