The streaming media pioneer launches a portable subscription plan for its Rhapsody music service, at a price similar to that of competing service Napster to Go.
Streaming-media pioneer RealNetworks on Tuesday borrowed a page from Napsters playbook to help fuel its digital music battle with Apple.
The Seattle-based RealNetworks Inc. announced a new "to go" option for its Rhapsody music service to allow subscribers to transfer monthly song rentals to portable devices.
The new Rhapsody to Go service is priced at $14.95 a month, mirroring the price point used by rival Napster Inc.
Like the similarly named Napster to Go, RealNetworks version launches with support for two recommended handheld devicesthe iRiver H10 and Creative Zen Micro.
During a splashy media event in New York, RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser said the service will eventually support hundreds of portable music players, including several models of Apple Computer Inc.s popular iPod devices.
Last July, RealNetworks triggered a feud with Apple with the launch of Harmony, a new DRM (digital rights management) translation technology that allowed the secure transfer of music to iPods. Apple fired back, accusing RealNetworks of adopting "the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod."
Glaser also announced a revamped version of the tethered Rhapsody music service, offering the option of three tiers for monthly subscribers.
Click here to read a review of the new Rhapsody 3.0.
The existing Rhapsody Unlimited service, priced at $9.99 a month, has been tweaked to add new music management and personalization features. To entice new users to upgrade to one of the fee-based plans, RealNetworks has added a Rhapsody 25 option offering 25 free song plays per month.
"The music subscription market is the core of our business," Glaser said, noting that the illegal download of music online still takes up the biggest part of the pie. "Subscriptions are great but they require an upfront commitment. The a-la-carte stores are great but the 99-cents-per-song option inhibits sampling and music discovery."
He argued that the free plays offered with the Rhapsody 25 plan will serve as a funnel to push newcomers to the Rhapsody premium plans. "The economics work for us because 25 songs a month is a delicious taste but not a fully appetizing meal."
Rafat Ali said he was impressed with the Rhapsody revamp, which offers a slick new interface with an improved user experience. "On the client side, its a major improvement. Its much faster than the original version," Ali told Ziff Davis Internet News moments after trying out the new service.
Read more here about Apples conflict with RealNetworks over iPod software.
Ali, who tracks the online premium content market closely, said it was a no-brainer for RealNetworks to follow Napster into the portable subscription market, but said he was unimpressed with the lack of buzz in the sector.
"Napster tried to create some buzz with the Superbowl ads but it didnt seem to work. I think RealNetworks has to build on the mojo of Rhapsody and look at new, creative ways to market the service," he said.
"That business model is defined by whatever they [Napster and RealNetworks] can wrangle from the music labels. Their hands are tied because of that," Ali said. Another downside of the portable subscription business is the lack of support for mainstream handheld devices.
"Rhapsody to Go will only work if users invest in the hardware. Theyre launching with two recommended devices but I dont think youll get people rushing out to buy those just to get the music service. The push has to come on the device side. If it doesnt get ported to enough cool devices, theyll always be chasing Apple," he added.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.