KitchenerIt could be that finally the promise of digital music subscription is about to be fulfilled. Virgin Media has announced a deal with Universal Music (UMG) that will mean Virgin broadband subscribers will be offered an all-you-can-eat, MP3 music subscription package to sit alongside their broadband package. Virgin has promised UMG that filtering (just how is tbc) and education for subscribers will be in place for launch, which should be later this year.

Virgin could well be beaten to the launch punch by Sky, which is getting very close to having everything in place for its launch (more on that later). Virgin will, of course, need to get everyone on board before launch but with UMG in the bag, a little wheeling and dealing with upfront money for the labels should soon ensure that Virgin has a full house for launch.

With Napster, Spotify, eMusic, 7Digital and more all offering subscriptions and a pretty full set of content (though eMusic only has indies and Sony so far), and that group being joined by the bigger hitters of Sky and Virgin, the key differentials will be pricing, ease of use, selling the subscription story and what streaming services are in place. Ad-funded services such as We7 could face a pretty tough time with ad money evaporating.

Of course, a few big exclusives (perhaps tied into TV and radio as well) would help draw the public’s attention to the offerings but it will be about who offers the best combination of effective marketing and ease of use (including being pan-platform) that will draw the big numbers. iTunes won’t be worried about its dominance of the UK digital music market in ’09 but the New Year could be very interesting indeed as the UK starts to get used to music as a subscription service, especially when bundled with Net access.