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RealNetworks to mark milestones at broadcast conference

At the National Association of Broadcasters conference, the company will celebrate its fifth anniversary, the 115 millionth RealPlayer user, and a handful of technology advances.

Fending off a concerted challenge by archrival Microsoft, RealNetworks today will celebrate its fifth anniversary, the 115 millionth RealPlayer user, and a handful of technology advances at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.

As previously reported, RealNetworks, which as Progressive Networks launched the RealAudio player five years ago to the day at the same convention, now claims more than 115 million unique registered users of the RealPlayer. More than 25 million people have downloaded Version 7 of the technology, according to the company.

"Five years ago there was probably one Real server, and the number of players was probably equal to the number of people in the company," said Peter Zaballos, director of systems marketing for RealNetworks. "We've taken a huge step forward into turning the Internet into a mass medium for communication."

While celebrating its rise from start-up to streaming media giant, RealNetworks is working to stay ahead in areas that challenger Microsoft is busy staking out as well, especially the growing market for content that takes full advantage of high-speed, or broadband, Internet access.

The streaming company is positioning itself for the day when bandwidth is no longer a stumbling block for streaming audio and video, analysts say. That includes looking to bundle its software with consumer electronics appliances and mobile devices and increasingly competing with Microsoft for digital multimedia audiences.

"Real is obviously looking beyond the desktop," said Kevin Hause, an analyst with International Data Corp. "Home stereos become very interesting: How do you move the digital studio away from the PC?"

In the meantime, Real's immediate goal is to propagate its client and server software so that customers can become familiar with the brand. "It becomes less of a technology grab and more of a 'how can we get the largest installed base,'" Hause said. "Real obviously wants to own the desktop, but they're also pushing into (portable music) players and other devices."

RealNetworks remains well ahead of Microsoft in the market for streaming media software. According to recent measurements from Nielsen/NetRatings, RealNetworks' RealPlayer was the choice of 12.1 percent of consumers, with Apple's QuickTime chosen by 7.4 percent and Microsoft's Windows Media Player chosen by only 3.2 percent.

But few doubt that Microsoft is closing the gap with its rivals or that it will accelerate its onslaught as it begins bundling Windows Media servers free with the Windows operating system.

RealNetworks today will detail progress on its plans to get its technology to Web users with broadband Internet connections--a group that also will be targeted by Microsoft in its NAB technology announcements. New developments for RealNetworks include agreements with InterPacket and Mirror Image to integrate RealSystem G2's broadband capabilities with their broadcast networks.

Mirror Image provides a method of delivering Internet content that places it at distributed access points to avoid traversing long distances over the Internet, unlike content delivered from a single location. InterPacket Networks offers high-speed Internet connectivity by satellite transmission.

Other so-called last-mile Internet content distributors that support RealNetworks technology include satellite firms Cidera, iBeam and PanAmSat. Terrestrial broadband partners include Digital Island, Enron, Madge Networks and Microcast.

"Whether you're looking at it from a satellite or terrestrial perspective, our content providers have a wide range of options for how to deploy broadband content," Zaballos said.

In another development aimed at the growing market of broadband Internet users, RealNetworks will demonstrate advertising tools for media companies transferring content from traditional broadcast media to the Internet.

The ad-insertion tools let Web content providers insert advertisements tailored for Internet audiences into shows that originate on television. RealNetworks last year introduced similar tools for radio programming.'s Stephanie Miles contributed to this report.