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RealNetworks showcases jukebox in the sky

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One of the surprises of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week was the impact made by RealNetworks, best known for its RealPlayer application, which is a small element of a much broader business. Instead, company CEO Rob Glaser outlined offerings and partnerships that enable mobile operators to move into an era of mobile personalisation. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK sat in…

RealNetworks, the digital entertainment services company most often associated in consumers’ minds with the RealPlayer Internet video application, showed just why it is so much more in Barcelona last week.

When CEO Rob Glaser outlined the company’s Entertainment as a Service strategy at Billboard and Hollywood Reporter’s “Mobile Backstage”” conference, part of the Mobile World Congress, he highlighted the mobile entertainment offerings ‚that will allow mobile operators to bring subscribers into an era of mobile personalisation‚ . The system provides music, games and video in a way that enables subscribers to individualise their mobile experiences.

Rob Glaser at Mobile Backstage (Pic: Gadget)

Glaser outlined the company’s ‚Entertainment as a Service‚ strategy at the Billboard and Hollywood Reporter’s “”Mobile Backstage”” conference, part of the Mobile World Congress. The ‚Backstage‚ event also played host to the likes of Billboard group editor Tamara Conniff, movie legends Robert Redford and Isabella Rossellini, and Black Eyed Peas musician will.i.am, and concluded with Glaser’s keynote.

In his address, he focused on the ways mobile operators can increase average revenue per user (ARPU) by offering mobile entertainment services to subscribers.

His central message was no surprise, given the focus of the event, but it has not often emanated from the world of PC-based software: ‚If our heritage was that the PC was most important device,‚ Glaser declared, ‚we’re seeing that change, with the mobile phone becoming the most important device.‚

He was also one of the rare speakers at Mobile World who acknowledged that every market has different needs from mobile applications and services.

‚Our exposure in mobile is global ‚ we are providing applications to 90 carriers around the world, and we’ve realised that the USA is a laggard in terms of mobile innovation. As a result, we have a large team in South Korea, in Salzburg, and in Helsinki. A lot of the leadership things we do in mobile come from those regions.‚

One of the consequence of this is that RealNetworks’ digital music download service, Rhapsody, has evolved into something far more extensive.

‚Rhapsody is now the software that connects you to a jukebox in the sky. It is now connected to portable devices, set-top boxes and mobile devices and handsets. Rhapsody’s DNA is the music dial tone, which allows you to access that cloud, but not only to access music. It will also bring you information on artists and store music and have your musical I.D. available to you wherever you go.

Glaser said that Rhapsody delivered more than one billion songs per year: along with RealArcade, one of the largest casual games destinations on the Web, he said, it could not only enhance the mobile phone user’s experience, but also the mobile operator’s revenues.

Glaser gave a live demonstration of how Rhapsody was accessed on a portable device connected to a PC, and how a song could be moved from the PC to the portable device, then to Facebook, and played directly in Facebook.

Gadget asked Glaser how he believed the music industry would survive the huge slump in CD sales at a time when sales of digital downloads were not increasing fast enough to fill the gap.

‚It’s true that physical music’s decline is faster than digital growth,‚ he responded. ‚Last year we saw 45% growth in digital download sales, but for every $4 of physical losses, digital only replaces $3. What happened to the music industry is that it replaced sales of $12 albums with $1 singles.

‚Largely, this represents a lost opportunity by the industry – although one that is recoverable ‚ to reinvent the album for the digital age. We’re working with the industry to do that.

‚The music industry has done a really good thing now. It had to get rid of DRM (digital rights management, which limits how music may be played once it’s been purchased digitally), because it made the product we were selling inferior to the product people were stealing. As of a month ago, all four major labels have agreed to abandon DRM, so that we can market a product that is superior to what people can get illegally.

‚Is it hurting us? In some ways, it is an opportunity. It hurt us when they did DRM out of fear. It hurts us sometimes when we launch subscription services and the music industry takes a very rigid approach to packaging those services. But overall we are going in the right direction.‚

Real had earlier announced that it had renewed a Music-on-Demand contract with SK Telecom of Korea. In addition, the company announced touch-screen support for mobile games, an alliance with Honda, and the release of Helix Mobile Server v12.

The highlights of these announcements, as provided by RealNetworks, included:

SK Telecom MelOn and RealNetworks

Since November 2004, through its acquisition of WiderThan, Real has powered the world’s first ubiquitous digital music service, SK Telecom’s MelOn. MelOn was the first integrated online and wireless subscription music service, allowing users to enjoy their music whenever and wherever they choose by streaming to a PC or downloading tracks to a mobile phone or portable music device. With the extension of this partnership, Real will continue to deliver digital music services to SK Telecom’s subscribers — the largest number of digital mobile music subscribers in Korea.

Touch Screen Support for Mobile Games

In April, RealArcade Mobile will release Little Shop of Treasures, a hidden object game based on a top-5 most-downloaded game in Real’s games network. Launched in 2007, the franchise has already spawned two sequels and boasts nearly five million downloads to-date globally. Little Shop will be the industry’s first hidden object game available for the mobile phone platform with support for more than 800 handsets.

RealArcade Mobile Partners With Honda

In an effort to introduce its popular Playman mobile game character to an expanded audience, Real’s mobile games division and Honda are making one of Real’s most critically acclaimed mobile games, Playman Extreme Running, available free of charge with embedded ads promoting one of Honda’s vehicles, the Honda Fit.

Game players can download and play six levels of Extreme Running — which won Sony Ericsson’s first-ever Content Awards late last year and was given Pocket Gamer’s Gold Award — in exchange for watching brief Honda Fit advertisements before and during natural breaks in play of the game. In addition, as players virtually run, somersault and jump through the city streets of the game, they will pass billboard ads for the Honda Fit.

Helix Mobile Server v12

Real announced that the next generation of Helix Mobile Server, currently in Beta with leading European mobile carriers, will be available broadly in Q2 2008, including new features and performance enhancements that will help operators drive adoption of video on mobile devices. Topping the list of new features is Fast Channel Switching and improvements to Rate Adaptation for on-demand mobile content.

Fast Channel Switching will bring a more “”TV like”” viewing experience to subscribers as they change between mobile video “”channels,”” reducing switch time from 10-15 seconds to just 3-5 seconds, eliminating dead time between videos. Rate Adaptation improvements for on-demand content will improve overall end-user quality of service, particularly with fluctuating networks. The feature automatically delivers the highest bit-rate stream that can be supported by the network at any given time.

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