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RealNetworks to relaunch as music portal

The streaming media software firm will relaunch its home page on Monday in a bid to become a Web music destination, according to sources familiar with the plans.

Culture
RealNetworks is scheduled to relaunch its home page on Monday in a bid to become a Web music destination, according to sources familiar with the plans.

The company, which develops streaming media software, plans to move away from its current emphasis on software downloads to compete more directly with music sites operated by other Web music companies such as RioPort, EMusic, and MP3.com.

Sources said the new home page will closely resemble RealGuide, the company's Web music hub.

"[RealNetworks] is trying to take the lead as opposed to being a background software provider," a source said.

At the same time, the company plans to release a new software product, called RealPlayer 7, a streaming product with new features. According to one source, the RealPlayer 7 will contain a navigation bar dubbed "Take5" that presents five interchangeable links to Web streaming events.

RealNetworks declined to comment.

Plans for a launch party Monday in New York City appear to be on track despite embarrassing revelations yesterday that the company was quietly gathering data on the listening habits of its RealJukebox customers.

RealNetworks revised its privacy statement this weekend to disclose the practice, then issued a statement Monday saying it would no longer gather such information on its customers. The company also released a patch that customers can install to block future data gathering.

Answering the call
The new series of products signifies a strategic shift for RealNetworks. The company has traditionally positioned itself as a technology developer for multimedia delivery on the Web. But as downloading music from the Web emerges as a potentially lucrative business, RealNetworks has moved quickly to try to capture that market.

In May, RealNetworks launched RealJukebox, a device to allow users to convert, or "rip," compact disks and translate them into a digital file format. The product was viewed as RealNetworks' first major step toward tapping Web music consumers and the MP3 phenomenon. MP3 is a digital compression format that allows users to download music files onto a PC hard drive or portable MP3 player.

In August the company teamed with Warner Music Group to offer popular songs for download on RealJukebox. Observers hailed the deal as a positive indication that the music industry, which has historically kept a skeptical eye on digital distribution of music, was beginning to warm up to music technology companies.

More recently the company launched RealGuide, a Web music portal that features links to multimedia applications, e-commerce links, and an audio and video search engine.

In the past, analysts have predicted that RealNetworks eventually would have to branch away from just software and move into Web content. The allure of advertising and e-commerce revenue, as well as the ability to develop closer relationships with customers, would push RealNetworks into a portal play, analysts have said.

To kick off the new products, RealNetworks on Monday plans to throw a luncheon hosted by television personality Dick Clark, comedian Jon Stewart, and ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson, sources said. Eighties pop band the Eurythmics will perform at the event, which will take place at Rockefeller Plaza.

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