The Fab Four looks to start making big 21st century bucks with new Rock Band game and digitally remastered CDs.John, Paul, George and Ringo are getting the band back together, in a manner of speaking, with a new Beatles-themed video game and digital upgrade of the group's entire catalog both released Wednesday.
"The Beatles: Rock Band," which was produced by MTV Games and Harmonix, allows players to sing and play along with 45 of band's songs using simulated guitars, drums and a microphone.
Also out Wednesday are digitally re-mastered versions of all 15 Beatles albums. The entire catalog will be available as a 16-disk set with special features including album art, liner notes, rare photographs and short documentary films. Re-mastered versions of each album will also be sold individually.
Not that The Beatles, nearly four decades removed from their last performance together, need the exposure. According to Apple Corps Ltd., which markets the Beatles worldwide, the Fab Four has sold more than 600 million records, tapes and CDs since they exploded on the scene in the early 1960s.
But the new products will help "bring the band into the 21st century," said Bruce Birch, director of the University of Georgia's music business program.
"Great music is great music, but the ways of introducing it to a younger audience are different now, and this will help expose the Beatles to a whole new generation," Birch said.
The buzz generated by Wednesday's releases has raised speculation about a possible deal with Apple Inc. to make the band's music available on iTunes. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) is holding an invitation-only special event Wednesday and some are fervently hoping the timing is more than just coincidence.
The Beatles are one of the few bands whose music has never been approved for sale as downloads on the popular music site. Both EMI Music, which holds the master recording rights for the music, and Apple declined to comment.
While CD sales have been slipping for years, analysts expect the new box set, which has a suggested retail price of $260, to be a hit with die-hard Beatles fans who are willing to pay extra for the added features. It was sold out on Amazon.com (AMZN, Fortune 500) even before the official release.
"The set is really targeted at heavy Beatles fans who have the money to spend on a collectors item," said Sonal Gandhi, a media industry analyst at Forrester Research. "The video game is more for people who aren't that familiar with the Beatles."
"The Beatles: Rock Band" builds on the already popular Rock Band format, which has sold 13 million units since coming out in 2007.
In the new game, players choose from a variety of Beatles songs ranging from the early hit "A Hard Day's Night" to the later "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Players can also select one of several famous venues from the band's career, including its two most famous American venues -- the Ed Sullivan Theater and Shea Stadium in New York.
The game software retails for $59.99, but a "limited edition premium bundle," which includes a full set of instruments designed to resemble those played by the Beatles, is available for $249.99.
"There's no doubt this game will be successful," said Jesse Divinich, an analyst for the video game research firm Electronic Entertainment Design & Research. He said the game would have to sell 1.2 million units to break even, which he expects to happen within one month.
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That could help boost overall sales for the Beatles' music. In the third quarter of last year, more than a third of music buyers under the age of 35 reported playing a music-based video game, according to
For the game to come to fruition, MTV Games/Harmonix had to tap a complex consortium of entities that own rights to the various songs, as well as the images of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Paul DeGooyer, MTV's vice president of home entertainment, said the deal required the cooperation of EMI Music for all of the songs. Rights to the intellectual property -- the words and music of the composers --required the participation of a variety of owners, he added.
The bulk of the songbook of Lennon and McCartney, who are responsible for most of the band's hits, is owned by Sony/ATV Music. That's a consortium which includes Sony Corp. and the estate of Michael Jackson, who died on June 25.
Most of the Beatles' songs composed by Harrison, including "Something" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," are controlled by Harrisongs Ltd. Ringo Starr, one of two surviving Beatles along with McCartney, controls his own work.
Lastly, the Beatles' likeness is owned by Apple Corps, which was formed by the band in 1968 to market its recordings and other related material.