Several Announcements from RealNetworks Intended to Light Up Online Music Distribution

In an Internet world, the audiophile's quest for sound quality via high-resolution formats like DVD-Audio or SACD might be the last gasps of a dying generation. New media and technology companies like Liquid Audio, Diamond Multimedia, and RealNetworks are betting that the new generations of music lovers care more about how music is distributed, stored, and manipulated than about how it ultimately sounds. Les Garland, one of the founders of MTV and VH-1, has stated that "Technology fueled the growth of the market for music during the time when we pioneered music on cable. The Internet is having a similar effect, tenfold, driving artists and consumers to embrace digital media."

Hoping to ride atop the next audio wave, RealNetworks unveiled last week the public beta version of RealJukebox, which the company describes as "the first complete digital music product that gives consumers everything they need to acquire, play, and manage their personal music collections." RealJukebox is based on RealSystem MP, also announced last week, an "open and extensible" digital music platform enabling integration with a wide range of Internet music services and hardware devices. The company says that a fully functional version of RealJukebox will remain free after the final release of the product. An enhanced version, with features "optimized for music aficionados," will be released later this year.

Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, claims that "RealJukebox is the biggest breakthrough in music listening since the Walkman. Just as RealAudio and RealVideo revolutionized Internet broadcasting, so will RealJukebox forever change the way music is delivered to and enjoyed by consumers. RealJukebox provides consumers with the easiest way to play and manage music downloaded from the Internet and recorded music from personal CD collections, while at the same time respecting the important rights and interests of copyright license holders."

"RealJukebox is the first new application that takes advantage of the networked home," said Mark Christensen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Network Communications Group. "The ability to acquire, edit, and store recorded music and stream this digital-quality music to any networked PC in the home may be the new killer home networking application. We've worked closely with RealNetworks to ensure that Intel's AnyPoint Home Networking products take full advantage of this dynamic digital music system."

RealNetworks and AT&T also announced last week that both companies will support the a2b music technology for secure digital downloading, developed by AT&T Labs. AT&T explains that a2b will allow a company to offer different download options, such as full songs for consumer purchase or for limited-time promotional purposes. The artist or label can further choose to allow a consumer to give a friend a secure copy that will play only a limited number of times, but will also include a way to purchase it themselves. Or the artist can release an enhanced CD with a song in a2b music format that's accessible only by connecting to the Internet to get the key to unlock it. Both companies expect that these technologies will help make possible the sale of songs over the Internet, a business that AT&T and RealNetworks believe will change forever the way consumers buy and listen to music.