NHL/Microsoft deal sticks it to RealNetworks

Microsoft and the National Hockey League have started a subscription service that will allow fans to search for and watch highlights from the 2002-2003 season. The service is $5 per month or $30 per season, and eventually fans will be able to watch entire games for an extra $3 per game.

This deal is presumed to be part of a response to RealNetworks’ modest success with their subscription service.

“It’s a ding at RealNetworks, which with NHL.com would have all sports’ seasons wrapped up in one subscription service,” said Ryan Jones, analyst at the Yankee Group, a research firm. “Microsoft has been going for the technology side but now is putting more focus on content.”

Based on RealNetworks’ latest numbers, content is the only thing allowing them to limp along. But it’s clear that Microsoft is going after this space, and has infinitely more money (give or take a few billion) than RealNetworks to do so. RealNetworks may win some battles, but it’s impossible for them to win the war.

My prediction: AOL/Time Warner buys RealNetworks in 2004 and uses them as their content delivery technology arm. Link