Aiming for a Comeback, RealNetworks Introduces the Photo-Sharing App RealTimes.
RealNetworks Inc., an Internet pioneer searching for a new formula for growth, is betting on helping smartphone users make better use of the photos and videos they’ve taken. The Seattle-based company on Tuesday is announcing what it calls RealTimes, a combination of apps and services designed to choose appealing pictures and video clips from users’ collections and stitch them into montages, complete with musical soundtracks, that can be saved and shared.
Even the flatter, more modernized logo brings me back to the sunny afternoons I lost waiting for internet radio stations to load on the company’s streaming application. And what do you do with that?” In Glaser’s vision, RealTimes will provide an easy way to share important moments culled from that pile of digital content.
It’s still big in China) has announced a new app, RealTimes, that adds a touch of class to your photo and video sharing with intelligently constructed video montages. The app, making its debut today, is part of a new bid by the digital audio and video pioneer to reclaim its position and make itself relevant again in the world of digital media.
More photos than ever before are being taken, as we all try to capture every great moment with the high-spec camera we carry around on the phone in our pocket. RealNetworks hopes the results, which it calls “stories,” will appeal particularly to parents who have shot thousands of images on smartphones and don’t have time to cull them into presentable sequences. “From our market research, those users are taking lots of pictures of their kids and they are really busy,” said Rob Glaser, RealNetworks’ chief executive. RealNetworks is releasing RealTimes initially for nine different devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and phones, Windows PCs, Chromecast and Roku TV players, in addition to a web app. And it includes the name of the company behind it, a firm that was so early in the Internet that it was able to secure the priceless domain that mirrored its name: Real.com.
The software, available on a range of mobile, desktop and TV-mounted platforms, from Android and iOS phones to Windows PCs, is free for basic use and 2 gigabytes of included media storage. Versions of the app are in the works for Mac, Xbox One and Amazon devices. “We’re going to be going big with this,” said Jeff Chasen, RealNetworks’ vice president of product and software, demonstrating the RealTimes app during a recent interview. “The company has rallied around making this happen.” RealTimes uses algorithms that scan a user’s video and camera roll to pick the best moments to highlight in a short video montage — a “RealTimes Story” — using time and location data to group the pictures. In essence, RealTimes (a superset of RealPlayer), combs through and then combines your photos and video into 30-second, 45-second, or longer montage movies with soundtracks.
The launch of RealTimes is the latest effort to right the ship at RealNetworks, a company that’s been burning through cash, and employees, in recent years. RealTimes detects things such as blurriness and duplicates to eliminate bum images from the mix; parses image metadata to determine dates and locations; and even detects the focal point (subject-wise) of your videos.
Users can quickly edit the story by selecting different photos or videos, rearranging the order, choosing new music, adding new filters, and making other basic changes. But a series of market shifts have hurt the company, including the addition of multimedia features to Web browsers and the rise of audio- and video-capable mobile devices.
The app incorporates technology from RealNetworks’ earlier RealPlayer Cloud apps and online service, for quickly sharing and synchronizing videos across devices. The free version of RealTimes lets users create stories as long as 30 seconds, with cloud storage of 2GB by default or up to 7GB if users enable the auto-upload feature.
The company was part of the first graduating class of the World Wide Web, often mentioned in the same breath as contemporaries Netscape, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo. Lately, RealNetworks has been banking on RealPlayer Cloud, an online service introduced in 2013 that is designed to let users of multiple devices move, share and watch videos. It then adds in some rights-cleared stock music to create these slideshow “stories.” If that sounds like a process, it’s not — this all happens instantly in the background, and the app can alert you when new stories have been created.
It got there by filling what was then a serious vacuum in the Web, and RealAudio Player (which later evolved into RealPlayer), was once a staple on everyone’s PC. RealTimes demands no extra work; if you like the stories (or “ads of your life,” as Max Pellegrini, RealNetworks’ president of products and marketing, calls them) you can export the videos or share them in a few taps and be on your way.
In my brief hands-on, I managed to create a reasonably cool video of my 1996 cross-country trip, which because the photos were scanned in 2011, was originally dated by RealTimes as such. RealNetworks says it is bringing many innovations to the market, including techniques for ignoring blurry or otherwise unattractive photos and picking interesting scenes in videos. The company in the past three years has released a slate of products, including a Facebook casino game, a mobile ringtone service and an online-hosted video service that rebranded its iconic media player.
