Hands up if you've ever heard of BridgeCo. No? Us neither, but that's about to change following a CNBC report detailing the company's relationship with Apple. BridgeCo is in the business of embedding its network media processor and software stack into its partners' audio equipment to enable wireless streaming. Now, according to a CNBC interview with BridgeCo CEO Gene Sheridan, Apple decided sometime last year to make BridgeCo an AirPlay launch partner. As such, any vendor that embeds BridgeCo's newest tech will be able to accept streaming audio (and its metadata) from an iTunes library or handheld iOS 4.2 device -- there's no mention of video or picture streaming although AirPlay supports both. According to CNBC, audio gear should start arriving with the BridgeCo software in time for the holidays allowing iTunes users to "mix and match their favorite equipment with a common software." What that means isn't exactly clear, though BridgeCo does offer the ability to link systems into a distributed home audio network that includes a "party mode" where all speakers are synced to play from a common source. Importantly, according to Sheridan, this is the first time that Apple has opened up its iTunes software to a third party, giving it a glimpse at the source code. Exclusively? That's the big question.

When Apple announced AirPlay, it listed Denon, Marantz, B&W, JBL, and iHome as "featured" partners. Coincidentally, in a blog post published two days after Apple's fall music event, BridgeCo listed all of these brands, with the exception of Marantz, as partners of its own. If you'll recall, the "Made for iPod" licensing program has provided a steady stream of revenue for Apple since 2005. And in the last few years, Apple has relied upon a proprietary authentication chip to authorize device compatibility and to unlock features such as video streaming. Apple undoubtedly seeks similar control over the expected rush of AirPlay-enabled devices in order to ensure a consistent user experience while making a few bucks on every third party accessory sold.

So is BridgeCo the new chip and software behind a "Made for AirPlay" accessory certification program? We can't say for sure. Sheriden does let on that the Apple deal's impact is "immense" and should provide more than half of the company's revenues. Needless to say, the idea of combining systems from multiple brands into a unified whole-home audio network is certainly attractive. Sonos and Squeezebox, your approach to distributed wireless audio is officially on notice.

Update: Computerworld published a second interview with Sheridan this morning that digs a bit deeper into BridgeCo's capabilities. For example, BridgeCo solutions support Pandora and Rhapsody streaming in addition to 12,000 streaming radio stations. BridgeCo also makes an SDK available to OEMs and developers. Now for the money quote: "The two companies spent the last year working together to develop AirPlay technology." In other words, BridgeCo is not just an AirPlay licensee, it helped develop the tech. Computerworld also confirms that AirPlay will be licensed similar to "Made for iPod" systems. And with all the speculation and rumor about Apple getting ready to offer its own subscription streaming service once its data center is complete (and contracts signed), it's easy to see how AirPlay could monetize Apple's bid to dominate the connected home audio market.