Real, Sprint Push Mobile On-Demand Audio

Looking to jumpstart the U.S. market for mobile audio-on-demand content, Seattle-based RealNetworks has inked a deal with Sprint to shuttle audio streams to Sprint’s PCS Vision subscribers.

RealNetworks, which is already streaming live baseball broadcasts to cellphones nationwide, said it would deliver breaking news, market reports, sports highlights and weather forecasts to users of Sprint’s enhanced PCS network.

Sprint counts about 2.1 million subscribers for its add-on PCS Vision service.

The audio-on-demand service is being powered by RealNetworks’ flagship RealOne subscription service and will push about four hours of content daily. Sprint cellphone customers will pay $4.95 per month on top of the existing $15/month for the Vision add-on for the streaming service.

RealNetworks said the service would feature easy access to content via a ‘1 or 2 click’ experience. The service will be limited to audio clips but there are plans to add on-demand-video clips sometime next year.

While multimedia content on cellphones has taken off in the European and Japanese markets, the market has remained stagnant in the U.S. because mobile phones do not have the capacity to power the distribution of digital video files.

But, with the Sprint deal, RealNetworks is betting that subscribers will pay to have instant access to audio clips on cell phones. RealNetworks’ VP of mobile products and service Ian Freed described the Sprint partnership is “the next leap forward” to deliver subscription multimedia content on mobile phones.

“[It gives] consumers an easy and compelling reason to watch the latest news, sports and entertainment, regardless of where they might be,” Freed declared.

Initially, the service will include sports content from FOX Sports and and Sporting News; news and business clips from ABC News, NPR News and CBS Marketwatch; and weather content from The Weather Channel.

For ABC News, which has invested heavily streaming content on the Web, the Sprint/Real deal opens up new eyeballs for its content. “We’re committed to delivering news in innovative ways. Mindful of increasing numbers of mobile consumers, we can provide alternate outlets for news when people are away from home or out of the office, said ABC News president David Westin.

“By providing content for mobile devices, we can leverage our successful experience in broadband in the wireless space,” Westin added. He said ABC News would provide Sprint PCS Vision customers with news clips from World News Tonight and Nightline, plus business and technology reports and entertainment news, including weekly movie reviews from ABC Radio’ s Bill Diehl. The clips will be 2-3 minutes in length and updated several times a day.

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