Yahoo! tuning out RealNetworks?

RealNetworks denies reports that Yahoo! Broadcast is set to stop supporting RealAudio. Yahoo! declines to comment

There may be trouble on the horizon for streaming media giant RealNetworks. Conflicting reports Tuesday say Yahoo!'s broadcasting division is moving away from its support of RealNetworks' RealAudio format in favour of Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

Up till now, Yahoo! Broadcast, formerly Broadcast.com, has offered its radio station affiliate partners the choice of streaming their content in either RealAudio or Windows Media Player format. Several stations are reporting Yahoo! has notified them the online giant will no longer support RealAudio.

Charles Travis, general manager for WGSO of New Orleans, Louisiana, said a Yahoo! official told him early Tuesday the company was notifying stations it was going to switch to Microsoft's format and stop offering RealAudio. According to a report from InternetNews.com, David Freedman, station manager at New Orleans' WWOZ, and several other officials from stations in New Jersey and North Carolina were also told of Yahoo!'s plans to stop offering RealAudio.

Travis said he isn't concerned about the switch because his station already streams the Windows format. "My engineer says he thinks the audio quality of Microsoft's systems is somewhat better than RealAudio," Travis explained.

Not all stations are as nonchalant. Bob Clarke, general manager for WRUF of Gainesville, Florida, was less than enthusiastic when he heard of the possible switch. "We're a little bit concerned because we just spent seven to eight thousand dollars in hardware to handle RealAudio at the G2 level," said Clarke. "For us that was a big investment."

Real denies reports Yahoo! officials would not comment on the possible switch, citing the company's policy not to comment on its private communications with its partners. RealNetworks spokesman Jay Wampold, "categorically denied" the reports, saying they were likely due to "miscommunication".

If true, Yahoo!'s decision would mark a significant setback for Seattle's RealNetworks, which has faced criticism lately that its audio streaming technology does not deliver the same quality as Windows Media Player. "Potentially, this signals a big change," explained Rob Enderle, vice president of the Giga Information Group. "Yahoo! is really the biggest player in the portal space. If they go (stop providing RealAudio) it certainly sends a signal to their competitors that maybe there's some reason to do this. They (Yahoo!'s competitors) may go too."

Enderle says he believes the move may be a precursor to a larger business partnership between Yahoo! and Microsoft.

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