MTV/Microsoft to challenge iTunes

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It is 25 years since a pioneering music channel launched on US television and proclaimed, with its first song, that Video Killed the Radio Star. Now, MTV is about to launch a music downloading service that, one day soon, might kill music television.

The company has teamed up with Microsoft to launch a digital music retailer which, the pair hope, will be the first serious rival to Apple's all-powerful iTunes.

The MTV store, called Urge, starts tomorrow and comes integrated into the new version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

At launch, Urge will have more than 2 million tracks available individually at 99c (53p) or for a monthly subscription charge, which allows users to transfer songs to more than 100 compatible portable music players - but not iPods.

It will also soon start selling downloadable videos, including exclusive appearances on MTV's TRL and MTV Unplugged shows, according to Van Toffler, the president of MTV Networks Music Group. Analysts think that could accelerate the shift of a younger generation of music consumers away from television to the Net. MTV has tried to beef up its online strategy, including developing behind-the-scenes programming for streaming over the internet at the same time as its live shows on television. Microsoft, meanwhile, is trying to pick away at the dominance of iTunes, which has sold more than a billion tracks in the three years since its launch.

Urge will be the featured music service on Microsoft's latest Windows media player but, unlike the iTunes player, which links only to the iTunes store, will also have built-in links to several other retail services.