Real relaunches as entertainment portal

Real.com Network portal provides audio and video content through RealPlayer 7

RealNetworks on Monday re-launched its site as the Real.com Network, a portal for audio and video content.

Real, still recovering from its recent privacy drama, has signed partnerships with over 100 media companies, including the BBC and Listen.com, to provide daily entertainment and news content. Real.com Network will offer over 2000 radio and television stations, 8000 content sites and 500 daily live events. Content will be available directly through RealPlayer 7, the latest version of the company's Internet audio and video player.

The development of a portal marks Real's decision to move away from its traditional role as a supplier of software downloads to emerge as an aggregator and broadcaster of multimedia content. It also turns up the heat in the battle for control of online music and video distribution with Microsoft .

It's a battle Microsoft is losing.

According to last month's Gartner/Dataquest report, RealNetworks leads the race for multimedia player downloads, with 70 million compared to Microsoft's 40 million. True to form, Microsoft has an aggressive position in the area and has had a couple of useful wins recently. Last week it partnered with MusicMatch to distribute and market digital audio and also inked a hardware developing agreement with Cirrus Logic . IDC analyst Kevin Hause warns against writing Microsoft off. "RealNetworks has the installed base of users, but Microsoft has the ability to get its platform [via inclusion with the Windows operating system] onto the majority of new PCs," he said.

At the core of the new service is Take5, which RealNetworks is trumpeting as the first online daily programming service. Daily streaming content for Take5 will be chosen by an editorial team from major broadcasters such as Fox, BBC and MTV, and Internet-only broadcasters GrooveTech and Firstlook.com.

While Real's move could see it up against portal giants like Yahoo and Lycos, it is more likely its new services are more a way of ensuring the RealPlayer keeps its lead over Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Noah Yasskin, analyst at Jupiter Communications, believes that "it doesn't make much sense" for RealNetworks to start competing as a generic portal. "The real challenge for Real is to stay ahead of Microsoft in providing reasons for consumers to download the RealPlayer," he said.

Unfortunately, despite several phone calls to its press office, RealNetworks did not respond for comment.

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