Fast 50 2008: RealNetworks

While most of us have been busy rebuilding our music collection yet again--at 99 cents a download--RealNetworks has been putting together the building blocks of the next revolution in music. Its Rhapsody subscription service offers unlimited access to a library of more than 4.5 million tracks for $13 to $15 a month. "There should never be a day when you don't have your music wherever you are," says Michael Bloom, Rhapsody's general manager. To achieve that goal, RealNetworks has been aggressively integrating Rhapsody into everything from MTV programming such as the Video Music Awards, social networks such as Facebook, and an increasing number of consumer electronics devices.

At the end of last year, TiVo and the Nokia N810 Internet handheld came on board. In the first half of this year, Rhapsody will power the music on all Verizon VCast cell phones. There are also hundreds of MP3 players that can play Rhapsody To Go songs. The net effect of aural ubiquity, or "music dialtone," as Bloom calls it? You listen to more music and you discover more new artists. Bloom sees 2008 as the year all of the groundwork pays off, expecting that all of major labels will offer DRM-free music and that subscriber growth, which has been steady, will become exponential. "We've always bought music, but we've only owned the format, not the music," he says. "Customers don't care about business models. Here's a better way to live your connected Internet life." All you can eat. Is there a more quintessentially American idea?

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