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Survey: RealNetworks still on top

RealNetworks continues to dominate the streaming media arena despite aggressive moves by competitors such as Apple Computer and Microsoft, according to new research.

RealNetworks continues to dominate the streaming media arena despite aggressive moves by competitors such as Apple Computer and Microsoft, according to newly available market research.

In an announcement timed to coincide with a major industry conference, RealNetworks today made public for the first time research by Nielsen/NetRatings looking at the usage of streaming media players during the month of October. The numbers showed RealNetworks' RealPlayer leading Apple's QuickTime by a factor of 4-to-1 and Microsoft's Windows Media Player by a factor of 10-to-1.

Separately, RealNetworks announced today that consumers have downloaded 7 million copies of RealPlayer 7, the most recent version of its streaming product, in the four weeks since its release. The company said it has an installed base of 92 million users.

According to Allen Weiner, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings, the survey placed RealPlayer at the top of several usage categories. "By every metric in our current research, unique audience, reach percentage and usage per person, RealPlayer is the leader in streaming media," he said in a statement.

Representatives from Microsoft and Apple could not immediately be reached for comment.

Still, it hasn't all been roses for Real. Last month, the company was hit with two class-action lawsuits accusing it of violating the privacy of millions of Net music listeners. The cases were filed after revelations that the company had assigned globally unique identification numbers to its popular music listening software that could have been used to track its users without their knowledge.

In addition, competition in the streaming industry remains heated. Apple has said it is committed to streaming. A new version of QuickTime released in April has seen 20 million downloads, the company reported last month.

But recent saber rattling by Microsoft could pose the biggest threat yet to RealNetworks' dominance.

Microsoft, which released a new version of its Windows Media Player last month, has seen some gains in the market, according to a recent report by research firm PC Data Online. The company also has begun wresting content distribution deals away from RealNetworks.

In a further sign of Microsoft's interest in streaming media, CEO Bill Gates today gave the opening keynote speech at a major industry conference, dubbed Streaming Media West '99.

RealNetworks general manager of consumer products Steve Banfield said the Nielsen/NetRatings research confirmed that RealPlayer is the streaming product of choice among consumers.

"People are using it, and using it a lot," he said in an interview.

He also downplayed any suggestion that Microsoft is making inroads with its Windows Media Player.

"If a company goes from one to two, that's 100 percent growth," he said. "It doesn't mean they're taking significant market share."