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RealNetworks, attempting to reinvent itself with a new slate of products, is working on new type of ringback tone that works like an audio status update, delivered via phone.

Ringback tones, for the uninitiated, normally allow mobile phone users to choose a tune that people calling them hear while the phone is ringing. RealNetworks already offers that technology to mobile carriers, but now the company has developed a new variation that will let users select from preset status updates or record quick customized messages that callers will hear when the phone is ringing.

Mike Lunsford, the interim RealNetworks CEO mentioned the project — known internally as ‘Hey Yo’ — during the company’s earnings conference call last week. Here’s how he described the approach.

Like a ringback tone, the message — not a ringing — is what a caller hears first. These messages can be followed with a musical ringback tone or with a standard ring or the subscriber can program the service to drop the call after delivering the message. For example, maybe I’m at the movies. By pushing a single button in my “Hey Yo” smartphone app, I might record, ‘I’m at the movies with my daughter, catching the latest Disney princess flick, so I can’t pick up the phone right now. Either call me back after 8 or leave a message.’ Now my friend knows why I can’t take the call and what to do. And he didn’t have to wait for ringing or voice mail to get the message. When I exit the theater and look at the phone again, it will remind me to swap out the movie greeting, back to my default mode.

Lunsford said on the conference call that “Hey Yo,” or whatever it’s ultimately called, could be sold as a separate product or bundled with existing ringback tone services. We’ve asked RealNetworks for more details on the plans and possible timing.

RealNetworks is rebuilding its product pipeline after a massive restructuring that saw the company exit most of its content-producing businesses to focus on media management and distribution technologies, including its existing RealPlayer, its upcoming Unifi cloud-based media management service and the recently unveiled Rinse music cleanup tool for iTunes.

Lunsford took the interim CEO position after the surprise resignation of Bob Kimball in March.

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