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Glaser Gives ‘Insider’ Look At Real’s Plans

LAS VEGAS – Just days after the company announced a revamp of its RealPlayer A/V software and unveiled its new RealPlayer Music Store, RealNetworks chairman/CEO Rob Glaser offered an assessment of how the industry has progressed during the past year and provided demonstrations of Real’s latest products, during an Industry Insider’s keynote at CES.

Glaser also revealed that in a move clearly aimed at long-time Real adversary Microsoft, the company announced a partnership with IBM to create a system that would enable media companies to easily and less expensively deliver audio and video content over the Web.

Glaser said, while the film and video industries still need to move forward with realistic, compelling plans for delivering their content digitally, the music industry has finally turned the corner. ‘We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of people using illegal file-sharing services,’ he said, adding that legitimate services are on the rise. ‘By the end of 2003, there were over 700,000 paying music subscribers, three times the number in 2002. That’s quite an accomplishment. Looking back on 2003, we went from acrimony to an environment where most consumers say it’s a fair deal.’

The video industry, he said, should create legitimate download services if they want to avoid the ‘Napsterization’ of their industry. ‘There are some legal services in the market, but in my opinion the usage rules are too limited … and the content window is too late,’ Glaser said, adding that Internet releases should coincide with the availability of DVDs. ‘There is a real economic cost to being too cautious.’

Among the challenges still facing the industry, Glaser said, are the continuing need to drive digital media into the mainstream by enhancing digital audio and video quality; ensuring that media players, DRMs, devices and music stores talk to each other to avoid ‘Balkanization’; that the film and video industry needs to successfully offer secure media delivery of their content; and that it becomes easier for companies to build and deploy media streams.

Glaser then discussed the latest enhancements to its RealPlayer 10 media player, and offered a demo of the new Real Music Store, which is built into RealPlayer 10. A key feature of the RealPlayer 10 software is that it will play all media formats, including Windows Media, MP3s and even secure QuickTime downloads from the iTunes store (which the company says it can do without breaking into Apple’s DRM). The RealPlayer Music Store, which is built directly into RealPlayer 10, offers singles at the now-standard price of $.99 per track, and most albums at $9.99. The service currently has a catalog of about 300,000 songs.

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, Real is offering a limited promotion where users can purchase their first song for 10 cents. The company has also partnered with Heineken for beer 12-packs to come with a free download coupon.

Although the new RealPlayer will play all media formats, songs sold via Real’s online store are distributed in the 192 Kbps AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format. However, the songs are wrapped in Real’s proprietary Helix DRM, which means they aren’t compatible with many portable players. In addition to higher-quality AAC, Real is providing support for multi-channel audio as well as a lossless version that targets audiophiles and archivists. Improvements in RealVideo 10 include 30 percent more efficient compression, which enables DVD-quality video at one-quarter the bitrate of MPEG-2. The newer version uses the same decoder as RealVideo 9, which gives the company a large installed base of users.