Get Real: Realnetworks Pioneers Rich Media On The Net

According to its own company history, in 1995 "RealNetworks, Inc. pioneered the entire Internet media industry, and continues to fuel its exponential growth."

At first glance, this claim might appear to be the usual "first-best-only" PR stuff we've grown to know and loathe in the adult industry; but consider: "[b]ecause the Internet was built to handle text-based information, not audio and video and other rich media... RealNetworks, Inc. [invented] and release[d] the RealPlayer and RealAudio," revolutionizing the way the Internet is used, and ultimately, the way the Internet functions.

And that's a fact.

With the development of its trademark Helix back-end server software, RealNetworks, Inc., provides a universal platform "for the delivery of any digital media from any point of origin across virtually any network to any person on any Internet-enabled device anywhere in the world," - if that's comprehensive enough for you.

When we contacted director of PR for Real, Erika Shaffer, for a profile for our music issue, we covered a lot of ground: MP3 vs. AAC formats, what P2P's going to do for and to Internet users in the future, going mobile. She notes that Real believes "that music is one of these horizontal kind of genres. Everybody is interested in music, pretty much."

The parallel here being that the same might be said about adult Internet material.

The company this year released its tenth version of the Player software, RealPlayer 10. "There's a bunch of things in the new RealPlayer 10 that we're excited about," Shaffer says, including simplification of use. "For example, if you're in your library and you're looking at music, instead of having to go to a tools menu, all of the options that you might want to use are [available] on a left-hand sidebar.

"Other things that it does that are particularly exciting for consumers is it plays back all media types, so instead of having to jump between, say, a QuickTime player and Windows Media Player and your RealPlayer, you can actually use the RealPlayer to look at all your Windows Media files or QuickTime files or MPEG files - basically any of the major formats that are out there."

The controversy that's blown up around P2P - the fallout of which is at least partly responsible for sullying the rep of MP3 - elicits this from Real's director of adult entertainment, Josh Newman:

"While most discussions of peer-to-peer tend to focus on the potential for piracy and the cannibalization of existing markets and asset values, with the advent of new developments in digital rights management and cross-platform playback (i.e., download to the PC and playback on other devices such as MP3 Players and home entertainment systems), peer-to-peer systems can be harnessed to expand revenue-producing opportunities for content owners by facilitating the mass distribution of the content files while protecting the license/transactional rights of the copyright owner." This is exactly what the adult Internet industry should want to hear.

"As a matter of fact," Newman says, "one adult company, PPV Networks based in New York, is fairly well along on an implementation of Real's Helix DRM solution to exploit P2P distribution as well as to drive transactional and subscription revenue with secure, DVD-quality digital downloads direct to a user's PC."

DRM figures prominently in new developments at Real that are of interest to adult Webmasters. As Newman puts it, "We think the development of new technologies such as DRM, as well as other secure authentication and billing services, and the building out of platforms such as mobile networks for the delivery of IP-enabled media, represent growth opportunities for not only Real's technology and services, but for anyone who has rich media content of interest and value to an end user willing to pay, either on a subscription or transactional basis." He says Real has already seen "encouraging proof of this in the inclusion of our technology in services such as Movielink for the PC, and uptake of streaming content services [by mobile technology leaders]."

Speaking of mobile, "As a company," Newman informs, "we're quite focused on mobile technology. We're working with a whole range of players within the mobile industry to enable distribution, content, and playback on mobile devices.

"In terms of device manufacturers, we have a licensing arrangement with Nokia for a version of the RealPlayer, which is being shipped on Nokia phones worldwide right now. The U.S. version of that phone is the 3620, the most recent version; that's a rich-media cable phone, it has a little browser, it has the Symbian operating system [a popular OS for mobile phones] on it, and one of the applications that comes with the phone is a version of the RealPlayer.

"On the carrier side," he continues, "we're working domestically with carriers like Sprint and AT&T, and internationally with Vodafone, which is the world's largest cell phone/wireless carrier. They're not only using the Nokia platform - the U.S. and some of the European carriers also have subscription services that users can purchase streaming content [through] as part of their phone billing.

"There's one other category of portable devices: PDAs. At various levels, they're enabling either video playback on the pocket PC platform or combinations of pictures with audio on the Palm platform."

All of this is great news, considering an early February finding by the Wireless Internet Applications (WIA) service of Strategy Analytics, Inc., a global research and consulting company. Their report estimated that by 2008, over 150 million users worldwide will be wirelessly accessing video clips (including sports, movies, and adult entertainment), generating revenues of just under $4.7 billion.

Newman says the thing that Real is most proud of, however, is that "all of these devices can be reached, and a user can send content to anybody using these devices, from the same Real server... so the big advantage to a Webmaster is you don't have to purchase a whole different array of servers, computers, etcetera. You can use the same Real server to send content to any of these devices over the Internet anywhere in the world."

Real has the laudable distinction of being a mainstream company that had no compunction about dealing with the adult Internet industry from the beginning. Newman notes that as an early adopter of new technologies (think VHS, CD-ROM, DVD), adult's capitalizing on Internet data and media delivery provided a natural connection with Real. "To the extent that Real's innovations in the realm of streaming established us as the leader and pioneer in real-time media delivery over the Internet, it's not at all surprising that adult Websites were among the first to recognize the advantages of streaming video and incorporate our technology into their offerings early on."

For those starting out, Real can be a first-stop destination. There are resources on the corporate site at where how-to information is accessible to Webmasters. "A fairly savvy Webmaster interested in VoD and other secure distribution approaches could find helpful information and places to start," Newman informs; and "somebody who just wants to add streaming video to their site can [find] obvious links for getting started, which run you all the way through creating video [for a site] - encoding it - to setting up a server so you can host it and stream it to a user over the Internet.

"We have server packages along a whole range of needs and prices, so a beginning Webmaster could probably take advantage of our noncommercial software that allows for up to 25 streams at a time; it wouldn't cost them anything. As they get more established, they might upgrade to the paid version."

Real Networks has also partnered with IBM to offer joint services to Internet content providers looking to set up their own Internet video and audio businesses. Those selling and distributing content will use Real's media server and player software, while IBM provides the e-commerce, transaction, and database expertise.

"The IBM deal is really much more focused on creating a framework for companies that want to launch audio and video services," Shaffer says. "They might want to do pay-per-view or they might want to do subscriptions.... " Shaffer says the alliance was based on experiences Real was having with customers who didn't "want to build something from scratch, [but they also didn't] want to just hand over all of their content to an outsource group. They want to have the tools in place so they can put together a solution without too much expense." Real is integrating IBM's content manager, IBM's DB2 database, with the Helix software. "Additionally there's a lot of software in the package that helps people connect to billing, [manage] customer accounts or access customer service."

Newman says adult Webmasters "should definitely be thinking about how to integrate pay-per-view and authenticated content into their Websites and business plans. With the addition of DRM and other secure distribution tools, the Helix platform is fairly easily used for both the free and secured distribution of content across a wide range of operating systems, transport schemes, and playback devices, from PCs to PDAs mobile phones." That's the future calling, baby.