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RealNetworks bows subscription plan

$9.95-a-month service piques H'w'd's interest

RealNetworks unveiled a subscription plan Tuesday, which if successful, could provide the answer Hollywood has long been looking for to make money from Web content.

The Seattle-based company said it would begin kicking off a new subscription service in the coming months that, for $9.95 a month, delivers exclusive content like Internet games, videos, musicvids and tracks, special events, cartoons and software upgrades to already paying users of its RealPlayer GoldPass service.

If successful, move lets RealNetworks grow beyond its core Internet media software business and turn into a cable-like channel for entertainment content. Company has already spent the last year slowly moving into the content space, adding more Internet movies and music offerings to its software packages. It already has deals with over 300 content distribs.

The music industry, especially, will be focusing on whether the service works, considering previous plans to launch pay services on Web sites from Sony and House of Blues have sputtered in the days of Napster.

More specifically, the GoldPass will offer archival material from Real.com and Film.com, concerts from House of Blues’ hob.com, docus from the ABC News library and footage such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video.

“This is a logical next step for RealNetworks and an important next step for the industry,” said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks. “Twenty years ago the commercial cable industry was born, and over time it sparked the creation of a wealth of new programming and new business models. We think today’s introduction of RealPlayer GoldPass will catalyze similar developments over the Internet.”

RealNetworks software is used by 140 million Netizens, a reach that makes it an alluring partner for traditional media companies looking for a viable way out of the Napster trap.

“One of the reasons we launched this service today is that we do believe that valuable content deserves and needs a great distribution model on the Internet,” Mark Hall, veepee of media programming told Daily Variety. “It provides a huge opportunity for folks that own content with a new means of distribution.”

Hall was coy on revealing what entertainment companies the Netco is looking to pact with, saying that “in this business, we’re talking to everybody all the time.”

The content available with the GoldPass will be updated each month and will eventually expand to include musicvideos, cartoon and, of course, reality programming. In addition, Netizens who subscribe will get premium software and services from the company.

“House of Blues has been a longtime fan of creating new revenue models for artists,” said Philip Fracassi, senior veepee of production and distribution for House of Blues Entertainment, which will provide concerts from bands such as 311, Yes and Motley Crue to the service. “We think that RealNetworks has developed a great testing ground for consumers and we are excited about being part of these first steps.”

RealNetworks stock closed up almost 6% in trading Tuesday to $43.88. This is still significantly down from the Netco’s one-year high, which was $96.

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