An Interview With RealOne's New Chief, Merrill Brown

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NEW YORK ( -- Developing exclusive editorial content and streaming video advertising services
Merrill Brown plans to focus on exclusive content and new video advertising services.
are top priorities for RealNetwork's new chief, former editor Merrill Brown.

"RealOne is a newish brand, although RealNetworks, the company, is not," he said in an interview with "It is known as a technology delivery company. I think my appointment is about creating a site and sites that convince people what a wonderful content delivery company Real is 24/7."

Mr. Brown, a fiesty journalist credited with turning the initially controversial concept of a Microsoft-backed online national news operation called into one of the world's most heavily trafficked news Web sites, now faces a similar challenge with Real.

Creating content
"We're not just about repurposing [content]," he said of Real, which has largely served as a hub for the online distribution of audio and video content produced by others. "We're about creating content that is developed around this platform."

Mr. Brown, 49, formerly senior vice president and editor in chief of, was named senior vice

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president in charge of Real's premium subscription and advertising businesses, including Real One Music Pass and Real One SuperPass, Aug. 15. He'll also oversee finance, marketing and advertising.

Real's RealOne subscription service claims 750,000 subscribers who pay $9.95 per month to access online content from CBS, CNN, ABC, Nascar and Major League Baseball. RealNetworks is set to announce a new product Aug. 20 in New York.

"Multimedia innovation is a favorite piece of the business for me. Content partner relationships, design and execution are all parts of the RealOne business," Mr. Brown said.

He said his mission will be to drive subscriptions and ad revenue by forging relationships with content providers that can help Real offer exclusive content that subscribers can't get elsewhere.

Major League Baseball
He cited Real's relationship with Major League Baseball as an example. "Real is the only place today to listen to Major League Baseball games and where you can get a 20-minute condensed game. ... Exclusivity is really important," he added.

Mr. Brown believes Real is in an ideal position to provide content that works well on the Web. He pointed to Real's experiments with the CBS TV show Big Brother and sees opportunities to develop original programming.

"There are lots of new content development opportunities," he said, noting that Real will look to build relationships with production companies in Hollywood as well as cable and broadcast TV networks. He said all areas of news and entertainment are "fair game."

He's also eyeing opportunities for Real to deliver video advertising, something that will be greatly facilitated as broadband Internet usage increases.

'Important staple'
"More and more because of the high cost of delivering video to people, more of it will be made available on a subscription, pay-per-view basis, and Real is in the best position to do that," Mr. Brown said. "I really do believe that the experience of watching Internet video on a PC or other platforms is going to become a really important staple of the information and entertainment diet of consumers."

But RealNetworks will need to transform its image as a technology enabler to a popular branded destination for multimedia content. "What's not there now, is an overall level of brand and site development that makes the [subscription] products compelling and utilitarian for people to want to access them on a daily basis," Mr. Brown said.

As revenues decline in RealNetworks' technology software business, the company has increasingly bet on subscription and ad revenue. For the year's second quarter ended June 30, consumer revenue increased to $25 million, from $23.1 million in the year's first quarter. Subscription revenue, the most rapidly growing segment of RealNetworks' business, constituted $17.8 million, or 31 percent, of consumer revenue.

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