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With RealNetworks' influence waning, CEO departs

Rob Glaser drove his company to the forefront of digital music and video but in recent years, it has been eclipsed in both areas.

Rob Glaser built RealNetworks into a digital media power but the company's influence has waned.
Greg Sandoval/CNET

Rob Glaser, the CEO of software company RealNetworks, has stepped down, according to a statement released by the company Wednesday.

"After nearly 16 years, I've decided it's time for me to step away from day-to-day operations," Glaser said in the statement.

Real said Glaser will remain at the company as chairman and appointed Robert Kimball as president and acting chief executive officer. The announcement comes a day after Real announced that John Giamatteo, the company's chief operating officer, had resigned.

Glaser jumped from Microsoft after spending 10 years working for CEO Bill Gates to form RealNetworks. He built the company's proprietary software formats, RealAudio and RealVideo, into powerhouses. In the early days of the Web, Real was nearly synonymous with online video and audio.

But Real was eclipsed by MP3 and other formats in music and the company appeared to sit on its heels when the video boom erupted on the Web in 2006. When Chad Hurley and Steve Chen launched YouTube, it touched off huge interest in video. Real couldn't seem to capitalize and the company's influence has been on the wane ever since.

Throughout Glaser's technology career, he built a reputation for never backing down from a fight, even when it may have made sense.

In 2005, Real settled a $1 billion lawsuit it had filed against Microsoft when his former bosses agreed to pay Real $761 million in cash and services and promote Rhapsody, Real's subscription music service on the MSN network. While that deal may have proved beneficial for Real, some of other Glaser's legal pursuits haven't.

In 2008, Real launched a legal campaign against the major film studios when it became apparent they were going to sue Real. Hollywood wanted to prevent Real from selling RealDVD, claiming the DVD-copying software violated copyright law and contractual agreements.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel placed a preliminary injunction on RealDVD sales, forcing Real to wait until the decision can be settled by a jury. Her decision was a blow to Real because the company spent more than had also planned to launch a new DVD-player that also recorded and stored digital film copies.

Whether Real plans to pursue the costly and legal campaign is unclear.