Ok. So maybe my title is a bit on the tabloid side of media hype. But according to an article in tomorrow's New York Times Rob Glaser, Real CEO offered to create a “tactical alliance” with Apple in an e-mail message to Steve Jobs.
Apparently there was a bit of “and if you don't” message in the e-mail indicating Glaser maybe knocking on the doors in Redmond next. I'm not sure what's happening behind the closed doors in Cupertino, Redmond and Seattle, but it's clear that Real is under Real pressure to perform.
I've never liked RealAudio, Real Player, or Real anything. Except the reality that there are too many media formats on the net and there needs to be a shake-up. Real Networks has been struggling to find its position and has had mild success. However from a practical user point of view, the Real media that I listen or watch on the internet litters my desktop with a slew of .ram files. And maybe there's a preference or setting that would stop this annoying behavior, but as a user I shouldn't have to worry about such things. Both QuickTime and Windows Media Player run much more smoothly for me.
Another problem with Real is that they gotta generate revenue from users. And while a free Real Player is available for Mac OS X, finding it on their website is nearly impossible. They do everything they can included the smallest possible font to lock you into a commitment to buy the non-free version. Sure you can buy a PRO version of QuickTime, but Apple doesn't try to trick you into the Pro version when all you need to do is download a player app to watch a movie trailer.
As for Windows Media Player, I've got no clue. It works. Was simply to download and works transparently. Bravo.
But what's really at stake here is the music sales online. Apple clearly nailed this market and developed a slick solution. And they're selling a boatload of music. And along the way Apple developed a beautiful Windows application and clearly has the best MP3 Player/Jukebox for both Macintosh and Windows. And key to the online music sales is Apple's Fairplay digital rights management system. This is how Apple got past the red herring that was plaguing the record companies and holding them back from online music sales. Instead of focusing on a solution for the problem the record companies and RIAA went after users with fear tactics and witch hunt like law suits. Moving in its shadows, Apple came up with a system that works and the record companies have bought into. And it's just want Rob Glaser wants.
Glaser and Real want to be able to sell music through an online service that will play on the number one selling MP3 players in the business. In a licensing deal that Apple could ink, Glaser would then make the iPod the standard music device sold through the Real online store.
I'm not sure what the traffic or revenue stream generated by Real and its online store. But if it's significant this could be a coup for Apple while forging a path toward defacto standardization. And we all know what's at the end of the proprietary technology path. Darkness and defeat. Ask Apple. Ask Sony.
But if Jobs wants to keep his exclusive and be the only game in town for selling music that will play on the iPod, he won't ink a deal with Real. And it's here where it gets complicated. I think Jobs learned his lessons log ago. He has already established relationships relating to iTunes and the iTunes Music Store with Hewlett-Packard and AOL.
Pundits will likely draw on Jobs past and predict he'll turn down Glaser's offer. And according to the Times, Jobs hasn't' responded. The fact that this memo was leaked caught Glaser by surprise. So he says. I'd bet that's not the case. No matter what this is going to be an interesting story to watch.