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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 13, 2013 at 12:01 AM

RealNetworks’ new mobile play: Listen ringback service

RealNetworks is launching another mobile product as part of founder Rob Glaser’s effort to reinvent and revive the Seattle digital media company.

LISTEN_Screenshot_People

Called Listen, it’s a new ringback app and service that the company is launching in the U.K. later this year and in the U.S. in the first quarter. The launch follows Real’s acquisition in October of London-based ringback provider Musicall, which expanded Real’s presence in the space.

Ringback services — which let cellphone users assign ringtones to particular callers – hark back to the early days of cellphone monetization by carriers, but they remain a big business for Real. More than 18 million people pay monthly fees for ringback services sold by carriers but powered by Real.

Now Real is overhauling the business and shifting it from a largely white-label carrier service to a branded service that’s distributed and sold directly to consumers, via the app stores run by Apple and Google.

“The economics are more interesting for us,” said Max Pellegrini, president of Real’s mobile entertainment business.

The Listen app does several tricks. It can be used to add images, as well as ringbacks, to contacts. The app can also play voice status alerts, such as a voice telling callers that you’re in a meeting or driving and can’t answer the phone. It can also be scheduled to play certain songs as ringbacks on holidays, birthdays or other special occasions.

Real will offer Listen as a freemium service, with free access to a basic version. The company will sell tokens to buy songs to use as ringback tones and offer a premium version for $2 to $3 per month. The app also can scan music that’s already in the user’s library and suggest songs be purchased as ringback tones.

The company’s also repurposing the Listen brand and domain that it acquired in 2003, when it bought online music provider Listen.com and its Rhapsody music service. Real spun out Rhapsody in 2010 but kept rights to the Listen brand.

Real also appified its RealPlayer media player software, turning it into a mobile-oriented app and service in September.

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