Summary:

Rob Glaser resigned as CEO of RealNetworks in early 2010 but as founder and chairman, he never really left. Now, two short-term and one interim CEO later, he’s back running the company with “a sense of great urgency” while the board searches for yet another top exec.

RealNetworks' Rob Glaser

Rob Glaser stepped down as CEO of RealNetworks in early 2010 but as founder and chairman, he never really left. Now, two short-term and one interim CEO later, he’s back running the day-to-day operations while the board searches for yet another top exec. Citing “great urgency” he promises to accelerate strategy and products.

Glaser is taking over from Adobe and Microsoft vet Thomas Nielsen, who joined as CEO last November. Nielsen replaced interim CEO Mike Lunsford and was supposed to be strong in digital product strategy.

Glaser declined to talk about what that meant or to go into detail on RealNetworks in a post-Rhapsody world. (RealNetworks spun the pioneering music subscription service off in 2010.)

Glaser, who has been focusing on other investments at Accel Partners and as an angel investor, declined to answer questions when the announcement dropped Tuesday after markets closed early for the July 4th holiday. His statement in the press release was as oblique as the comments in November:

“I come back to RealNetworks with a sense of great urgency to set the company on a long-term path to success. RealNetworks has a great deal of potential and opportunity, with huge reach and distribution of our products, key carrier partnerships, talented employees, terrific technology assets and significant financial resources.”

RealNetworks sold much of its patent portfolio and its video codec software to Intel in January for $120 million. It still has that cash and more on hand. Last month, it settled with the state of Washington over complaints of fraudulent ecommerce practices that occurred when it was still in the subscription business.

Its current mission statement: “RealNetworks creates innovative applications and services that make it easy for people to connect with and enjoy digital media.” The fine print also talks of inventing the streaming media category. What that means now and to the future of RealNetworks is hard to tell.

The revolving door could make anyone dizzy. Lunsford, with RealNetworks since 2008 and still there as EVP, was interim CEO following Rob Kimball, who resigned suddenly in March 2011 after restructuring the company and three rounds of layoffs. Kimball got the post after serving as interim CEO when Glaser left as CEO.

Shares were priced at $8.78, or a market cap of $305 million Tuesday, well off the 52-week high of $14.60. Earnings are due July 27, and it’s hard to imagine the numbers will be great given the precipitous CEO change. How will investors react Thursday? And will they be concerned or comforted by Glaser taking back the reins?

Instead of another CEO, maybe what RealNetworks needs most is a solid exit strategy.

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