MTV and Activision face off in battle of the brands

Fri Oct 31, 2008 8:18pm EDT
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By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - Now that "Rock Band" publisher MTV Networks just scored the Beatles catalog for a new videogame, announced days after the October 26 release of Activision's "Guitar Hero World Tour," the stage is set for another battle of the bands between the two music-based game franchises.

MTV already has a "Rock Band" release featuring AC/DC, and Activision has a "Guitar Hero" game with Aerosmith and another in the works for Metallica. But the Beatles catalog is the biggest "get" in the game world, and both MTV and Activision spent the better part of a year courting Apple Corps, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and EMI Music Group, the trifecta holding the various rights to the Beatles catalog. MTV ultimately won, thanks to a combination of past innovation and music business credibility.

"MTV was clearly the innovator in offering a full-band experience," Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones said on the conference call unveiling the partnership.

None involved would discuss the specific terms of the deal, but sources hinted that MTV showed more flexibility than Activision, whose CEO, Bobby Kotick, has said that the music industry should be paying for the opportunity to have music included in "Guitar Hero."

"It was presented as if they were doing the music business a favor," Sony/ATV CEO Martin Bandier said. "It's true you can choose other types of music, and somewhere along the line someone's going to do it for free for the exposure ... When it comes to the Beatles, the leverage changes. We're very happy with the terms of our arrangement with MTV."

But while the Beatles will certainly give a boost to MTV's music games business, none of the Fab Four's songs will be available for download on the existing "Rock Band" franchise. And it's the battle between "Rock Band 2" -- introduced September 14 -- and "Guitar Hero World Tour" that will define the competition this holiday season.


For "World Tour," the more popular "Guitar Hero" franchise added several "Rock Band"-like innovations: drums, vocals and new songs for sale via download every week. Content will be available as three-song "Track Packs" as well as singles.   Continued...

<p>Attendees play the game Rockband by Harmonix at the E3 Media &amp; Business Summit in Los Angeles on July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>