Robert Glaser is the former CEO of Real Networks, a pioneering media software outfit. He founded the company in 1994 in Seattle, Washington, where he still maintains residence. Originally called Progressive Networks, Real Networks is best known for its suite of “real” Internet streaming media players (e.g., Real Player, Real Audio, Real Video). Glaser built the longshot startup into a multi-million-dollar corporation whose primary competitor was Microsoft. Almost 16 years later, in 2010, he left Real Networks when the company’s board grew dissatisfied with dwindling profit margins. Later that year, Glaser joined Accel Partners as a venture partner.
Born in 1962, Glaser is a native of Yonkers, New York. In 1979 he enrolled at Yale University, where he led the campus organization Campaign Against Militarism and the Draft and authored a political column (titled “What’s Left”) for the school newspaper. After obtaining BA and MA degrees in economics and a BS in computer science, Glaser in 1983 joined Microsoft, Inc., where he eventually became vice president of the company’s multimedia systems group. While at Microsoft, Glaser developed a close relationship with the company’s chairman, Bill Gates, although the friendship later soured over a growing technological rivalry. Glaser remained with Microsoft for approximately 10 years before leaving in 1993.
Also in 1993, Glaser established the Glaser Progress Foundation. Assisted by his college friend David Halperin, Glaser then created Progressive Networks, which, as noted above, was later renamed “Real Networks.” Halperin and Glaser had initially hoped that Progressive Networks would serve as a conduit for leftist ideology. “It’s fair to say that our original objective was social revolution,” Halperin told Wired magazine in 1997. Halperin today is a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, where he serves as director of Campus Progress.
In 1998 Glaser was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters. There, Glaser headed a subcommittee called the Datacasting Working Group which preformed a number of fact-finding missions on requirements for public-interest programming.
Glaser’s passion for leftwing politics has been a constant throughout his life. “His [Glaser’s] politics are usually to the left of Che Guevera,” said Real Networks director Bruce Jacobsen in 2001. In 2004 the Seattle Times reported that Glaser’s lavish political donations — aimed at trying to derail President George W. Bush’s reelection bid that year — made him not only Washington State’s top donor at the time, but also the fourth-largest individual donor in the country to “Section 527” Committees.
Also in 2004, Glaser was named board chairman of the liberal radio station Air America. He eventually became the operation’s largest creditor and was owed $9.8 million when it filed for bankruptcy in 2006.
Glaser was an early champion and financier of America Coming Together (ACT), a Democratic get-out-the-vote effort supported by George Soros in advance of the 2004 presidential election. In the summer of 2002, Glaser, along with Soros and former Real Networks president Bruce Jacobsen, met at Soros’s Long Island, New York estate to discuss the funding for ACT and how the nascent organization might be able to impede Bush’s prospects for a second presidential term. In the 2004 cycle, Glaser donated more than $1.9 million to ACT.
Glaser has been a supporter of Barack Obama since the latter’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. In 2009 Glaser was invited to a Christmas party held by President Obama, as reported by the Seattle Times. In 2010, Glaser and his wife hosted a $10,000 lunch event with President Obama at the couple’s home in Seattle. Also in 2010, Glaser attended a White House forum on technology and government.
Over the years, Glaser has donated extensively to the Democratic National Committee and Democratic candidates including Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Russ Feingold, Al Franken, Al Gore, John Kerry, Patty Murray, Ralph Nader, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Charles Schumer. He has also contributed substantial funds to the the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign, No Vote Left Behind, the One America Committee, Progressive Majority, Victory in Washington, and the Green Party.