Real unveils more MP3 products

With RealJukebox breaking company records, Rob Glaser plugs in new MP3-friendly products.
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

RealJukebox, which turns the PC into a consumer-oriented music playback device, has become RealNetworks' fastest product rollout ever, with more than 250,000 downloads in the 48 hours since it was announced on Monday, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser said Wednesday.

Glaser, opening this week's RealNetworks Conference '99 in San Francisco, also made a slew of new product announcements, including a streaming-media advertising application, a server for speeding up delivery of streaming media, an update to its RealPlayer and the final version of the Macintosh RealPlayer.

The fast rollout of RealJukebox, Glaser said, shows "a strong bottom-up excitement around MP3, much like what accompanied the original launch of RealAudio."

Top of the agenda was a new version of RealPlayer, which already has a user base of more than 60 million, and dominates the streaming media market. The new version, G2 Update 2, includes support for downloadable and streaming versions of MP3, the popular format for high-quality PC-based audio. The new version will allow for variable bit rate streaming of MP3 files, a technique for improving quality on lower-speed Net connections developed by Xing Corp. RealNetworks purchased Xing three weeks ago.

The "gold," or final, version of the Macintosh version of RealPlayer G2, also announced Wednesday, will include the same features as G2 Update 2, Glaser said. Separately, Glaser announced two products for content providers: the beta release of an advertising platform integrated with RealPlayer, and a RealPlayer proxy server, which increases streaming efficiency over Internet backbones.

The advertising application is the first to insert advertisements directly into RealMedia streams. The fact that ads can be inserted "on the fly" means they can be aimed to individual viewers. "This combines the rich media of broadcast with the targeting possibilities of the Internet," Glaser said. The application can also trigger multimedia banner ads to appear in the RealPlayer around the video clip. The beta release is available now.

RealProxy, the result of a collaboration with Inktomi Corp. announced in August, allows the RealNetworks server to run on top of Inktomi's popular Internet cache. The cache is a way of storing media around the Internet, closer to users, so that there are fewer opportunities for disruption.

Glaser noted that interest in and awareness of streaming media has vastly increased since this time last year, partly due to high-profile media events such as President Clinton's testimony (released, unedited, on the Internet) and John Glenn's space shuttle voyage.

RealPlayer's user base has tripled in that time, from 20 to 60 million registered users, and this week's conference appears to have at least doubled. Glaser said 400,000 people are expected this week. RealNetworks capitalised on the new interest in online media six weeks ago with a relaunch of its event and content guide, and the guide has tripled in traffic since then. "We're aiming for RealGuide to become the ultimate guide for music and media," Glaser said. "Users can find music and get instant gratification through streaming media."

Universal Music made moves Wednesday to accelerate the "Internetification" of the music industry by announcing an initiative to sell its own labels' properties online.

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