RealNetworks, Inc. is a provider of Internet streaming media delivery software and services based in Seattle, Washington, United States. The company is the creator of RealAudio, a compressed audio format; RealDownloader, a download manager; RealDVD a DVD player; RealPlayer, a media player; and RealVideo, a compressed video format; as well as Helix technology for delivering digital media to PCs, mobile phone, and other devices; Rinse, a digital music library cleanup tool; and Unifi, a personal cloud media service. The company also manages subscription-based online entertainment services including GameHouse RealNetworks’ software as a service group and SuperPass; it also provides mobile entertainment and messaging services to mobile carriers.
RealNetworks (then known as Progressive Networks) was founded in 1994 by an ex-Microsoft executive, Rob Glaser and a management team including Phil Barrett, Andy Sharpless, and Stephen Buerkle. The original goal of the company was to provide a distribution channel for politically progressive content. It evolved into a technology venture to leverage the Internet as an alternative distribution medium for audio broadcasts. Progressive Networks became RealNetworks in September 1997.
RealNetworks are pioneers in the streaming media markets and broadcast one of the earlier audio events over the Internet — a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners — on September 5, 1995. They announced streaming video technology in 1997. According to some accounts, by 2000, more than 85% of streaming content on the Internet was in the Real format.
Despite this success, problems arose because Real's primary business model depended upon the sale of streaming media server software, and Microsoft and Apple were giving those products away. As servers from Microsoft and Apple became more capable, Real's server sales inevitably eroded.
On January 20, 2000, RealNetworks, Inc. filed an injunction against Streambox, Inc. regarding the aforementioned company's product designed to convert Real Audio (.rm) formatted files to other formats. On December 4, 2001, the company was to launch the first coordinated effort to sell and deliver music from major record labels over the Internet, part of a broader initiative by the company to develop subscription Internet services aimed at Web users with fast Internet connections. In 2002, a strategic alliance was formed between RealNetworks and Sony Corporation to expand collaboration. In October, 2005, Microsoft agreed to pay RealNetworks $460 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit.
In August 2003, RealNetworks acquired Listen.com's Rhapsody music service, and renamed it RealRhapsody. It offered streaming music downloads for a monthly fee. In January 2004, RealNetworks announced the RealPlayer Music Store, featuring digital rights management (DRM) restricted music in the AAC file format. After some initial tries to push their own DRM scheme (named Helix DRM) onto all device manufacturers with the Creative Zen Xtra and the Sansa e200r as the only existing compliant devices, they sparked controversy by introducing a technology called Harmony that allowed their music to play on iPods as well as Microsoft Windows Media Audio DRM-equipped devices using a "wrapper" that would convert Helix DRM into the two other target DRM schemes.
On April 6, 2010, Rhapsody was spun off from RealNetworks.
In July 2013, RealNetworks acquired Slingo for $15.6 million. The company introduced a mobile phone app called Listen in April 2014 that plays custom ringtones to those calling the user's phone.
Products and services
In 2000, one of the initial products, the download manager RealDownload, was already used for pushing small software, such as games, to subscribers' computers. On top of the subscription for RealDownload and using its RealVideo streaming technology, a service called GoldPass, including unlimited access for video snippets from ABC and movie previews, was offered to registered users for a monthly $10 fee. More content was added through deals with CBS for the reality show Big Brother and NBA basketball.
After the dot-com bubble, RealNetworks cut most of the resources. Some of the content was lost, some was limited to local markets, e.g., Ministry of Sound was available only to UK subscribers. With the increase in broadband usage, RealNetworks started offering live broadcasts of CNN International, BBC World, Al-Jazeera etc., separately for prices between $6 and $12, or bundled in the SuperPass for about $35 a month depending on the market. Between 2003 and 2006, SuperPass included, for European subscribers, unlimited access to UEFA Champions League full-length game recordings.
On September 30, 2008, RealNetworks launched a new product called RealDVD. The software allows any user to save a copy of a DVD movie they own. The company was later found to have violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and RealNetworks' contract with the DVD Copy Control Association, as the software also allowed anyone to save a movie they do not legally own. (See RealNetworks, Inc. v. DVD Copy Control Ass'n, Inc.). The product's distribution was barred by a court injunction.
Real Alternative is a discontinued software bundle that allows users to play RealMedia files without installing RealPlayer. The last version, 2.02, was released on February 19, 2010. It included Media Player Classic.
Beginning in 2010, RealNetworks sued Hilbrand Edskes, a 26-year-old Dutch webmaster for having inserted hyperlinks to Real Alternative on his site www.codecpack.nl. RealNetworks alleges that Real Alternative is a reverse engineered package. Meanwhile, Download.com and FileHippo continue to host the software product, unchallenged.
RealTimes (formerly RealPlayer Cloud)
RealNetworks in September 2013 launched RealPlayer Cloud, a service that adds the ability to share videos recorded on smartphones and tablets. RealPlayer Cloud ties into the existing RealPlayer, however it also has a Web app and apps for Android, iOS and Roku. The service has 2GB of free cloud storage and more storage for a monthly fee. It was renamed to RealTimes in May 2015.
Helix is a suite of streaming media software and services intended for digital TV set-top boxes, mobile devices, as well as QuickTime, Flash and other programs. It includes the Helix open-source code and the Helix Universal Server, which hosts, distributes and manages digital rights for multimedia content. Helix competes with the Windows Media 9 Series from Microsoft, but has a greater emphasis on open-source. Helix was announced in July 2002. Support for mobile devices was added in November 2005. It was discontinued in October 2014.
RealNetworks entered the gaming market in October 2001 with RealArcade, a PC game distribution application that allows users to play casual video games for free for 60 minutes, then decide if they want to purchase it. Many of the games were developed by GameHouse, which RealNetworks acquired for $35.6 million in 2004. In 2010, RealNetworks re-launched its gaming division under the name Gamehouse. It began focusing on social games, such as Facebook apps, and in 2013 acquired casual casino games company, Slingo, for $15.6 million.