Produced by NBA Entertainment, basketball fans will be able to tune into their PCs and watch the Dallas Mavericks host the Sacramento Kings on Friday at 5:30 p.m. PT. RealNetworks said it expects the Webcast to attract viewers who can't tune into the televised broadcast, which will be available on local stations in Dallas and Sacramento.
Analysts said the audience for such offerings will likely remain small for some time but added that sports is shaping up as one of the most promising areas of Internet programming for entertainment companies.
"Initially, these events are kind of loss leaders to get people accustomed to the idea" of Webcasting, said Phil Benyola, research associate for investment company Raymond James & Associates. "The Web's continuing toward a video-centric entity. It's things like sports that's going to bring people together to make it important enough for the companies to get (events) online."
RealNetworks has been deepening its relationships with content owners at a time when many Web streaming companies have retrenched or folded. In addition to video and music offerings, the company is making a big bet on live sports events. Friday's Webcast is part of a deal announced with the NBA in January. Last week, the company followed up with a three-year agreement to audio-cast Major League Baseball games on the Web.
Those deals, and a separate announcement that it is creating an online music venture with three of the major record labels dubbed MusicNet, give RealNetworks among the most diverse Web programming of any streaming media company online. Since last year, the company has been selling a streaming subscription service for $9.95 a month.
RealNetworks called Friday's Webcast a taste of things to come.
"I would characterize (this event) as a preview of coming attractions," said Scott Ehrlich, vice president of programming and production at RealNetworks. "One of the things that you can do is use marquee sporting events to showcase possibilities and capabilities of this new medium...It will give people a flavor of things that can be done."