Steve Jobs and EMI present "an exciting new digital offering" -- live!

So what will it be: DRM-free music downloads, the Beatles on iTunes, both or something else entirely? We'll see shortly as things are about to kickoff in London for EMI's and Apple's announcement of "an exciting new digital offering." The chief executive tag-team announcement by Eric Nicoli and Steve Jobs is just getting started and should only last about 40-minutes before the "special live performance" begins.

7:58 We just joined the conference call. Hey, was that the sound of a black, mock turtle neck?

8:04 Time for the show to start. Hello, Steve, Eric, anybody there?

8:06 Reader tip just in (thanks Chris O). Looking at page source from the webcast (which has yet to start) we see the following:

slide text 1: Value for money Choice Ease of Use
slide text 2: digital consumers stated that they agreed fully or somewhat with the statement "it is important to be able to transfer files between devices"
slide text 3: DRM Free -- Superior sound quality
slide text 4: DRM free tracks at twice the sound quality or Standard sound quality tracks with DRM. DRM free complete albums at twice the sound quality. Ability to upgrade already purchased tracks and albums. DRM free music videos

Seems pretty clear which way this is heading!

8:11 Webcast has started. Live music now playing from The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, not the remaining members of the Beatles. Couldn't they have saved this for the end?

8:16 Jeebus, they just started another song.

8:21 Press release out:
EMI Music launches DRM-free superior sound quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire.

Apple's iTunes store to be the first online music store to sell EMI's new downloads

January tests showed a 10:1 preference for higher quality tracks without DRM. New Premium tracks sold at price premium.

Premium quality will sit along side standard offerings.

8:28 First partner to support new DRM-free EMI music will be iTunes.

8:29 Steve Jobs now entering stage. Applause, tears. The next big step forward -- the move to completely DRM-free music. EMI is first, entire catalog available DRM-free -- globally -- in May.

8:30 Sounds like Steve is reading from a stack of cards -- this is not his normal polished delivery. Apple testing confirms that people will pay more for higher quality music that is interoperable across devices. 128-bit AAC encoding not good enough for audiophiles. Increases in storage enable higher audio quality tracks on devices. New versions of songs and albums are DRM-free and 256kbps AAC encoded for $1.29 per song. That extra $0.30 gives users DRM-free interoperability and superior quality. It's not a price increase but an additional iTunes product.

Previously purchased EMI songs can be upgrade for $0.30 per song.

DRM-free albums will be priced at the same price (but higher quality) as current, DRM-crippled albums.

Apple will reach out to other labels starting today to give them the same deal. Steve expects 50% of all tracks to be DRM-free by end of the year! That's 2.5 of the 5 million tracks currently on the site.

Steve opines: Some doubted our sincerity to break the iTunes bond between the store and iPod player. Hopefully, people can see that Apple is only concerned with doing the right thing for the customer.

8:35 Q&A has begun.

Q: When are the Beatles tracks going to be online?
Steve: "I want to know that too." chuckles.
Eric: "we're working on it, hopefully soon."

Regarding Nordic consumer groups, Steve says they are not offering anything new today that's not already available on DRM-free CDs.

Q: Is this a green light for piracy?
Eric: no, we take the view that we have to "trust consumers." Some will disappoint us. The idea is to give them the best music experience to grow sales and not diminish them.

EMI confident this will grow their sales. 1/4 of all sales digital by 2010. Hard to predict, but they think this will make their music more accessible to promote sales.

Q: Have talks begun with other majors?
Steve: EMI is pioneering something that will probably become very popular. Can't comment on any discussions. Again, Steve points out that CDs ship with DRM. Sony tried it... it didn't work.

Q: Are some of the majors being more difficult, if so, who?
Steve: I don't want to go into it, there are always leaders. Customers will love it, they get what they want. Music companies make more money by offering more value.

Q: Will DRM now be removed from videos such as Disney's where you (Steve) has a say?
Steve: I knew I was going to get that question today. Video is different, they never distributed 90% of their wares DRM free like music companies. So he doesn't hold the two in parallel.

Q: Now that the link between iPod and iTunes is broken, will there be a fall in sales?
Steve: No -- no link broken. You can already rip CDs and put songs on any player you want. Apple's success is based on having the best and easiest to use music store and players -- they've never felt any differently.

Q: Which other digital retailers has EMI spoken too?
Eric: We hope they all take this on. (avoids question)

Q: What's the point of keeping DRM on $0.99 tracks?
Steve: We don't want to raise prices on anybody. We'll continue what we started and offer more value for the money without taking anything away. Consumers make the choice.
Eric: Not everybody cares about interoperability or sound quality.

Q: Will EMI dictate pricing to other on-line music stores?
Eric: EMI sets the wholesale price, not the retail price. So prices may vary by other on-line music services.

8:59 That's it, a new age has begun! Well, in May anyway.