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RealNetworks gets steamy with Playboy

The streaming media tech company adds Playboy to its mix of content partners for its subscription video-on-demand service. If it worked for cable, could it work for Real?

If it worked for cable, it might work for RealNetworks.

The streaming media technology company on Thursday added Playboy to its mix of content partners for its subscription video-on-demand service. As first reported by CNET, RealNetworks has been mulling the addition of adult content as a way to draw subscribers to its RealOne service, similar to the way cable networks have offered steamy programs as premiums to their standard fare.

Playboy TV Club will be available only as a stand-alone subscription instead of an integrated part of RealNetworks' RealOne SuperPass, its video service that counts CNN, ABC News and Major League Baseball audio as its partners. RealNetworks will manage all technology, billing, customer service and content delivery for Playboy TV Club, which will cost $24.95 a month.

Playboy is one of many partners that have signed up to become stand-alone content subscriptions that RealNetworks calls OpenPass. Just like cable's mixed salad of niche programs, OpenPass channels range from the sensual to the sensational. Partners include "The Hawaiian Network," "JFK: The Truth," "Botbash Network," "Surfing Live" and "Professional Bowlers Association Tour." There's even "Planeta Samba Pass" for "Brazilian culture, music, dance and women."

Each of these channels has their own monthly fees. Subscribers are not required to join RealOne SuperPass' $9.95 a month service.

The objective for OpenPass is to allow content partners to sell subscriptions using RealNetworks' streaming and playback technology, said Dan Sheehan, RealNetworks' vice president of marketing. Sheehan said the program allows smaller outlets to sell video without having to squeeze them into RealNetworks' primary RealOne SuperPass offering.

Given the nature of some of the partners, Sheehan said, RealNetworks has implemented standard controls, including credit card verification and parental restriction of content, to prevent underage access. However, the safety net does not prevent underage viewers from typing in the credit card number of someone of legal age.

"We can't preclude that," Sheehan said. "If that's what kids can do, there's lots of other mischief that they can get into and it's not something we're in a position to prevent. I think it's the responsibility of parents to keep track of their credit card."

RealNetworks is but one of many Internet giants attempting to charge subscriptions for high-bandwidth video or audio programming. In March, Yahoo launched its own streaming media service, Yahoo Platinum, in an effort to compete with RealOne SuperPass.

AOL Time Warner's America Online unit has touted its streaming media partnerships with ABC News,, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. AOL is beefing up its multimedia programming in hopes of convincing members defecting to third-party broadband access providers to remain loyal to its service.