On Tuesday the company is expected to announce back-to-back partnerships with personal video recorder maker TiVo and Moxi Digital, a new set-top box company started by WebTV founder Steve Perlman. Such deals will give the streaming media company a place in the heart of consumer entertainment devices, which offer a potentially more fertile ground for music than the PC.
RealNetworks will see its software built into both TiVo and Moxi's new home entertainment systems, each due out later this year. In TiVo's case, consumers will be able to store music in RealNetworks format on the video system's hard drive, either downloading it directly from the Net or transferring it via an external CD drive.
The company has also struck deals with a handful of chipmakers, including Hitachi, Philips and NEC, that will allow DVD players, set-top boxes and other devices to support RealNetworks' technology.
The deals may well be ahead of most consumers, most of whom are at best used to burning CDs from music downloaded online. But they set the stage for a day when digital music will spread well beyond PCs, girding RealNetworks against similar drives from Microsoft and its Windows Media technology. Microsoft announced several deals with consumer electronics companies Monday.
"There's a battle right now for control of living room eyeballs and dollars," said P.J. McNealy, research director for GartnerG2, a division of the Gartner research firm. RealNetworks "is certainly moving down that path."
The deals are a boon for RealNetworks' subscription business as well as its software push.
TiVo subscribers will have the option to use the RealOne player though their TiVo box, turning the video recorder into a jukebox, for a small extra monthly fee. TiVo will also market subscriptions to RealOne Music, the MusicNet-based digital music services that RealNetworks sells for an additional $9.95 a month.
That service, which launched late last month, competes with similar but not identical monthly subscription services from Yahoo, America Online, MSN and others.
Support for the Real technology will also be included in the versions of the TiVo video recording system that are licensed to other manufacturers, the companies said. Consumers will be able to manage whatever music they store on the TiVo boxes or other hard drives with an on-screen TV interface.
"TiVo has revolutionized its customers' relationship with personalized television," RealNetworks COO Larry Jacobson said in a statement. "Together, TiVo and RealNetworks will be able to offer consumers a central location for organization and playback of all their favorite media--by way of their family TV."