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RealNetworks scores streaming deal with NBA

The league strikes a deal with the streaming media company to provide live Webcasts of content on the NBA's 24-hour digital TV network.

    The National Basketball Association said Monday that it has struck a deal with streaming media company RealNetworks to provide live Webcasts of content on the league's 24-hour digital TV network.

    It will also stream audio feeds of every NBA game. Starting Thursday, the audio will be available to subscribers of RealNetworks' RealPlayer GoldPass service, which provides people with audio and video content as well as software and games for $9.95 per month.

    Facing a challenge in the streaming media industry as broadband becomes more available, RealNetworks has been attempting to expand its products and services. In addition, analysts said that Monday's announcement represents significant advances in sports content online.

    "The streaming media revenues from the point of the NBA are a small piece of the pie, but they will be a rapidly growing piece of the pie," said Phil Leigh, analyst at Raymond James & Associates. "But from the point of view of those companies focused entirely on streaming, the growth will be very rapid."

    RealNetworks has been working to increase revenue by providing more online entertainment content that will attract consumers. RealNetworks Chief Executive Rob Glaser said the company has more than 170 million unique RealPlayer users worldwide, up from 100 million from the beginning of 2000.

    "Sports programming is one of the real magnets or cornerstones that drive this new media and the Internet," Glaser said in a conference call. "What we're going to do is grow the usage because we give people more ways to get programming they want."

    NBA Commissioner David Stern said that although the league sees promise in Internet programming, its major distribution channel is networks that broadcast sports over the airwaves, cable and satellite.

    "There will be in the not-too-distant future some NBA live programming of a modest amount on the Internet," Stern said in a conference call. "We're experimenting with digital cable, and this is to move us on to see how we can experiment and help to grow what we think will be an important part of our future."

    The league over the past year has inked several deals to increase its online presence. Earlier this month, SportsLine.com gained access to video highlights and use of logos for the NBA and its teams through a multiyear contract. The league also has agreements with WebTV for enhanced game broadcasts and with USA Networks for marketing and sales of NBA merchandise.