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RealNetworks wins top telco backing

Deal with AT&T, Sprint et al to boost bandwidth, battle Microsoft

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Streaming media market leader RealNetworks is set to announce a series of partnerships with major US telcos, including AT&T and Sprint, today. The deals, which allow the telcos' networks to be used as backbones to Real's Real Broadcast Network, mark an the latest stage in the company's plan to shore up its 85 per cent share of the streaming media market against moves on its territory made by its former partner, Microsoft. The Real Broadcast Network, launched in August 1997 in partnership with MCI WorldCom, has come to dominate the Internet broadcasting business. That said, it still suffers from those ol' bandwidth blues -- too many users are chasing too narrow pipes, and many fail to view the broadcasts they want to see or end up with poor quality images. Real reckons today's announcement will show that it now has the kind of bandwidth available to really ramp up the quality and accessibility of its service. The company is also working hard to encourage large US ISPs to redistribute its broadcasts to improve playback for their subscribers. Microsoft, on the other hand, is courting content providers with its Windows Media Technologies, announced last week. It clearly believes, at least for the moment, that if the material is there, the bandwidth needed to meet users' expectations will follow. It's also betting on the ubiquity of the upcoming version of Windows Media Player, 4.0, which will support its new streaming technology. WMP 4.0 will form an integral part of all future Windows releases, full and service pack. Unlike Netscape, which found itself in a similar position of market dominance only to end up losing marketshare to Microsoft, Real has always made its technologies as accessible as possible -- ie. free -- and has been working hard to promote its software and service. Heck, the last thing it wants is to end up as is an also-ran swallowed up by AOL... Clearly winning the mindshare war through higher quality playback will be very important here, and that's what the telco deal should help provide. Working with other Net media opportunities, such the online music business, always more of a downloading thing than a streaming thing, though the latter is becoming more important, will help too, hence last week's alliance with IBM and its purchase of MP3 specialist Xing Technologies. Still, countering Microsoft's uniquity will be tough, for all the lead Real already has. ®

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