At the Consumer Electronics Show here, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser showed off new technologies that could put the company's streaming media software in control of multimedia content in the home. If there's anything to be said about this year's CES, it's that he's just one of many who are fixated on the TV set.
Glaser gave the first public demonstration of how RealNetworks' software could be used in a home entertainment system of the future. In one scenario, he showed the company's software on a touch-sensitive screen.
By pushing graphical buttons (much as a mouse click is used today to control playback), users could control the playback of high-quality music videos on a TV that's hooked up to a stereo system. Album art, lyrics and links to Web sites could be displayed using the software. New content could be streamed from the Internet but would likely reside on a multimedia server that's connected to the Internet via a super-fast cable or DSL modem connection, he said.
In addition, Glaser gave a preview of how content from RealNetworks' Web page could be streamed to the television via a cable set-top box. Through an arrangement with Liberate Technologies, Real will have its multimedia playback software preinstalled on cable set-tops based on Liberate's technology. These set-tops could offer Internet access, and as such are capable of playing back streaming audio over the television.
The Internet TV, the multimedia PC and the game console are likely to be the most common forms these multimedia servers take, said Jon Peddie, president of market research firm Jon Peddie Associates. Peddie is of the opinion that one device won't dominate over the other in terms of popularity; each will have their uses, and each will need to effortlessly distribute content to each other.
These new technologies have the potential to lead to TV-based e-commerce opportunities for RealNetworks and others somewhere down the road. But analysts say the industry should look first for RealNetworks to continue making deals with other consumer electronics and interactive-TV technology companies to help ensure that it will be a player in the digitized home of the future.
Glaser's remarks at CES came the same day RealNetworks announced partnerships with music giants Universal Music Group and Sony in its ongoing attempt to compete as a major player in the online music market.
The deal with Universal doesn't preclude any of Universal's other arrangements with music retailers. RealNetworks is a distribution mechanism but won't be a virtual storefront for Universal content, executives here explained.
RealNetworks might refer people to a record store, said Glaser, but the company will not sell Universal's albums itself. Where RealNetworks benefits, he said, is in increased advertising and sponsorship opportunities, and possibly in referral fees.
Today's deals also come just days after portal giant Yahoo announced it had extended its relationship with RealNetworks after weeks of speculation that the companies were at a crossroads.
Glaser today declined to comment specifically on whether Yahoo is now offering radio affiliates Windows Media technology as its preferred streaming format, saying it is up to Yahoo to comment.
He did say that such matters in general amount to little more than "chest puffing" that is irrelevant in the long run, as the overall popularity of Real's products will still help drive use.
"The whole issue is a tempest in a teapot," said Glaser. He said that measurements of traffic on RealNetworks servers show that about 1.5 percent of traffic comes from Yahoo's various sites, implying that any changes to the arrangement with Yahoo--if there have been any--would not have a significant impact on RealNetworks.