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RealNetworks plugs into Europe

The company launches new editions of its subscription service featuring BBC News, "Big Brother" and soccer matches that it hopes will entice Europeans to sign up--and pay.

    RealNetworks on Wednesday launched its subscription service in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, adding new content aimed at those audiences.

    The streaming media company said European subscribers to RealOne SuperPass will receive content related to sports, music, entertainment and news from MTV, BBC Worldwide, Wimbledon and CNN.com Europe, among others. For instance, European subscribers will receive live, 24-hour access to Webcasts of the TV show "Big Brother" as well as live audio coverage of the United European Football Association soccer matches.

    European subscribers, however, will have to pay more than U.S. subscribers. RealNetworks said its European service will cost $14.19 (9.99 pounds) to $21.29 per month to subscribe, compared with the U.S. service that costs $9.95 to $19.95 per month. A RealNetworks representative said the price was based on the value of the content that would be available.

    The launch bolsters RealNetworks' emphasis on subscriptions. The company said as of April, its RealOne SuperPass subscription service has more than 600,000 monthly subscribers worldwide. Some analysts expect those numbers to rise to 1 million subscribers by the year's end as the company adds premium programming and tailors the service to international users.

    RealNetworks "is seeing this as a market where they're kind of replicating similar success abroad," said Robertson Stephens analyst Sasa Zorovic. "What the challenge might be is that it's a different market where people are looking for different kind of content. That's why RealNetworks is launching a separate service that is more geared toward a European audience."

    Zorovic said people may be most attracted to the sports coverage, followed by news and entertainment. He added that almost 20 percent of current subscribers are international already, making this launch a "natural extension for the service." Zorovic said, however, RealNetworks may find it difficult to convince Europeans to purchase its video-heavy service, since high-speed Internet access is less prevalent than in the United States.

    According to Internet measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings, more than 26.1 million Americans accessed the Internet from home via broadband connection in May, compared with the United Kingdom, which had 14.2 million, and the Netherlands, with 4.9 million.

    RealNetworks, however, is confident it can woo current and future broadband subscribers in Europe. The company said the service will target countries where English is a dominant language, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Scandinavia.

    "RealOne SuperPass is the first service to enable European broadband users to get rich entertainment value from their bandwidth investment, while still allowing narrowband uses to access a great media experience," Joanna Shields, RealNetworks' vice president and managing director for Europe, said in a statement.

    RealNetworks said its partners are providing free as well as premium content to RealOne users. In addition, the company is offering a 14-day free trial to RealOne SuperPass in Europe.