RealNetworks Teams with Intel on Music Service

Not to be ignored in the wake of several big online music announcements made over the course of the past few weeks, RealNetworks has announced a partnership with Intel that could help move RealNetworks’ on-demand music service — called Rhapsody — from the office into the living room. While Apple’s iTunes and Roxio’s Napster have received much coverage in the press of late, RealNetworks has made it clear that the legit online music business is anything but a two-horse race.

In what could be a significant step forward for the online music market, RealNetworks is working together with Intel to make it easier for broadband-connected consumers to link their PCs with their home stereo systems and use the company’s Rhapsody digital music subscription service throughout their homes. Rhapsody will be among the first digital music services to let consumers control and listen to an online music service in their living rooms.

Rhapsody’s digital music service provides access to a library of music from all major music labels, plus more than 200 independent labels. From Elvis Presley and Sting to Outkast and Clay Aiken, the Rhapsody service offers more than 400,000 songs.

While Napster offers streaming CD-quality online radio and MusicMatch offers an artist-on-demand subscription service, the Rhapsody subscription service is unique in that it allows subscribers to access more than 30,000 albums instantly, listen to complete albums, create custom playlists and — at 20 cents less per song than the other main services — burn CDs for 79 cents per track.

Into the Living Room

Through Intel’s UPnP Authoring Tools, RealNetworks integrated support for UPnP home networking technology into the current version of Rhapsody. As a result, Rhapsody is now capable of communicating with a new generation of digital audio products that enable consumers to access music from their PCs via their stereo and home theater systems.

These products include the latest version of the Omnifi from Rockford Corporation, which is expected to ship with Rhapsody support beginning November 14th, and several devices from other manufacturers that are expected to ship in the coming weeks.

“We believe that the combination of broadband, Rhapsody and UPnP technology gives consumers what they have been looking for — the ability to listen to any music anywhere in their home,” said Sean Ryan, vice president of music services at RealNetworks.

Honoring Copyrights

RealNetworks’ technology is designed to ensure that consumers can enjoy remote access to their entire Rhapsody library while still honoring copyrights. Only home audio components that implement UPnP technology and include Rhapsody’s security enhancements can use the Rhapsody service.

According to the company, RealNetworks’ goal is to make Rhapsody compatible with all new, UPnP-compliant devices coming to market in the next year. In keeping with this goal, earlier this year RealNetworks joined the UPnP Forum, an association of more than 500 companies from a variety of consumer industries working to develop interoperable specifications and standards for easy-to-use home networking.

Cobranded Competition

Rhapsody is also distributed to consumers through cobranded versions of the service by Audiogalaxy, Best Buy, Charter Communications, Gateway, Lycos, Sony’s Musiclub, Sprint and Verizon.

This week RealNetworks announced a partnership with Comcast to distribute the service through Comcast’s network. “By offering the Rhapsody service to Comcast high-speed Internet customers, we are providing our users the opportunity to enjoy an extensive collection of music on demand, showcasing the value of a 100 percent pure broadband connection,” said David Juliano, senior vice president and general manager for Comcast’s high-speed Internet division.

In the race to achieve online music supremacy, the major players all have worked out significant partnerships — Apple with AOL, for example, and Roxio with Penn State University. The strength and frequency of these behind-the-scenes relationships could indicate sucess and longevity more than just the number of purchased songs.

The Rhapsody service is available as RealOne Rhapsody via RealNetworks — with a 14-day free trial — for US$9.95 per month.

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