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Music Choice Tweaks the Jukebox

Music Choice, which has become equally video and audio-oriented in the digital-music cable arena over its 12 years of existence, plucked a few new notes last week by altering its format and opening a new sound studio here for performances and interviews.

Eight new commercial-free audio channels were introduced on the nationally distributed music package on July 24, all featuring music and all reflecting listener feedback and developing trends, said Music Choice CEO David Del Beccaro.

To spotlight the format adjustments, 27 winners of a contest conducted by Time Warner Cable's New York City system were invited to Music Choice's midtown offices one day earlier, to tour the new studio and watch hip-hop star Wyclef Jean perform on acoustic guitar.

The new full-time music formats cover rock, bluegrass, opera, Latin rock and love songs, as well as musical theater, new wave and synthesized tunes and dance-party favorites.

They replace formats devoted to new releases; Tejano and various Brazilian music forms; world folk music and love songs.

Although those formats were dropped from the 45-channel audio package available to more than 24 million digital cable and DirecTV Inc. households, Music Choice affiliates have the option of continuing transmission of those services to customers by request, over a backup audio feed.

Music Choice customers get the service — and an interactive program guide from another supplier — when they become digital users, regardless of the number of digital tiers or channels they order.

Also, some 9.7 million cable customers who get the audio package can watch still video screens connected to what's playing on each channel. Featured screen material includes music news, artist factoids, album art and concert dates.

Interactive-data versions are being explored, in conjunction with affiliates.

Jean made his TV debut on a Music Choice Concert
last year, and he'll return there next month with excerpts from his new CD Masquerade
. His Manhattan appearance last week will kick off Studio Sessions, a set of artist programs included with the Showcase audio channel.

Of all the cable-performance venues Jean explored, Music Choice was the one he found most attractive.

"It was the opportunity to be myself, " he said. "This was the most comfortable place for what I'd like to do."

AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. are co-owners of Music Choice, along with AOL Time Warner Inc.'s music and cable-system units, Microsoft Corp., Motorola Inc., Sony Corp. of America and EMI Music.