LONDON (Reuters) - Warner Music Group on Tuesday said it had signed a deal to allow its entire catalog to be played on fast-growing music social network service Last.fm, an innovative site that links music fans to new and old hits.
With more than 15 million active users per month, Last.fm has earned glowing praise for its system which recommends songs by tracking a listener's music-playing habits and automatically linking them to fans with similar tastes.
The deal with Warner, the world's fourth-largest music company, is the first with one of the major labels and the network's co-founder Martin Stiksel said they were in talks with the other three major labels and content holders.
Warner, home to Madonna and Red Hot Chili Peppers, said the deal underscored its commitment to offering consumers unique ways to experience its music.
Stephen Bryan, who looks at business development for Warner Music Group, told Reuters that Last.fm reflected a broader trend that showed the power of community driven services.
"This will help us harness that power for consumers," he said.
Last.fm was launched in 2002 but exploded in popularity in 2005 when it developed a new method for connecting people with music and artists with listeners.
Music fans who sign up at www.last.fm can agree to link their digital media player, such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes for example, to Last.fm's site, which then monitors the choice of music.
With this information, it can then recommend new or old songs, artists or local concerts, drawing from the choices of other fans who have similar tastes.
The network also provides a free, advertising-supported online radio streaming service which will play music from the hundreds of independent labels it has deals with, and from this week, Warner.
"The big guys are starting to realize that these community tools aren't just for people to use to amuse themselves," said Mike McGuire, a Silicon Valley-based music industry analyst with Gartner Inc. "These sites can help drive transactions."
STAMP OF APPROVAL
"It is very difficult to keep up to date with all the new music that is coming out," Stiksel told Reuters in an interview. "Being confronted with too much choice can actually be daunting and you go back to listening to the same old stuff.
"What we wanted to do was make music discovery very simple. This is the first major content deal we have done and this is the official stamp of approval." Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The group said the service had also been popular with independent labels and artists who use it to target new fans.
"The only thing you have to do is listen," said Stefan Glaenzer, chairman of the London-based company.
"The music industry can only ever promote the last four or five things," he told Reuters. "This helps them find audiences for their very new music."
Last.fm said the deal would allow Warner's music to be offered over its service in the U.S. and Europe and would roll out in full over the next week.
Last.fm's biggest markets are the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Turkey and Finland, where 8 percent of Finnish Internet users are Last.fm users.
(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in London)