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Virgin Digital sets US, UK debut dates

August and September, respectively

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Virgin Digital, Richard Branson's move on the digital music market, will launch in the UK next September, a month after the service's US debut, The Register has learned.

According to industry sources familiar with Virgin's plans, the company is assembling a range of offerings the music service will offer with a view to those launch windows. It is believed that Virgin Digital (VD) will offer both iTunes a la carte downloads and a Napster-style subscription package.

The sources suggested that VD's offer will go even further than downloads and subscriptions, but details for now remain scarce. At the service's launch, Virgin described VD as a "full service entertainment destination for consumers who want to access their music anytime,anywhere". Music-derived mobile phone ringtones, music hardware and possible full-length videos are possible additions to the core music offering.

VD was announced last March. At the time, the company revealed that it was working with digital music distributor MusicNet. Virgin did not provide a timeline or details of its ambitions for different territories. Given the scale of the US market, it's hard to rule out launch there, and a UK presence seems highly likely because of the strength of the company's brand here.

Virgin's high street retail subsidiary, Virgin Megastores UK, already offers digital downloads through a partnership with OD2, which yesterday announced its acquisition by US-based MusicNet rival Loudeye. VD is expected to provide not only its own service but act as a front end for other Virgin Group operations, almost certainly including the UK and US Megastore chains.

VD's US and UK launches put the service well behind Apple's iTunes Music Store, which has sold over 450,000 songs in the UK in its first week of operation here, Apple claimed today. ®

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