RealNetworks is announcing a big expansion beyond its RealPlayer media player today with the launch of a new service called RealPlayer Cloud, which is supposed to make it easy for users to access and share their videos from any device.
Founder and interim CEO Rob Glaser described this as “the biggest product release we’ve done in a long time.” Glaser returned to the CEO role last year, and he said that as he talked to team members, “We had this strong base of users on the PC, but we weren’t focused on the future.”
Specifically, he said there was nothing in development for iOS and Android, because the company’s existing business model didn’t apply to mobile. However, Glaser decided that this was an important area to pursue, regardless of business model (more on that in second). He said the team started out by focusing on a few use cases, such as sharing longer videos among friends, but over time they realized this could be a broad platform: “We’ve a found that there’s a lot of problems where there’s resignation, because these problems seem like they’re inherent.”
So RealPlayer Cloud isn’t just about mobile. Instead, it’s about being able to view video content on any platform, including the TV (starting with Roku). Glaser said that RealPlayer Cloud combines the company’s existing media player technology with a cloud backend. Taking this approach offers a number of advantages of other cloud video services, Glaser said, for example allowing different aspects of the platform to run in the background, integrating with other services (at least on Android), and making sure videos are viewable across platforms — so you’re not going to have moments where you try to share a video from your iPhone and then discover that your friends with Android can watch it.
Sharing is definitely a big emphasis. Glaser and VP of Product and Software Development Jeff Chasen said RealPlayer Cloud should allow for “frictionless” sharing in small groups. People don’t even need to install the app to watch videos — you can email them a link, then the video should be playable on most devices that have a “modern browser.”
The content, meanwhile, may largely be user generated, but Glaser said this should work for videos that are downloaded on the PC as well, as long as it isn’t protected by digital rights management.
As for making money, RealPlayer Cloud will follow a freemium model, with up to two gigabytes of storage for free. (Glaser noted that Real Networks is actually using more than two gigabytes in those cases, since it’s storing multiple versions of each video.) After that, pricing starts at $4.99 per month.
So is this going to be RealPlayer’s future? When I asked, Glaser replied, “We have three kids at home and I love all of them — but only one of them can be the tallest.” In other words, Real Networks isn’t putting all of its focus on this product, but he said “this is one of the most ambitious projects under development.”