RealNetworks Taps Network TV Marketers

Seattle-based RealNetworks hopes to boost its consumer brand identity by positioning itself like a television network — and to do that, it’s enlisting branding agency Heat Seeking Multimedia, a Santa Monica, Calif. outfit that specializes in TV programming and network promotion.

Heat Seeking Multimedia’s principals, Jim Cahill and Jim Atkinson, are best known for their work for television network clients like NBC, Fox and UPN. Accordingly, the agency will focus on RealNetworks’ consumer offerings — its RealNetworks’ GoldPass subscription service, its Webcast distribution deal with Major League Baseball, and MusicNet, an upcoming joint offering with AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann & EMI.

In addition to branding work for NBC during its “NBC 2000” project in 1994, Cahill and Atkinson (known colloquially as The2Jims) also oversaw programming and branding work for Fox Broadcasting from 1996 to 1999, launching such programs as “Ally McBeal” and “That 70’s Show.” The two also supervised image campaigns for the network’s primetime talent and consulted on brand marketing for FOX Sports Net, FX and FOX Family Channel.

At News Corp.-owned Fox, the two marketers/producers worked with then-president Larry Jacobson — who happens now to be president and chief operating officer at RealNetworks. In April, Jacobson pulled The2Jims in to work on a promotion for RealNetworks’ deal with MLB. The result was an April Fools Day-themed billboard campaign, featuring upside-down ads in New York and Los Angeles.

“The talent and exuberance that [Cahill and Atkinson] brought to Fox is perfect for the exciting, sky-rocketing direction in which RealNetworks is heading,” Jacobson said. “Their creative skills and collaborative nature makes them ideal to contribute to the brand-building efforts of our consumer marketing team, as we work with the best content producers in the world and connect them to the best consumers in the world.”

The move comes amid increasing competition with a local neighbor — Redmond, Wash.’s Microsoft, whose Windows Media Player and associated streaming technologies are one of the chief rivals to RealNetwork’s flagship media player (Apple’s QuickTime spec runs a distant third).

With Microsoft’s new .NET initiative shaping up (its first component, Office XP, began shipping this week), it’s expected that the software giant will push its own streaming media technology to consumers.

As a result, Real is banking that by bringing in Heat Seeking Multimedia — and network program branding experience — the company can tip the scales in favor of its player and its exclusive programming.

In addition to the marketing pact, which has Heat Seeking working with RealNetworks’ consumer marketing division, the arrangement also calls for joint work on a new and secretive project. That effort involves the “development and distribution of interactive programming,” but neither Real nor Heat Seeking would discuss the effort at length.

“The atmosphere at [RealNetworks’] Seattle headquarters is electric; it reminds us of the early days of cable TV. Here is a company with vision, a tremendous business model and unlimited upside,” Cahill and Atkinson said in a joint statement.

Of the new programming project with Real, Cahill and Atkinson would say only that “it’s very ‘clue train’ — not business as usual … a dynamic new interactive model.”

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