Its Rhapsody product was a pioneer in streaming music services. (Real spun out Rhapsody in 2010 but still owns around 40 percent.)But the company’s impact is more impressive than its financials. But in a quarterly earnings report released early this month, the company said it has “not generated significant revenue from any of these new products and services.” Glaser acknowledged that the figures alone present a gloomy picture. “But we know what we’re doing,” he said. “One of the decisions we’ve taken is we’re going to really focus on our consumer product offerings.” More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. The app gets users 80 percent of the way there, CEO Rob Glaser tells me, giving you something “good enough to invite you to finish it, put in the final touches and publish it.” You can use RealTimes for free, and at the most basic level you get 2GB of storage (or 7GB, if you enable auto-backup) as well as the ability to make watermarked stories up to 30 seconds long.
That company’s first comeback product was the iMac, followed by the iPod, which opened the door for Apple’s creation of the iPhone. “If they hadn’t done the iPod first, they probably wouldn’t have done the iPhone,” Mr. A lot of the groundwork has been done for you; enabling users to sweep in, fine tune things and take all the glory – and hopefully the compliments – that will come with it when you post to social media. A passionate sports fan (he owns a piece of the Mariners, and is one of the owners of the Professional Bowlers Association) and a dedicated political liberal (he was a major funder of Air America), he has stuck by Real even as its fortunes rose and fell. Services like Dropbox and Box.com have built enough trust to enter the corporate world, and other services like Flickr have been around for a long time. There are also filters so the Instagram lovers out there can feel at home, and the whole thing updates in real time, making the editing process impressively swift.
While this is clearly being targeted at the casual editors who want to have polished montages of summer weekends and family holidays, there is plenty of depth here for the more advanced editor to toy with too. I remember going to the team and saying, “Show me the IOS version of the player,” and they said, “We’re not working on one.” After I got off the floor, I said, “Why?” This was in 2012, this wasn’t 2007!
Glaser and Pellegrini showed me demos on the iPhone 6, Nexus 6, and iPad, and all were extremely fast. (The same goes for the iOS build I tried over the weekend.) That’s mostly because — unless you choose to create stories from images and photos found only in the cloud — all the processing is done locally. They said, “Because we don’t know how to make any money from it.” If you’re only going to get into a business if you know upfront exactly how you’re going to make money, Facebook never would have gotten there, Twitter never would have gotten there, DropBox never would have gotten there, the list goes on. Now move the clock forward to late 2013, we asked, “OK, what are we going to do next?” When you think about problems to solve, I always go back to big, unmet needs. According to Glaser, the company is throwing a bigger marketing budget behind RealTimes than the ones afforded to any of the company’s previous consumer product launches. For those users who have been using RealPlayer Cloud, the firm’s previous video app that launched in 2013, all personal media can be migrated to RealTimes accounts.
On first look in this age of endless photography, editing software and cloud computing, RealTimes offers a nice, simplified solution for those of us who can easily get bogged down by the weight of media, and the time it takes to do something meaningful with it. The more we got into it, the more we felt like we had something that will appeal to a very large cohort of people that are like us: very busy, taking pictures all the time, taking videos frequently and they don’t have a way to organize all this stuff or have permanent access to it. When you’re trying to create something really fundamental, there’s always the risk that people in the platform business will do what you’re doing. There are a little bit under 40 million families with kids where there’s at least one kid under the age of 15 living in the household in the US, so about 35 percent of US households are in that configuration.
So we’re working hard to find ways to reach families, and moms and dads with little kids in their homes, and we have a set of partnerships and integrations we’re working on to make that easy. I was always fascinated by the intersection of technology and media and was looking at two different ideas, one of which was creating technology to enable real-time streaming of content, which became RealAudio. You hung on as an independent company when some others — I’m thinking of Mark Cuban, who had a similar business — cashed out for billions during the 1990s boom. One was to do what Mark [Cuban] did — find a safe harbor and sell and hedge enough of your sale so you’d be able to get out, even if it came crashing down a week after Thursday.
A company that was started by a good friend of mine sold for $100 million, but by the time the lockup expired, the acquiring company’s entire stock sold for less than $10 million. It wasn’t like a pig-headed thing where we said we’ll never sell, but we certainly didn’t pursue selling to the exclusion of running the business. We’re doing fine, but the thing that I regret doing is not making a RealTimes, not stepping back and saying, “What are the key problems we can solve whether or not they are an extension of our business?” We were way too early. But Spotify has probably gone through like a billion plus dollars in capital to get to the position they’re in; we’ve been much more capital-efficient.
The one question about his reality-distortion fields is the degree to which he believed what he said, or didn’t believe it but thought it made a good story. Over an eight- or nine-year period, we distributed over a billion pieces of Google software, because with the RealPlayer, we had a very viable PC distribution channel.