RealPlayer Takes Subscriptions

SAN FRANCISCO (08/15/2000) - Despite the monthly bill, cable television offers better quality TV than what those old rabbit ears brought you. With its new subscription service, RealNetworks Inc. hopes to become the cable network for digital multimedia on your PC.

RealNetworks is taking the flat fee plunge with the launch on Tuesday of RealPlayer GoldPass, an all-in-one media subscription service. For $9.95 monthly, in addition to buying the $29.95 RealPlayer 8 Plus, you can get software, upgrades, services, and exclusive content, updated monthly.

RealNetworks compares its service to the early days of cable, but cable never suffered from the bandwidth problems of today's narrowband Internet. Will Web users want to pay for digital content that is (unlike cable) much like the free stuff?

Player, Jukebox Updated

Introduction of the subscription service is accompanied by the release of RealPlayer 8, RealJukebox 2, and RealDownload 4. They're each available in free versions as well as $29.99 Plus versions that offer better quality audio and video. You can also get a suite of tools in a free and $49.98 Plus version.

(See "RealNetworks Blends Jukebox, Player.") To entice people to try the subscription service, RealNetworks is offering a 30-day free trial with the purchase of the $29.99 RealPlayer 8 Plus.

RealNetworks already offered subscription services for upgrades and support, says Mark Hall, vice president of media programming at RealNetworks. "With RealPlayer GoldPass, you get exclusive content and more services."

With Tuesday's launch, RealPlayer GoldPass customers can download Valve's Team Fortress PC game and view documentary footage produced by ABCNews.com. It features on-demand concerts from House of Blues by Cowboy Junkies, Mickey Hart, Ziggy Marley, Motley Crue, 311, and Yes. You'll find UFO and Paranormal Video footage from UFO TV (MediaWebcast) and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video.

From RealNetworks, you'll get the Best of Take5 (a RealPlayer daily news clips service), automatic product upgrades, and free phone service and support.

GoldPass is all about exclusive or archived content otherwise unavailable on the Web. For example, ABCNews.com will offer video footage from all of the Apollo space missions, says James Higa, vice president, consumer division at RealNetworks. "They'll continue to produce original content for the service."

And GoldPass won't be limited to streamed video. It will offer streamed and downloadable video and audio in many formats, including MP3, Hall says. It will also offer notification services.

As with cable TV, subscriber growth could lead to pay-per-view services, Higa suggests. "It's a lot easier to have impulse buying on the Internet."

Subscription Downloads

RealNetworks already offers a music subscription service through RealJukebox, but it focuses on downloading songs you might like, and it utilizes unused bandwidth.

"The free Real.com music service lets you get songs delivered to your PC in the background using technology from BackWeb," Higa says.

In contrast, the RealPlayer GoldPass provides on-demand content and services that include a mixed bag of digital media.

Although the service is designed to work over narrowband connections, RealNetworks has a broadband future in mind with RealVideo 8, a new video streaming technology in RealPlayer 8 Plus.

For broadband users, RealVideo 8 provides a significant improvement in video quality, Higa says. "We do think we have the components in place for a broadband experience."

In the meantime, there's still the challenge of getting 56-kbps modem users to pay a monthly fee for limited-quality digital multimedia.

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