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RealOne sub service bows online

Includes access to online music through MusicNet platform

After much anticipation and myriad delays, Internet software maker RealNetworks on Tuesday unveiled RealOne, a digital media subscription service that includes, for the first time, access to online music through the major label-backed MusicNet platform.

RealOne offers access to MusicNet, which has licensed tracks from AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann EMI and Zomba, at a monthly cost of $9.95. The fee gives consumers access to around 75,000 songs, including work from hitmakers like ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, R.E.M., Eric Clapton and the Dave Matthews Band.

For an additional $10 a month, RealOne also includes a smattering of exclusive news, entertainment and sports content from such partners as ABC News, CBS, CNN, iFilm, E! Entertainment Networks and Fox Sports through individual channels. More partners, including a channel hosted by Martha Stewart, are expected to launch in the coming months.

RealNetworks also took the wraps off of its new RealOne player, the latest incarnation of its audio- and video-playing software that includes a built-in Web browser, CD-burning capability, archiving for digital media files and support for dozens of different media formats. RealOne combines RealNetworks’ popular RealJukebox, RealPlayer and subscription-based GoldPass service, which currently has 400,000 paying subs.

Launch of RealOne is a major step for the record business, which has been working feverishly for the past year to make its songs available for sale on the Net and provide a legal alternative to wildly popular file-sharing services like Napster and its successors.

RealOne will be followed by another MusicNet-based subscription service developed by AOL, reportedly before the end of the year. Also within a few weeks of launch is Pressplay, the digital music company backed by Sony and Vivendi Universal, which will also include content from EMI. Pressplay’s current retail partners include Yahoo! and MP3.com.

Another music Netco, Listen.com, launched its own music subscription service called Rhapsody on Monday, but the company has not yet announced music licenses from any of the big five labels.

Industry watchers are still unsure how consumers will react to the new services, which put restrictions on how, and in some cases how long, music files can be used. RealOne, for example, offers 100 streams and 100 downloads a month for the $9.95 rate, or 125 of each for the $19.95 “Gold Pass” membership, but all the downloaded files disappear after the month is up unless they are renewed. Another sticking point is that none of the services will allow uploads to portable devices at launch.

Also likely to be problematic is the stratospheric rise in popularity of free services like Kazaa, Grokster and Morphius, which the labels say violate their copyrights.

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