RealNetworks Forges New Media Commerce Suite, Standard

Finally giving the world a large sampling of the technology it pledged to
bring to the upcoming MusicNet initiative, RealNetworks Inc. Wednesday unleashed a new
media commerce suite and an XML-based language that could obviate the need
for digital rights management (DRM) in e-commerce.

The RealSystem Media Commerce Suite includes products and services for
secure media packaging, license generation and content delivery to media
players across major platforms. Designed with online music subscription
providers in mind (but it would certainly work well for online movie
providers), users may create business models for distributing media using
the suite. The product was designed on the strength of the company’s network
media delivery system, RealSystem iQ.

RealSystem Media Commerce Suite was created with RealNetworks’ 200 million
RealPlayer users in mind and over 15 million copies of RealPlayer enabled
with the Media Commerce Suite functionality have already been installed
since this past March.

RealNetworks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rob Glaser boldly
predicted that the suite will “ignite the market for commercial media

While not going that far analysts at Jupiter Media Metrix (JMM) saw the announcement as positive and well timed.

JMM Associate Analyst Dannielle Romano told that she was not all that surprised about the technology suite and that it was without question timed with the pending MusicNet in mind.

“…It feeds our breathless curiosity and certainly meets Hollywood’s interest in stressing video [over the Internet],” Romano said. “It’s certainly interesting that 15 million copies [of RealPlayer with the media commerce suite] have been installed.”

But Glaser and Co. didn’t stop there. Launched at Streaming Media West 2001
in Long Beach, Calif. Wednesday, the eXtensible Media Commerce Language
(XMCL) initiative was designed to establish standards for Internet media
commerce. As the e-commerce media delivery sector stands now, often
incompatible, back-end systems such as e-commerce management, customer
relationship management and asset management are all employed, making for a
clumsy arrangement. RealNetworks feels that crafting a common language for
business rules will render tools that are used to play content — codecs,
digital rights management systems, and e-commerce systems — obsolete.

RealNetworks said it will work with other industry leaders to ensure the
initiative evolves into a widely-accepted standard. The streaming media
specialist picked some hefty supporters, too; Adobe Systems, America Online
and Sun Microsystems Inc. are just a sprinkling of about 15 companies who
have agreed to back XMCL.

“We think this new initiative will ultimately be a win for interactive
consumers, who are more and more looking to the Internet for their music,
and enable all parts of the industry to take the delivery of digital media
to the next level,” said Barry Schuler, chairman and CEO of AOL.

More information about XMCL will soon be available here.

Not surprisingly, the new media commerce suite and the XMCL standard form
the kernel of the pending MusicNet platform; AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann
and EMI Group plc. had said they tapped RealNetworks for its technology, and
this is exactly the new product they were hoping for as MusicNet gears up to
battle pressplay (formerly code-named Duet), the rival music subscription service spearheaded by Yahoo Inc., Vivendi
Universal and Sony Music Entertainment, also due later this summer.

In the wake of Napster’s numerous legal thrashings, it comes as no surprise
then that the emphasis for the suite and XMCL standard lies on security,
with the companies behind MusicNet left hungry for digital rights protection
from the popular file-sharing firm.

“The protection of EMI’s music content demands a trusted and secure delivery
solution that is as flexible as it is reliable,” said Jay Samit, senior vice
president of EMI Recorded Music. “RealNetworks’ new Media Commerce Suite
will ensure that MusicNet offers the security EMI artists need, while
letting fans enjoy their favorite music in whole new ways.”
Interestingly enough, the media commerce suite is also backed by Sony Music,
of the rival pressplay consortium.

Though the yet-to-be-installed XMCL specification could eliminate DRM
technologies, the RealSystem Media Commerce Suite will allow content owners
to use numerous back-end systems, rights security and rights management
solutions. The company claimed that the architecture is open enough at this
point to allow the integration of other advanced digital rights management
solutions, such as InterTrust Technologies’ flexible rights management
tools, and any other appropriate technologies.

Note that it did not specifically mention compatibility with long-time rival
Microsoft’s Windows DRM solution, which incidentally has been used to protect and serve 7.5 million online video and music transactions
as of last week, according to the software giant. Some analysts would see
this as a poke at Microsoft, which has also stressed the importance of XML
for the delivery of data across the Web. Essentially, RealNetworks now has
some real ammunition if the standard is indeed passed.

The media commerce suite consists of four parts: RealSystem Packager, which
prepares encoded content for streaming and download distribution; RealSystem
License Server, which authenticates and secures licenses for the secured
content; RealSystem Trusted Delivery Plug-in, providing
content owners with the ability to deliver RealSystem Packager processed
content in a seamless way via streaming or download; and lastly, the Media
Commerce Upgrade for RealPlayer, a free upgrade that extends existing
RealPlayers to allow online and offline content playback of content.

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