Is RealPlayer losing ground to Microsoft?

After the privacy violation lawsuit of last week, RealNetworks slips behind Window Media Player

Seattle-based RealNetworks is having trouble catching a break lately. Last week the company was slammed with a lawsuit accusing it of privacy violations related to its RealJukebox data collection practices. Now comes word that its popular streaming media player, RealPlayer, is losing ground to Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

A new report from technology research firm PC Data Online shows that Microsoft's Windows Media Player is experiencing faster growth than Real's RealPlayer. Use of the Windows player was up 34 percent during September and October. RealPlayer only experienced a 5.3 percent increase, according to the PC Data report.

But Apple's QuickTime Player fared even worse. Its usage actually declined in September and October by 7.7 percent.

"(Real and Microsoft) do have more players because they've been doing this longer," Frank Casanova, director of QuickTime product marketing at Apple, told ZDNN in a recent interview. "QuickTime didn't do real time streaming until very recently. We were the last of the major three to deliver streaming."

The Windows Media Player growth is likely due to consumers increasingly using more than one type of player. According to the report, more than 41 percent of households with Internet access used media players at least once a month. In October, those consumers used an average of two different players. That's up from an average of 1.6 players per month in September.

RealPlayer, which last week rolled out version 7.0 of its software, remains the dominant streaming media player. Eight out of ten consumers choose the RealNetworks product. Windows Media Player is used by an average of six out of ten users. The QuickTime Player, which is readying version 4.1, is used by three out of ten people.

Rob Grady, product manager for RealPlayer, defended the company's market position. "The real test is how many people go back and use it every day, or once a week, or twice a week. We're very confident that when you look at the data from that position Real Player has a huge leadership position," he said.

While the data appears to support the notion that streaming audio and video players are becoming widely adopted among Internet users, it also shows that jukebox software is not as popular yet. Fewer than 23 percent of consumers who use media players also use jukebox software, which allows users to manage and play downloadable digital music in a variety of formats, including the popular MP3 format. Of those, more than 80 percent use RealNetworks' RealJukebox player.

"There's slightly more education needed to use the jukeboxes than the players, so that could slow its growth to some degree," said PC Data Online's Howard Dyckovsky.