Remember streaming media pioneer RealNetworks? The company has been retrenching this year–it replaced its longtime CEO, founder Rob Glaser, in January, then spun out the Rhapsody subscription music service that’s been its most prominent business for the last several years.Left behind was a gaming service and a couple of declining legacy media tech businesses like RealPlayer and infrastructure software for streaming audio and video over the Web.
Today at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference, the company finally announced its next step: an online digital media locker called Unifi. Although RealNetworks isn’t sharing many details yet, apparently consumers will be able to upload audio, video, and pictures to the service, then share them to any device.
So what’s new here? Music lockers like MP3tunes and Lala (acquired by Apple in 2009) have been around for years, although they always seem to be in legal battles with copyright owners, who don’t like the idea of consumers storing digital music permanently online. Unifi expands the idea to other media, and promises to add sharing with sites like Facebook.
But there are plenty of other solutions to make material from your PC directly available over the Web: Homepipe, Simplify Media (acquired by Google earlier this year), even the Remote Media Streaming feature built right into Windows 7. None of them use cloud-based storage, but consumers may not know or care. As long as they can access their media from any computer, it doesn’t really matter where the data is actually stored.
Unifi is going to need something to differentiate itself–a unique user interface, support on a wide range devices, or integration with other popular software or services might do the trick. Otherwise, this looks like RealNetworks is working on a problem that’s already being solved in other ways.
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