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RealNetworks Unveils RealONE Platform

Aside from a new look and integrated features, the RealONE player comes with some enhancements including a new theater mode — a full-screen view that comes with player controls. Richards also said that RealONE is "much more optimized for video [playback]" and uses fewer resources than earlier players. In addition, the new player plays all existing Real content and saves preferences from previous incarnations of the RealPlayer. RealNetworks, however, did not make any announcements regarding its backend server technologies or codecs.

Still, RealNetworks new player opens a new chapter in the media player wars. Both RealNetworks and Microsoft claim victory when it comes to market share, while upstart competitor MusicMatch ( www.musicmatch.com), says its jukebox player is tops, too. In fact, MusicMatch says it invented the music jukebox category in 1997, while RealJukebox was unveiled in 1998. So far, MusicMatch counts 22 million registered users of MusicMatch Jukebox. It also unveiled an Internet radio subscription service called Radio MX with 38,000 subscribers since its launch in May 2001.

According to a company statement, MusicMatch said the new direction for RealNetworks is a plus for the jukebox market. "RealNetworks' decision to embrace a single-player strategy clearly indicates a loss of focus on music and the music consumer, and a renewed interest in 'all-purpose' digital media," said a MusicMatch representative. "The end result is more opportunity for MusicMatch, and others, to capture a larger share of the digital music market."

Microsoft’s Aldridge said that consumers might balk at having to pay yearly fees for premium content and a media player. "Suddenly consumers are faced with $150 a year [for RealNetworks], or pay $99 once to upgrade to Windows XP, to get the best media player," he said.

Competition Heats Up

With Microsoft’s upcoming release of Windows XP, which comes with a new updated media player, RealNetworks is seemingly fighting back. By combining a Web browser into the player, RealNetworks is hoping to steal some thunder and gain market share from Microsoft.

Including a browser with RealONE, means that it can support any Web content, including QuickTime and Windows Media files as long as it uses an embedded player. Content that launches in its own custom window, however, will launch either the appropriate Windows Media or QuickTime player.

Still, Microsoft has the advantage of hooking directly into its new operating system. Windows Media Player for XP will support links to album art and the file structure, so users can easily find and play media using their "My Music" folder. Aldridge also said the new XP player supports DVD playback, something that RealONE currently lacks.

For today, at least, RealNetworks is making the headlines. The new RealONE subscription service will launch within 60 days, with a price tag of about $9.99/month. It will come with existing premium content, like Major League Baseball, the NBA and more, plus new content from yet to be announced partners. It will also have downloadable and streaming music from MusicNet, the music initiative launched by BMG, EMI and Warner Music Group. RealNetworks version of MusicNet will be called RealONE Music.

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