You Can Whistle a Tune at Work With New Digital Music Express

The service is latest competitor in the commercial music marketplace

`SOMEDAY, every business will sound this good,'' sings Digital Music Express (DMX).

The service, which will provide music to businesses, is slated to begin in June. It will offer companies across North America 60 channels of 24-hour, commerical-free, compact-disc-quality music via satellite.

DMX will rival similar services offered via satellite by Muzak and AEI Music Network, both based in Seattle, and 3M Sound Products in St. Paul, Minn.

``There hasn't been a new entrant into the commercial music marketplace in more than 20 years,'' says Lon Troxel, president of the commercial division of Los Angeles-based International Cablecasting Technologies Inc. (ICT), the digital audio company that operates DMX. ``This whole service will revolutionize the music market as we have previously known it because of the technology - but more importantly, because of the tremendous amount of programming that would immediately become available to customers at their own choice.''

Since October 1991, ICT has offered 30 music channels to homes and companies wired for cable, Mr. Troxel says. More than 10,000 companies in the United States subscribe, including hospitality and retail companies, health-care facilities, professional offices, and sports arenas.

First-time buyers account for 70 percent of the company's cable business. ``In the last year and a half, we've accomplished in subscribers what it took [our competitors] ... to accomplish in almost 10 years,'' he says.

``Sixty percent of all businesses use music in some form, but the majority of them use the consumer equipment as opposed to professionally programmed services,'' Troxel says.

However, because only about 20 percent of US companies have cable access, ICT's presence in the commercial music marketplace has been limited. A satellite service opens the market to most companies, Troxel says. ``We look for our business to be well over 400,000 commercial accounts over the next five years,'' he says. ICT is in the process of establishing dealers throughout the country to distribute the service locally. Troxel declined to disclose the price of the service but says it will be ``competitive.''

The 60 DMX music channels - with as many as 120 more on the horizon - range from classical and jazz to country and rock and are programmed in-house at ICT in Los Angeles. (The competition offers 12 programs on average.) The DMX programs are electronically sent to the company's central studio in Denver. There the music is loaded into large-capacity CD players that hold up to 360 hours of music. The music is uplinked to a satellite and then downlinked to the subscribing company via satellite dish.

Unlike its competitors, the DMX system allows an owner of a company to control the music selection using a remote control, and to change the selection at any time. DMX competitors don't offer businesses the remote control technology. ``If I'm a McDonald's restaurant owner,'' Troxel says, ``and a bus load of senior citizens drives up and unloads into my restaurant, and I may be playing something that is inappropriate for that group, I can immediately change my atmosphere to accommodate the new audience.''

Retailers and companies can play different music in different departments, Troxel says. For example, a hotel might offer the latest hits in the health club, light jazz in the restaurant, and classical in the lobby.

Troxel claims that DMX's quality of sound is better than Muzak's. Muzak declined to comment.

As for programming, ``there is quite a difference between their [DMX] music programming and our music programming,'' says Leslie Ritter, Muzak's director of marketing. ``Muzak creates its music specifically for business. DMX creates their music for home entertainment, and they are offering the same music to businesses.''

Ms. Ritter says she is uncertain whether DMX will heighten the competition in the commercial music marketplace.

``All of the business-music providers today probably haven't penetrated the total potential number of businesses by more than 10 percent,'' Ritter says. ``So there's plenty of room for growth.''

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