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RealNetworks turns on subscription service

The company launches a service to pipe music, video and other Net content over its popular streaming software for a monthly fee.

    RealNetworks today launched a subscription service to pipe music, video and other Internet content over its popular streaming software for a monthly fee.

    Dubbed RealPlayer GoldPass, the service lets subscribers tap a combination of software, services and content that changes monthly. The fee is $9.95 per month.

    The new offering is the first serious move by RealNetworks to charge for online content, and it points to a shift in strategy for the company. By moving to a subscription-based model for offering music and videos online, company executives said RealNetworks is fashioning itself after the cable industry, which packages components such as first-run movies and other entertainment into one service for a monthly fee.

    "This is an extension of our previous business model of seeing the Internet" as a media service, said James Higa, vice president of RealNetworks' consumer division. "This isn't just about software. It is a combination of software services and content."

    But RealNetworks executives were quick to say the move does not make it a media company.

    "We always thought we were a digital distributor and provider of content," said Mark Hall, vice president of RealNetworks media programming. "This is analogous to a cable company but not a media company like MSNBC or NBC. We're not developing content (or) hiring actors or screenwriters. We will partner with advertisers and traditional media companies like Discovery and others, like we've always done."

    Some of the exclusive features available on GoldPass include documentaries from, rock concerts from the popular House of Blues venue, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit video, according to the company.

    The GoldPass service comes nearly four years to the day after RealNetworks introduced one of the Internet's first digital media consumer software products, RealAudio Player Plus, the company said.

    "This is a logical next step for RealNetworks and an important next step for the industry," said RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser.

    The subscription service launch is accompanied by the final release today of RealPlayer 8, RealJukebox 2 and RealDownload 4, the company's family of streaming media software.

    The GoldPass Swimming with sharks service can also be seen as RealNetworks' latest attempt to trump rival Microsoft in the streaming entertainment market. The two companies have frequently updated their products, adding new services to gain an edge in the highly competitive market.

    In January, for example, RealNetworks bought Netzip, a maker of software that compresses large data files.