RealNetworks offers new products, CEO offers new perspective



Posted on November 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 4:01 PM

In the RealNetworks' version of a perfect world, an app icon with the company's familiar "R" logo would appear on the home screens of every smartphone and tablet computer. Clicking on that icon would link you instantly to mobile video and audio content.

After all, it was that RealPlayer icon that took up residence on many PC desktops in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

WATCH: Full interview with CEO Rob Glaser

"We released our first video product in 1997," said Rob Glaser as he looked back on the early days of the company he founded and steered through the dawn of the Internet era as CEO.

But then RealNetworks, which laid the foundation for the entire streaming media industry, was overtaken by competitors and technology trends that included the rise of mobile devices and cloud computing for media storage. The results put pressure on the company's financial performance.
Glaser, a Seattle tech industry pioneer, ended up stepping away from the company in 2010.

It would prove to be a relatively short absence. He came back as interim CEO in the summer of 2012.
Glaser spent the time away from RealNetworks with family, but also focused on venture capital activities and lent his knowledge to several tech startups, including one that sold to Twitter. He says his time on the semi-sabbatical earned him  "an advanced fellowship in the modern digital Internet era. When I came back, it was with a fresh pair of eyes."

He's been busy applying that newfound knowledge to RealNetworks.

Two new products introduced in the past four months represent Glaser's new mobile-centric direction for the company - RealPlayer Cloud, which lets users store video in any format and access it from a variety of devices and platforms, and Listen, a ringback tone service for smartphones. RealPlayer Cloud takes on Dropbox and other popular storage competitors, while Listen is an attempt to reinvent a service that was popular when feature phones, not smartphones, ruled the mobile market.

The company also has shiny new headquarters south of downtown Seattle, across the street from Safeco Field - which makes sense, given Glaser's history as a Seattle Mariners' co-owner.

In fact, he could zipline from his corner office to the stadium's top deck.

"I didn't put my thumb on the scale too much," he jokes when asked about the convenient location.

The company digs are also close to tech startups in Pioneer Square and Sodo. Glaser likes the neighborhood's energy, and hopes to exhibit some of it with his company's new offerings.

"We've shipped great products that are getting great reviews and that consumers are really embracing," Glaser said, "and so now we just have to roll them out and scale them up."

More products are in the pipeline, and Glaser said they will hew closer to what consumers want from their relationship with personal technology.

"We're leveraging the fact that these devices are both content creation and capture devices, and content consumption devices that people have with them all the time," he said. "Let's really make it easy for people to take full advantage of those to create things that they can share out with all their friends, permanently save, and watch anywhere."

RealNetwork's casual games division, GameHouse, is also getting the reinvention treatment. Glaser admits that the downloadable casual games business is "in secular decline because it's on the wrong side of history. It's a standalone PC in a world that's gone mobile, and it's a try-before-you-buy model in a world that's gone to a freemium model."

Despite those disadvantages, the company has steered GameHouse toward social casino games, and Glaser is so far shooting down any speculation that RealNetworks would sell this division.

"We've got more things in the pipeline, and as I said, we love all our children," he said, referring to his product divisions. "We're rational - we don't make bad business decisions just out of sentimentality, but we believe in all our businesses and we're focused on revitalizing all of them."