Rob Glaser Steps Down as Real Networks’ CEO

Rob Glaser

Real Networks‘ founder Rob Glaser has stepped down as CEO of the company he founded back in 1994, just days after the departure of the company’s COO John Giamatteo and after a federal judge dismissed Real Networks’ antitrust case against movie studios over its DVD-ripping software RealDVD.

“After nearly 16 years, I’ve decided it’s time for me to step away from day-to-day operations,” Glaser said in a statement. “I’m grateful to all of our stakeholders—customers, partners, shareholders, and most of all, employees—for the support and commitment they’ve given to RealNetworks.”

Glaser’s departure will mark a historic change at Real Networks: Glaser founded the company in 1994 after leaving a position as head of Microsoft’s VP of Multimedia. Rumors had had Glaser preparing to leave the company for some time, but scuttlebutt said the plan had been to recruit or promote a new CEO before Glaser stepped out the door. Now, Glaser has departed the company on seemingly abrupt terms; long-time Real Networks’ executive (and newly-minted board member) Robert Kimball is serving as “acting CEO” for the time being. Glaser will stay on as chairman of Real Networks’ board of directors.

Real Networks has been a long-time player in the online music and video arenas, getting its start with RealAudio (later Real Player) and launching one of the longest-standing online music subscription services in the form of Rhapsody. However, Real Networks also hit some major stumbling blocks: the company famously got into a DRM war with Apple’s iPod over “Harmony,” a product that wrapped audio from Real Networks in Apple’s Fairplay DRM for use on iPods. Real Networks also bet heavily on Microsoft’s music ecosystem and repeatedly characterized Apple’s iPod and iTunes services as flashes in the pan…yet Apple is still going strong and Microsoft’s most successful portable media device—the Zune—also abandoned Microsoft’s Windows Media platform. Real Networks abandoned plans to spin off a casual game company in 2008, and while Rhapsody is still up and running, partners Viacom and MTV aren’t entirely happy with their deal with RealNetworks. Arguably, Real Networks’ most successful business strategy was going after Glaser’s former employer: Real Networks won a massive $761 million antitrust settlement from Microsoft in 2005, after accusing Microsoft of abusing its position in the operating systems market to exclude Real Networks’ software.

Real Networks plans to launch a search for a new permanent CEO; acting CEO Kimball will be a candidate for the job.