RealNetworks shares rise on upgrade

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NEW YORK -- Shares of RealNetworks Inc. rose Friday after a Pacific Growth Equities analyst upgraded the stock, citing strong fundamentals and recent agreements with companies like Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks and Verizon Wireless.

The Rhapsody music service operator's shares added 28 cents, or 4.7%, to $6.24 in morning trading. During the past year, RealNetworks stock has traded between $5.45 and $12.08.

Last Tuesday, RealNetworks and MTV said they would form a new online music service called Rhapsody America, which will compete against Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store by offering music that users can access via personal computers and portable music players. Through a deal with Verizon Wireless, Verizon customers with access to Verizon's V CAST Music service will also be able to download songs to their cell phones from the new service.

In a Friday client note, Pacific Growth Equities analyst Derrick Wood wrote a recent share sell-off plus the new deals create a good time to buy RealNetworks shares. The stock is down about 25% since early July.

Wood lifted the company's rating to "Buy" from "Neutral."

Wood said RealNetworks will benefit from an expected $230 million for marketing it will get from Viacom over the next five years related to the MTV deal, the Verizon alliance and an upcoming move to integrate Rhapsody with new set-top boxes from TiVo Inc.

"Along with continued traction in growing music revenue via device partners, we believe this should help bring Rhapsody from a niche market into mainstream adoption," he wrote.
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