Digital Flashback: Real Gets Into The MP3 Business

One year ago this week, RealNetworks announced successful launch of RealJukebox.

RealNetworks proved that a late arrival at the MP3 music software party was nothing to be ashamed of.

By the time the company's RealJukebox package came into being last year, MusicMatch was preparing the fourth generation of its all-in-one jukebox program, and Nullsoft's Winamp was approaching its 15 millionth download.

Despite that competition, RealNetworks announced on May 12, 1999, that 1 million people downloaded its RealJukebox package in the first 10 days of its existence, thanks to the built-in brand-name recognition of its RealPlayer streaming-media software.

Today, RealNetworks product manager Rob Grady said, RealJukebox has about 30 million users. That's less than a third of the RealPlayer user base, but ahead of the competition: MusicMatch Jukebox, AOL/Nullsoft Winamp and others.

RealNetworks estimates that its users have more than 1 billion digital-music recordings in their collections. The company monitors what users are recording so it can help them label the tracks properly, according to Grady.

Digital-music fans got a scare last year when it was reported that RealJukebox was monitoring the usage patterns of customers. In the contested legal area of MP3 downloading — the maker of the MP3-trading software Napster on Wednesday said that at Metallica's request it had blocked out 317,000 users who had downloaded the hard-rock band's songs — monitoring tools can be worrisome. However, RealNetworks claims in its privacy policy that it never matches personally identifiable information with its record and playback information and says users can shut off the monitoring tools.

"Clearly, there is a lot of power and momentum from the consumer's standpoint in the digital music space right now," Grady said. "Consumers have always loved their music, but the fact that the Internet makes it easier to get their music and to find information on their music makes the medium match what consumers want."