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Virgin Radio touts Napster chart deal

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UK station Virgin Radio is to begin broadcasting weekly chart rundowns based on Napster's online single sales figures, even as the Virgin Group's own digital music business, Virgin Digital, prepares to launch in the US and UK.

Napster announced the tie-in today. Virgin Radio will begin presenting the company's top 20 sales chart over the airwaves on 29 August at 7PM. The chart will be based on one-off downloads, tracks chosen by subscribers and songs streamed in their entirety.

Dubbed "the first step" in a "strategic marketing partnership" between Virgin Radio and Napster, the deal is a something of a coup for the online music service.

Virgin Radio is actually owned by the Scottish Media Group, which acquired the station from the Ginger Media Group in 2000. In turn, GMG bought it from Richard Branson's Virgin Group in 1998.

So while Virgin Radio is now nothing to do with the Virgin Group - and Virgin Digital - many consumers may inevitably link the two companies. So Napster becomes connected with the flamboyant Mr Branson in punters' minds, even though no such connection exists, at least on the basis of this particular deal.

Virgin Radio, on the other hand, gets a connection with the increasingly important - to the media, at least - online music market. It is clearly assuming that digital music is going to become more popular with its key demographic, the thirtysomethings who tune in to its AOR programming.

Actually, the same could be achieved by a partnership with Apple - which is believed to have more customers than Napster, and thus is a more sound basis for an online chart compilation. As such, Napster's sales are hardly "the most comprehensive assessment of online music tastes" as both it and Virgin Radio claim.

In any case, the official UK download chart is due to be launched in four weeks' time. The official chart only counts "permanent digital downloads", which rules out streams and subscription-sold downloads, though the latter qualify for a separate "digital bundle chart".

Neither Virgin Radio nor Napster discussed the underlying terms of the deal. Napster, however, recently punted $10m in stock to US retailer Best Buy for a cross-promotional deal. Just as the Best Buy deal isn't exclusive, neither is the Virgin Radio tie-in, which just names Napster as a "premier", not sole partner. ®

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