Media player company RealNetworks has consolidated its headstart on phones, with a deal to put its player on SonyEricsson handsets.

With its previous agreements to put it on Nokia handsets and Motorola's Linux phones, Real hopes this gives it a commanding lead over rival media players from Microsoft and others, in a market which analysts expect to be huge.

"Video on demand will account for about $5 billion in 2008. If you are going to get to that kind of figure, you need a strategy where you are getting players into the devices themselves," said analyst Philip Taylor of Strategy Analytics. "This is not the same order of magnitude as the announcement last year that they were partnering with Vodafone,, but it consolidates their position in the mobile space. At the moment, the mass market is Java players on GPRS phones, but Real is looking in a good position three or four years out."

Although the market for video on phones is still evolving, the whole video-players-on-phones idea will be firmly aimed at consumers rather than business people, as Hutchison's 3 network has made clear (3 does not use Real Player).

Business applications are definitely not top of the agenda. The only one Realnetworks' European director Lee Joseph could come up with was streaming CEO briefings to the whole company, which most employees would regard as anything but a priority.

Mindful of the power that bundling has given Microsoft in the PC space, Real wants to be on every handset. In the phone world, being installed on the system will be an even more powerful position, as 3G phone users will be less likely than PC users to download software and fiddle with the initial settings. "People won't go looking for another player," said Joseph.

To get in there, Real has had to accommodate standards much faster than it did in its products aimed at the PC. Its back-end media server products, as used by Vodafone, support the official 3G media standard, MPEG-4, as well as the more widely-used Real and Windows formats.

"RealNetworks' rivals have always accused it of only offering token support for 3GPP standards such as MPEG 4," said Taylor. "There is a certain element of truth in that, but Nokia and Sony Ericsson would only work with it if it complied with 3GPP standards."