BSkyB challenges Apple in deal with Universal

Britain's largest pay-TV firm, BSkyB, is to launch an online subscription music service and has signed the world's largest music group, Universal, as its first partner in a deal that could challenge Apple computers.

A Birmingham Post report also said the service will offer music downloads to keep and unlimited listening through streaming for a monthly subscription. The tracks will be in MP3 format so they can be used on other devices like the iPod or mobile phones.

BSkyB will form a new joint venture to launch the service in Britain and Ireland, building on its relationship with millions of customers and Universal's hundreds of thousands of tracks from artists such as Amy Winehouse and U2, the report said.

The pay-TV group, which has James Murdoch as its non-executive chairman, said it was in talks about signing music companies, including the other major music groups, and would release more details at a later date.

The music industry has been desperately trying to boost digital sales in recent years after piracy hit the market.

The new service will offer a range of pricing levels, with higher prices allowing for a greater number of downloads.

The service will launch later this year and will initially be PC-based. Details of pricing, the name of the service and a launch date will be released later.