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SpiralFrog Courts Users, Advertisers

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NEW YORK After many hiccups, ad-supported music site SpiralFrog launches today, betting it can convert users who illegally download music.

At launch, SpiralFrog offers about 800,000 tracks—a fraction of the size of file-sharing services like LimeWire—and 3,500 music videos. Users can listen to the music on their computers or download tracks to portable players that use the Windows Media Format. (That excludes the iPod.)

The launch comes after a tumultuous gestation period for SpiralFrog, including the departure of CEO Robin Kent, a former Universal McCann CEO. He left to form a company that will handle the ad sales for a rival service in the ad-supported music field. That service, QTrax, is set to launch by the end of the year.

"If a consumer isn't willing to pay for it, the only option is advertising," said Allan Klepfisz, CEO of QTrax.

Both SpiralFrog and QTrax are betting on music labels being forced into new business models as CD sales continue what Joe Mohen, chairman of SpiralFrog, believes is an inexorable decline. "The CD business as we know it has a limited lifespan," he said.

SpiralFrog has signed Universal Music Group and indie distributor The Orchard. More deals are on the way, Mel Schrieberg, CEO of SpiralFrog, promised.

SpiralFrog plans to support the service with standard display unit advertising. It will not force visitors to watch ads to download music or insert audio ads. It plans to keep advertising mostly unobtrusive, while using behavioral data to better target placements. Music videos will, however, contain pre-rolls.

SpiralFrog launches with ad deals from big-name marketers like Chevrolet, Colgate and Burger King.

The size of the offering will be key to drawing an audience away from illegal download sites—and to securing advertiser interest. When QTrax launches its peer-to-peer service, it will give users access to 25 million tracks, Klepfisz vowed.