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EMI Launches Free Music Streaming in China

Music piracy is a big business in China, by some estimates accounting for 9 outof 10 tracks sold in the enormously populous nation. Now music label EMI has apparently decided that trying to sue the pirates out of existence isn’t a viable long-term strategy, so it’s trying something new: a partnership with China’s leading search engine, Baidu, to offer free ad-supported streaming of the Chinese catalog from EMI’s Typhoon Music.

“With Baidu’s close relationship with Chinese digital music lovers, EMI and Baidu’s co-operation is a major breakthrough in the history of online music in China. It provides an efficient digital distribution platform to reach Chinese consumers, allowing fans to listen to EMI’s latest quality music immediately on the Internet,” said Norman Cheng, Chairman of EMI Music Asia and Director of Typhoon Music.

Users will be able to stream EMI’s Chinese music catalog for free, and while doing so they will “be exposed to Internet advertising.” EMI and Baidu will share the ad revenue.

Baidu is China’s largest Internet portal, which means that many Chinese Internet users start their search for online music by a search on Baidu. (So many, in fact, that record labels sued Baidu and Yahoo China for indexing links to pirated music). The new partnership is clearly intended as a way to make legal music more appealing to consumers and expand EMI’s digital music business in China: it’s betting that Chinese music lovers will tune into free, legal ad-supported music and, thereby, generate some revenue for EMI in the form of advertising sales. It beats receiving no revenue at all from pirated music.

If the initiative succeeds, don’t be surprised if other major music distributors with Asian catalogs get into similar deals. Baidu and EMI have also agreed to look into developing ad-supported music download services.

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