RealNetworks shakes up mobile business, hires former Dada CEO as division president

Max Pellegrini

RealNetworks this morning announced a new president and a broader strategy for its newly renamed Mobile Entertainment Division. Max Pellegrini, the former CEO and chairman of mobile web company Dada.net, is joining the Seattle company to lead the division as part of RealNetworks chairman Rob Glaser’s bid to revive the company that he founded 18 years ago.

Mike Lunsford, a five-year RealNetworks executive who previously led the division, is leaving the company.

Glaser, who returned to day-to-day duties last year as interim CEO, tells GeekWire via phone that the hiring of Pellegrini is part of the broader move to divide the company into three independent divisions. The other two are the GameHouse and RealPlayer divisions, which each have their own leaders.

The Mobile Entertainment Division, previously known as the Software as a Service division, provides ring-back tones and other entertainment services to wireless carriers and device makers. Glaser said the plan is to expand that business while also marketing mobile entertainment services directly to consumers. He declined to go into detail about the company’s plans along those lines.

“I really wanted to infuse the team with leadership that understood this modern world of rolling up your sleeves and engaging directly with consumers, in partnership with carriers,” Glaser said, explaining the choice of Pellegrini as president of the division. “In smartphones, the whole architecture of how consumers choose experiences is totally different.”

Rob Glaser (Photo: Tyler Sipe)

Is this all part of a plan to spin off the three divisions?

“That’s not true, and it’s also not false,” responded Glaser. “We have no plans to spin anything out. … We have set them up to have autonomy for a variety of reasons. They can move faster, and control more of the levers essential to success, and measure their investments based on the return that those businesses get, rather than something more amorphous. All those reasons alone motivate the divisionalization.”

He continued, “If it turns out there’s some business that makes sense for us to join forces with, and we end up doing in a way that is more about creating a joint venture, like we’ve done with Rhapsody for instance, you can do that with this structure perhaps more easily than you could with another structure, but that’s not the primary motivation. The primary motivation is that we think the businesses run better and faster when they’re focused.”

Pellegrini, a native of Italy, was the Chairman and CEO of Dada.net prior to its acquisition by Buongiorno S.p.A, which was in turn acquired by NTT DOCOMO in 2012.

“I am thrilled to join Real Networks and contribute my international direct-to-consumer experience,” Pellegrini said in a news release. “Real’s world class technology and global leadership in mobile entertainment provides a fantastic foundation to build on.”

RealNetworks posted a profit for the fourth quarter, but Glaser said at the time that the company still had “considerable work to do to achieve sustained growth and profitability.”

Glaser has now been interim CEO for more than seven months. He has said he’s not interested taking on the role permanently again. Asked about the status of the CEO search, he referred questions to the board’s search committee.

“My focus is on helping the company be successful,” he said via phone yesterday.