Is ITunes About to Face Its Biggest Competition to Date in Redmond’s Bigest Ever Sense of MTV URGE?

Change is in the air – or rather the digital spectrum – in the downloadable music space once more. After all that has already occurred – we first had the free-access downloads era of the Napster age that the RIAA hated a lot, then after that came the arrival of Apple Computer’s iTunes (and its companion produc, the iPod) and a dozen other pay-per-track services and competing MP3 players that commercialized downloadable music (and which the music labels like a whole lot better than the previous approach) – iTunes remains the market leader with over a billion downloads to date, while the services and media device manufacturers that use Microsoft technology for the bulk of their music products are either operating while standing knee deep in red ink or have shuttered their digital music properties entirely, with innovaters like Rio among the casualties – but you can still feel the change coming regardless.

And this time, it may be in Apple’s best interest to pay attention if it wants to remain on top – or risk potential loss of its long-standing lead in the digital music space. And for once, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and their henchmen might be about to make it harder for Steve Jobs to keep up. And that’s because this time, the Vole has MTV on its side. Yes, that MTV – the same one that launched a whole new delivery format for music with the song ‘Video Killed the Radio Star.’ Seriously.

And they have an urge to do it. Or rather, a music service tentatively named MTV Urge. From what it shapes up to be, Urge will be a music service that combines MTV Networks’ expertise in music marketing and entertainment services – from its Music Television core network to CMT and VH1 where the service is expected to be heavily marketed – with Microsoft’s Windows Media technologies that are already available through other digital media products that are a part of Microsoft’s Plays for Sure initiative, including portable players from such companies as Creative Technologies (yes, the Sound Blaster guys are indeed honorary Softies in the digiital music space) and also iRiver, Toshiba and Samsung.

So what does this mean? Well, if you’re in Microsoft’s camp (like I am) you have a lot of choice but not a lot of recognition – but if you’re stuck with an iPod, you’re outta luck – it’s basically a one-trick pony that forces you over to iTunes to get your download fix. Which means the potential is there for MTV to change Microsoft’s digital music luck – all it has to do now is make it happen. And when the dust clears this time, Apple could very well have lost its lead. Microsoft has the partners and technology while MTV has the marketing ability, so all the two companies have to do is deliver the goods – and maybe land a punch right smack in the jaw of one stunned Steve Jobs.

Then we’ll see who has the last laugh. But trust me on this – with MTV on the Vole’s side, we haven’t heard the last of that Bill Gates vision where a closely-held, non-licensed, proprietary music format can not, will not, and does not last very long in the marketplace. And the richest person in the world just may have been right this time. But it just might take that deal with MTV to do the job. Apple’s days on the digital music services throne may finally be over.

For now, we’ll just sit back, listen to the concert performance and watch the show unfold.

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