Real's Subs: A Rhapsody in Green


New York — RealNetworks Inc. is looking to pick up a bigger share of the online music business by rolling out varied subscription choices.

The company, whose Rhapsody online jukebox is distributed by Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems Corp. and other MSOs, launched its Rhapsody 25 service last week.

It will allow any Internet user to play up to 25 songs each month on their computer from Rhapsody's library of 1 million songs for free.

RealNetworks also launched Rhapsody To Go, which for $14.99 per moth will enable subscribers to download an unlimited amount of songs from its library to portable music players.

The service is initially compatible only with the iRiver H10 and Creative Zen Micro media player; it won't work on Apple Computer Corp.'s popular iPod.

Luring in Subs

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser said the company expects that its Rhapsody 25 service, while free, will make money because it will entice new users to order subscriptions to Rhapsody Unlimited, which costs $9.99 per month.

Through an agreement it signed with RealNetworks in January, Comcast offers the company's Rhapsody Radio Plus product for free to its Comcast Online high-speed data customers. RealNetworks charges non-Comcast customers $5 monthly for the service.

Comcast Online senior vice president of content development Elizabeth Schimel said last week at a RealNetworks press conference that more than 60% of the MSO's cable modem customers listen to music online, and that 50% of those customers listen to an hour or more of streaming audio per week.

“Our launch of Comcast Rhapsody Radio Plus has been one of the most successful that we've had to date on,” Schimel said. “We believe that broadband is more than just a high-speed, reliable way of accessing the Internet. It really is a lifestyle choice, and that music is very, very critical to that lifestyle for our customers.”

1 Million served

RealNetworks said earlier this month that it had passed the 1 million subscriber mark for all of its subscription services, including Rhapsody.

Glaser said that RealNetworks would pay record companies an undisclosed fee for each song that Rhapsody 25 users listen to for free.

He said the company is able to offer up to 25 songs for free monthly to all Internet users through a sponsorship deals it cut with Chrysler Corp. and Google Inc. RealNetworks includes Google's search tool bar in downloads of its RealPlayer software.