RealNetworks goes mobile

RealNetworks' CEO talks to CTIA crowd about his company's deals to deliver music, videos and games right to cell phones.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--RealNetworks is going mobile.

The company that provides music, games and video to customers on their PCs is now also offering that content to consumers on their mobile phones.

"Mobile entertainment is a huge opportunity," Rob Glaser, founder and CEO of RealNetworks, said during a keynote at the CTIA IT and Entertainment show here on Wednesday. "We are committed to mobile just as much as we are to PCs."


The past couple of weeks have seen a bit of a coming-out party for RealNetworks' mobile products. Earlier this month, it announced that its Rhapsody music service would be offered to Sprint Nextel mobile customers. And on Tuesday the company touted a big win with its announcement that Cingular Wireless will provide the mobile operator with technology that allows people to watch streaming video on their cell phones.

The Cingular deal is key for RealNetworks as it moves into the mobile entertainment market. Its biggest rival, Microsoft, is being used to deliver streaming TV over Verizon Wireless' network. The race between the two companies to provide the technology to make this functionality a reality is in full force.

"People want the fastest access to their stuff," Jim Ryan, vice president of consumer data services for Cingular said, joining Glaser onstage during his keynote. "And that's what RealNetworks does for us."

Cell phone operators are banking on mobile entertainment to boost revenues. A quick ramp-up in sales over the past 18 months from other non-voice services, such as text messaging and ring tones, has led many mobile operators to expand their offerings of entertainment content, including full-length music tracks, streaming video and games.

Content providers are also excited about the marriage between mobile phones and entertainment, viewing the mobile market as an important sales channel for their content.

"CTIA is the music industry's most important conference," Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group, said during his keynote on Wednesday. "The world we grew up in is being transformed breathtakingly, so that all music can be access digitally with the click of a button."

Glaser said that in serving the mobile market his company plans to use a lot of the same strategies and techniques that have worked in serving content to PCs. For example, RealNetworks offers customers the option to buy content, such as a song, one at a time, or customers can subscribe to a service with unlimited access to a whole jukebox of songs. The company also said it's important to let consumers try out a service before making them actually buy it.

"Applying this model to the mobile market makes sense," he said.

But Glaser acknowledged that the road ahead is filled with potential potholes, and he listed a range of issues that still need to be worked out. For example, the handset market is still too fragmented, making it challenging to deliver content to a wide array of devices. And the industry still has a long way to go in terms of moving the market from early adopters to the mainstream public.

Glazer also said that many of the systems and applications needed to deliver content to the mobile market are very complex, which makes it challenging to deliver new services. This is especially true of video services, which require fast and sophisticated networks.

"We have to look at applications in a very different way," he said. "But I feel great about the quality of the carriers and handset providers out there."