A new potentially serious combination of companies hope to steal a slice of the online music market from Apple's iTunes - MTV Networks and Microsoft have a plan.

The two companies have confirmed they will launch a new service - "Urge" - in the US in 2006. The online music service will launch with a catalogue of two million songs across multiple genres, and will be heavily marketed across MTV's broadcasting assets, MTV, VH1 and CMT. These have an audience of some 165 million music fans.

Heavy leverage

In a move that may interest regulators worldwide (such as in Europe and Korea) who are considering Microsoft's potentially anti-competitive practice of bundling its media player with its OS, the company will integrate the new Urge service within a future version of Windows Media Player.

This new digital music service will offer both a la carte and subscription services, as well as access to MTV's video assets.

Urge has quickly won the support of at least two major labels. It's interesting that both these labels are believed to be the ones that are applying the most pressure on Apple to offer "flexible pricing" on downloads.

Expect ‘flexible pricing’

Both Clive Davis, chairman and CEO of BMG US and Lyor Cohen, chairman and CEO of US recorded music for the Warner Music Group spoke up to support the new service.

Curiously, MTV was long felt by many in the music industry to be in possession of too much clout when it scored a home run in music video broadcasts. BMG has now merged with Sony outside Japan, and strong industry rumours suggest Warner may even have plans to merge with EMI.

Combined with Microsoft the grouping appears a mighty one.

Warner's Cohen said: "With Urge, MTV Networks is again at the forefront of revolutionising where and how our combined audiences across the globe can connect with the music and the artists they love."

Van Toffler, MTV Networks Music Group president described Urge as a "psychic concierge", and promised all manner of personalisation, recommendation and music discovery features for users of the Windows-only service.

Jason Hirschhorn, the company's chief digital officer, told the Associated Press: "We think the iPod has done a great job. Our aim is not to switch people from iTunes and the iPod. We need to concentrate on where there's going to be a bigger market."

A bigger market? iPods account for 75 per cent of music player sales, and iTunes for 80 per cent of legitimate downloads. The focus on future market trends suggests that Apple's enemies in the space hope to use that company's success as a trailblazer, in a similar way to that in which Apple familiarized the planet with a graphical user interface in the eighties.

Michael Gartenberg, vice president of Jupiter Research isn't certain the plan will work: "The biggest paradox is the people who are most likely interested in an MTV-branded music experience are also probably the demographic that has the highest interest in the iPod," he said.

Additional details of the new service will be unveiled in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.