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RioPort Bows Music Delivery Service for Audio Players

Spurred on by the latest trend in for-a-fee music services, RioPort Inc. Wednesday introduced a service that delivers secure digital music payloads on devices such as audio players and cell phones.

Peer-to-peer networking who? Billed as a Direct-to-Device service to make crystal clear that it is not meant for the PC, the service is another first in the burgeoning off-PC, secure services trend: RioPort's d2d service provides record labels with merchandising, promotion and pricing opportunities for music delivery, while preventing their content from running rampant through the Web by foregoing the PC for downloading music directly to secure devices.

IDC analyst Brian Ma told InternetNews.com that the new RioPort service sounds akin to MP3's previously announced plan for a "transfer to device" service, which works instead with unsecured MP3s.

"MP3.com seems to be emphasizing convenience for the user (no need to download to the PC then transfer to device; rather just go directly to the device), whereas RioPort is bypassing the PC for security reasons," Ma said.

To date, A&M Records, Dreamworks Records, Priority Records, Moonshine Music and others said they would begin d2d trials with promotional tracks. As far as manufacturers, RioPort has lassoed SONICblue, Nike, Compaq, Samsung, Sewan and others to provide software and solutions that allow their products to playback music downloads using a variety of file formats and DRM schemes (think Microsoft Windows Media DRM and InterTrust).

d2d may also appeal to content holders and device manufacturers because they have the flexibility to offer consumers music on an "a la carte" or subscription basis.

IDC's Ma said that while RioPort has clearly secured support for its d2d service from the hardware vendors, ease of use is an important question that must ne answered.

"Many of these DRMs require several proactive steps on behalf of the user making the process cumbersome," Ma said. "It is important for the solution to be transparent and easy for the consumer to use."

Anthony Schaller, senior vice president and chief technology officer of RioPort, said the service was created with the notion that new consumer devices will appear in abundance that support the proliferation of legal digital music into consumers' hands.

"We believe that a large opportunity exists in providing a direct-to-device delivery solution that will allow for aggressive pricing, controlled usage and innovative merchandising for all our partners," said Schaller in a press statement.

RioPort's d2d Service enables music download delivery that may only be played on authorized destination devices, such as portable digital music players, set-top boxes, portable stereos, car stereos, music-enabled cellular phones and digital audio/video recorders. d2d files can be downloaded directly to the Web-connected authorized device or through a connected pass-through device, such as a PC, if the authorized device does not provide sufficient DRM support.

According to IDC Corp., the market for portable audio systems that tap music via the Web are booming. The research firm found that worldwide compressed audio player shipments will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 51 percent, from 3.3 million in 2000 to nearly 26 million in 2005. Compressed audio player shipments in the U.S. will follow a similar growth path, jumping to 18 million in 2005 from 2.8 million in 2000.

"The market for compressed audio players will continue to grow, and it will grow significantly beyond devices resembling the original, portable Rio-like units," said Susan Kevorkian, analyst for IDC's Consumer Devices program. "Because of the cost and capacity constraints of flash memory, an increasing number of vendors and consumers alike are turning to cheaper alternative media to transport their music."

RioPort will begin offering its d2d Service as part of its PulseOne Media Service to electronics and Internet appliance manufacturers immediately. PulseOne features a 24 x 7 Web content hosting center; a catalog of thousands of music downloads; a network of e-tailers. When a registered device communicates to the PulseOne Service, RioPort delivers the appropriate technology components directly to the target device or to the PC pass-through device.

The application service provider's announcement comes a couple of weeks after RealNetworks Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. inked separate deals with the Big 5 record labels. With the aegis of MTV's interactive division, RioPort has formed digital distribution relationships with the Big 5 as well as numerous indies. RioPort said they would offer paid song downloads through MTVi's Web sites.

RioPort is currently talking with fellow music content providers to support the new service through its network of online partners.



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