Glaser returns to head RealNetworks, vows to be 'video cloud' leader

The ex-CEO who returned as interim CEO has been made permanent. This sounds familiar. Can history repeat?

RealNetworks, the video company that for a brief time in the 1990s was the leader in AV software on PCs before Microsoft ate its lunch, has a new CEO: Rob Glaser, the founder and former CEO who gave up the position two years ago.

Glaser has been working as interim CEO for the past two years. Now he's permanently in charge of turning the company’s fortunes around. That sounds awfully familiar, but Rob Glaser isn't exactly Steve Jobs. At least, he hasn't been in the past.

One example - in 2008, the company released a product called RealDVD which was designed to make a copy of DVDs the customer already owned. The company was immediately sued for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the product was barred from distribution by a court injunction. That software should never have gotten out of a product idea meeting.

After RealAudio and RealVideo tanked, RealNetworks cast around with a variety of streaming ideas, including the Rhapsody service, which it sold in 2010. Since then, it launched RealPlayer Cloud, a service for sharing videos recorded on smartphones and tablets. Its other offering is LISTEN, an app and service for customizing ringtones on your phone. You can assign different songs for individual callers and other features.

RealNetworks also announced today that RealPlayer Cloud has more than 5 million registered users, up from 2 million just 3 months ago. Hopefully it can sustain that momentum, because Spotify has over 10 million subscribers. Beats Music, the streaming service that is mostly what Apple paid $3 billion to acquire (along with the overpriced headphones), reportedly had a very slow start. There hasn't been any news on the service since April.

RealPlayer Cloud does have a few advantages, though. It's available on 11 consumer platforms, including the new Amazon Fire phone, and in nine languages. It recently added Korean and Traditional Chinese. RealNetworks says its users in the aggregate upload more than 4.5 terabytes of content each day.

In an interview with Kara Swisher of Re/Code, Glaser said that the company has been focused on the PC and now it's making the tough shift to mobile devices and the cloud. "We have been a very PC-oriented company and have had to retool our business, which is hard," said Glaser. "Revitalizing the company is fun most days, challenging most days, but rarely daunting most of the time."

At least he recognizes where the challenges are. Can he pull off a Jobs-like return? So long as he doesn't make any brainless moves like RealDVD, he might.

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