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Digital Music On The (GB) Handheld Video Game Machine

by Thomas on July 2, 2002 @ 7:57 p.m. PDT

A southern California start-up is preparing to start selling a device that would play digital music on the Game Boy handheld video game machine. Santa Monica, California-based SongPro plans to launch a device for under $99 this fall that will play digital music in various formats on any of the tens of millions of Game Boy game consoles worldwide. The Game Boy line -- both the older Game Boy Color and the newer Game Boy Advance -- is a product of Japanese game giant Nintendo Co. Ltd., and it has a virtual monopoly on the handheld gaming market worldwide. The company says it has Nintendo's support for first-of-its-kind device.

To further its efforts at both capturing that market and developing a content model that will include advertisements and partnerships with major record labels, the company has hired industry veteran Jon Richmond as its chief executive.

Richmond was most recently chief executive of News Digital Media, the U.S. digital arm of international media conglomerate News Corp. (Australia:NCP.AX - News; NYSE:NWS - News)

SongPro has also hired Marc Hannah, a co-founder of Silicon Graphics Inc. (NYSE:SGI - News), as its chief technology officer.

Besides playing songs in the standard MP3 and Windows Media Audio formats, the SongPro device will also play a proprietary SongPro Audio, or SPA, format that will use the Game Boy's screen to display lyrics, pictures and the like.

Richmond said the screen will also be used for advertising, meaning that some content could actually be offered with a free, ad-supported model.

"Certainly the record companies, the artists and their management have responded very favorably to this," he said.

SongPro is working with digital media company RioPort to develop both the security features of the device and the distribution network for SPA files. Richmond said the RioPort relationship will give SongPro users access to thousands of files from all five major music labels from day one.

While SongPro will start with only music, Richmond said it could branch out to other kinds of digital media, such as slide shows.

The company also plans to branch out to other devices, including personal digital assistants and cell phones, he said.

"I think the manufacturing of the hardware is the least interesting piece to us," Richmond said.

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