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UK group preps public digital music 'ATMs'

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Updated The UK will this week see the launch of music download vending machines that allow punters to purchase songs for cash as easily as buying soft drinks or snacks.

Inspired Broadcast Networks (IBN) will leverage its network of 7800 music jukeboxes and games machines, located in pubs and other venues throughout the country, to offer downloads to mobile phones and digital music players.

Initially limited to a trial run, the service will be made available in a number of public venues, such as railway stations. IBN and its partners said they expect to invest £50m over the next two years replacing existing vending machines and entertainment devices with digital download-enabled equipment.

IBN will formally launch the service on Wednesday, and is keeping details of the service - prices and catalogue range, for example - to itself for now. However, it is believed the machines will offer access to a massive 2m tracks, though how much of those are available for download rather than playback is not yet clear.

Which format(s) the system will support isn't known either. Publicity photos show an iPod connected to a terminal. Since Apple hasn't - so far as we know - licensed its FairPlay DRM technology, or Real Networks its Harmony DRM conversion system, that implies MP3 downloads, but we can't see the music industry being happy with that. Windows Media seems the most likely format, which would cut iPod owners out of the picture.

Songs can be downloaded via USB or Firewire, and to memory cards.

The company is partnering with British physical media distribution group Entertainment UK, retailer Woolworths Group and EMI Music. Woolworths recently launched its own online music store, and undoubtedly sees in-store downloads via terminals of the kind IBN is producing as a way of maintaining shop sales should demand for physical media slide. It also provides it with a way of taking digital music to PC-less customers.

For similar reasons, online travel agent Lastminute.com is also partnering with IBN on the digital music vending machines, which can also punch out concert and travel tickets.

UK telco BT is part of the consortium too. Last month, the company admitted it was exploring ways to provide digital music through its own public terminals, such as payphones.

IBN is part of the Leisure Link group, which supplies public gaming, music and ATM systems to some 25,000 leisure and retail venues. It's also the parent company of UK wireless ISP The Cloud, which runs Wi-Fi hotspots off the back of suitably equipped broadband-enabled jukeboxes, one-armed bandits, pokies and the like. ®

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