SAN FRANCISCO (09/11/2000) - When you're pouring on the charm in Microsoft Corp.'s MSN "Blind Date" chat room, a little Barry White in the background couldn't hurt, right? Or maybe you prefer Cher, Britney, or Garth, pardner.
Whatever your aural aphrodisiac of choice, now you can download a little of it for your chat sessions through a new service called MSN Radio Chat. Starting Monday as the result of a partnership with RadioWave.com, MSN is adding 40 musical genre channels to its 40 chat rooms.
RadioWave.com will program music feeds and integrate the application into the lower left corner of chat room browser windows. The MSN Radio Chat application, about the size of a banner ad, uses Windows Media Player as its underlying engine to stream music. Therefore, if you use Media Player version 6.4 or above, no download is required.
"We are the first to marry chat and music into one experience," says Sarah Lefko, MSN product manager.
Visitors can't choose the music playing in the background, but they can click to vote whether they like or dislike a song. That information is sent back to RadioWave.com, which can reduce or increase a song's rotation in a particular chat room. MSN Radio Chat also displays small ads, links to artist biographies, and points you to Amazon.com so you can buy the CD of the artist. Audio advertising will be added in coming months.
The first streams available through MSN won't be optimized for broadband connections, but rather, for modem speeds less than 56 kilobits per second. MSN Radio Chat is not compatible with America Online's Netscape Navigator Web browser, but RadioWave.com says Netscape will be supported by the end of the year.
Microsoft is paying RadioWave.com a licensing fee for its technology and ongoing programming. Under the terms of the agreement, RadioWave.com will share advertising and transactional revenue generated by the MSN Chat Radio service, according to RadioWave.com.
Despite interest in Internet radio, the medium has yet to prove lucrative. Experts say there is scant money to be made until broadband access to the Net proliferates and business models mature.
Among North American online households, 16 percent participate in online chat at least once a week, according to Forrester Research. An estimated 21 percent of those households use an instant messaging client in the same time period. Forrester also reports that 56 percent of all U.S. online users listen to music on their PC.
To help draw attention to MSN Chat Radio, this week MSN will broadcast live interviews with Sylvester Stallone, Cypress Hill, and other celebrities. Audio feeds will be broadcast in chat rooms, where chatters will be invited to ask questions.