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Real, BackWeb team to push music delivery service

The streaming media software leader plans to use once-fashionable push technology to launch a new digital music delivery service later this year.

Streaming media software maker RealNetworks plans to use once-fashionable push technology to launch a digital music delivery service later this year.

Seattle-based RealNetworks said today that it intends to integrate BackWeb's so-called Polite Push technology with its RealJukebox. The software is used to send data directly to desktops, as well as to notify people when they receive the information. RealJukebox is a desktop product that allows users to convert, or "rip," CDs and translate them into a digital file format.

The subscription-based service, code-named Quicksilver, will be free to RealJukebox users and available mid-year, executives said.

In a separate agreement, RealNetworks said it invested $15 million in San Jose, Calif.-based BackWeb. News of the deal sent BackWeb stock climbing nearly 11 percent this morning, gaining $4.38 to reach $44.63. RealNetworks rose $1.19 to $155.

The push deal reflects the growing importance of the digital music market in the PC and music industries, where players from record labels to consumer electronics manufacturers are scrambling to forge alliances and improve their downloading and delivery technologies.

It also represents a potential comeback for push, seemingly consigned to high technology's scrap heap. Made famous by PointCast, push technology failed to catch on as expected, partly because of corporate concerns it would slow networks. After scrapping plans to go public and witnessing the collapse of a deal with several regional telephone companies, PointCast was acquired last May by Internet entrepreneur Bill Gross' Idealab.

Rebecca Nidositko, an industry analyst at the Yankee Group, said RealNetworks' attempt to move push technology back to the forefront is a promising one and that push technology was just ahead of its time.

"Push technology came out early in the Web's history when there weren't a lot of live applications for it so that businesses and consumers couldn't see what it (actually) does," said Nidositko. "This (new service) will be interesting because it's going to get a lot of other companies interested in push again."

She added that Real's efforts to incorporate push technology with its new service has great potential for opening sales and distribution channels for the company as well.

"There's great opportunity here for Real to be constantly and consistently and efficiently delivering music to potential customers," said Nidositko.

BackWeb sees digital music as key for reviving push.

"We've been looking for the 'killer app' to bring push back to the consumer," said Todd Johnson, vice president of worldwide marketing at BackWeb.

"Digital music is that app," he said. "It makes great use of the technology and eliminates download problems for the consumer."

The Quicksilver service will allow users to pick music titles they want from a catalog that includes both samples and full-length songs. RealNetworks said there are approximately 20 million RealJukebox users who could use the free service. The software competes with OneStep, which develops the software used to download, create, organize and play MP3 digital music files.

With Quicksilver, music will be "pushed" to a desktop during times when users are connected to the Net but aren't tapping into the maximum bandwidth of their connection, Real said. The service will not affect the performance of other Net applications such as email, chat, streaming media and browsing, the company claims.

Dave Richards, vice president of consumer products at RealNetworks, said Quicksilver will help eliminate the time-consuming process of downloading music online.

"Now, when you want to find high-fidelity music, it takes 15 to 20 minutes per song," he said. "This is a service that's built on the Jukebox technology. This is a seamless process. You subscribe and the music arrives."

Richards said the company is working with a variety of music providers to build a catalog but has yet to strike any deals.

While the service will be offered for free, Richards said the company is considering a variety of business models, including offering some songs for free download forever and others as samples. A premium service that customers will pay for may also be offered, he said.