ChannelLauncher [UPDATE]

[UPDATE] We’ve rebranded ChannelShift to ChannelLauncher. Turns out that it wasn’t obvious to our (potential)

customers just exactly what the hell we do for them. Using ChannelLauncher makes that a whole lot easier and it’s a

much smoother conversation to have when your brand name reflects what your product does. Fortunately we made the decision before it became a crisis and we based it on customer feedback as well. There were other things that fed into this decision but never assume that people will “just know” what you do. It’s always going to be obvious to you what your product does and how great it is. But when people are scratching their heads before you’re even off the first phone call with them, it’s time to reconsider.

A lot has been going on in the streaming video space over the past 12 months. A “rumored” TV from Apple is on the way, UI updates for the existing AppleTV as well as GoogleTV, Boxee and an upcoming one from Roku. Intel announcesthat they’re entering the streaming video platform arena, Ubuntu launches UbuntuTV and HULU is mid-season for one of it’s exclusive shows. With that inmind, we’re working to bring more great content to SmartTVs, Roku, Boxee, and other platforms. Since so much is happening so quickly, we’ve put up Tumblr [and Pinterest] accounts that will have the latest news and announcements about what’s coming to ChannelShift and how people can get the most out of Internet TV. Honestly, aside from Netflix and HULU, there’s not a lot of really awesome stuff out there, but that’s why this market is poised to explode over the next couple of years.

Intra-preneurship (Unless it’s a top down effort, don’t even try it.)

In February, @phillmckinney wrote an article about corporate anti-bodies and their effect on innovation. I’ve got a few thoughts on this… First off, if you’ve got a track record for seeing problems, coming up with solutions, figuring out how to make money at it and then convincing people to help you make them happen, start your own company. So few people can see the root cause of a problem and go for the throat to solve it that it’s one of the rarest of skills out there. Go make a lot of money for yourself and your family. Second, it’s the role of an organization to maintain the course of the organization and extend the profitability of the company. Things that get in the way or cause the organization to go off course are sidelined and then pushed out of that organization. Intrapreneurship, as defined by Guy Kawasaki, is really the antithesis of what the company is set up to do. It’s simply not realistic to believe that any mature organization is going to accept developing a product that kills the cash cow. Unless… it’s driven by the CEO and backed by the Board of Directors. That gives credibility, protection for the creative thinkers and innovators on staff, and it gives one more thing: the approval to take risks. Most mature companies are risk averse – they’re organized to extend the life of a product, optimize the sales process and in tough times, cut costs. The innovator is diametrically opposed to this. For that reason alone it’s my belief that intrapreneurship is a myth. If you are ready to strike out on your own then there’s a growing list of resources for you: Startup Weekend, Startup Bus (which just wrapped up at SxSW) as well as TechStars and lots of accelerator and incubator programs. If you’re in Tampa, StartupWeekend Tampa is launching on April 13, there’s Gazelle Lab and a really successful StartupBus just finished with BumperCrop placing second. Do you want to beat your head against a wall for somebody else, or do you want to do it for yourself and get even bigger reward?

The Most Daring of Ideas

In March, Paul Graham wrote a post about the top 7 most daring startup ideas. At number 4 was “Internet Drama” which discussed how video content delivery will be changing consumer’s viewing habits. He also identified two ways that this was likely to play out – either Netflix, HULU or a similar platform will continue to aggregate content from studios or a platform will provide streaming a-la-carte programming along with out of the box subscription services. The latter is exactly what ChannelShift does for video content providers. In my opinion, video distributed over Netflix or HULU builds the brands of the aggregators, not the content producers. It also makes it difficult to grow an audience and recognize increased revenue as a result. So what’s needed is a platform that allows video content with high production value (i.e. not cats swinging from a fan) to get to mobile, tablet, IPTV and ConnectedTV’s quickly and through a subscription payment method to consumers. Precisely what we’ve built with ChannelShift.

When I started the company a year ago I had no idea that it would be called the most daring of ideas. What I did see was the need for a company that focused specifically on what was happening in streaming technology and that could make it simple and profitable for companies to get access to it. So to me, it’s only  a daring idea if you don’t break it down into smaller pieces and then start knocking them out. Face your most daring ideas head-on, I promise you it’s the most rewarding of accomplishments.

Tampa Twilight Criterium

Cigar City Brewing Criterium 2012Stephanie and I had a great time watching the Pro-1-2 from under the tent at the start/finish line. I want to thank David Green for being a gracious host and a shout out to my old team mates Davey A, Tim, Jim and Bill. Here’s a pic of the action just as the sun was dropping. It’s also the first time we had a chance to eat at Taco Bus. Service…meh. Food? I’m going back for more.

Falling DVD Sales

In this month’s issue of The Deal, way back on page 48, there’s a discussion of how “Disruption has been rearranging the media landscape…” There’s a brief paragraph “…falling DVD sales, insufficiently counterbalanced by … digital sources like Netflix Inc.” Essentially the article is pointing out a number of sub-sectors that are suffering at the increased pace of innovation and disruption. The overall DVD manufacturing industry is projected to decline at about 3% annually for the next 4 years. That’s a net loss of about $1 billion from now until 2016. To me, there’s plenty of room to disrupt in this market – clearly there’s demand for content from consumers and on top of that the medium they’re accustomed to using is slowly disappearing. The streaming video market is an obvious choice, that’s why I started ChannelShift. But what other opportunities exist? Kid’s interactive programming like LeapFrog. Try this – Google ‘cdrom interactive instruction’ and see what comes up. You should get about 12 million results. What we need are companies that help this content get in front of an audience that is accustomed to immediate gratification. With the bandwidth going into homes now there is no reason a consumer has to wait for a shipment of DVD’s. All we need are companies to make it happen.

90 Days In a Startup Accelerator – Part 1

As one of the first six companies to complete Gazelle Lab‘s accelerator program I can say that it was well worth the effort. If you’re a startup in Tampa Bay then I highly recommend submitting your application NOW. Check the FAQ on their site for an up-to-date list of the benefits you receive and be prepared to part with 6% of the company in exchange for those benefits. In my opinion, it was more than worth it. Also be prepared to work full time on your venture, if you’re holding down a day job and trying to do this… Let’s just say that you need to make a choice between one or the other. Be prepared to work late. Be prepared to speak in front of an audience of up to 1,000 (or more!) or as few as 10. Be prepared to bring a team that can execute – you cannot do this alone as it’s not just a technology solution but a business you’re building. Be prepared to take criticism of yourself, your idea and your company. You’ll be fielding a lot of feedback from mentors and other founders so if you haven’t figured out how to ‘trust your gut’ you probably need to have another founder with that skill or learn for yourself. There’s a saying at TechStars that “It’s just data” and it’s true. Your experience, perceptions and beliefs turn it into actionable information. That’s the ‘gut check’ we’re talking about. Get as informed as you can. Read Venture Deals, Do More Faster and Lean Startup at a minimum before you enter the program. I also recommend Business Model Generation as you’ll need to answer the “How do you make money?” question fairly early on.  Finally, be prepared for things to change right in front of you. It’s just how things work today. If the facts change (such as your target audience) and you don’t change your mind… You’re not going to survive. I had to change the founding team on day 1 as well as the business model and product four weeks into the program. Nobody’s fault – we just couldn’t get the companies we were targeting for strategic partnerships to open up. I had to make a decision to change everything and in the end, we came up with a better product that was more disruptive and far more scalable.

Now, one more thing. If you’re in a corporate job and are feeling a little bored, burnt out or just plain “missing opportunities” then you’re in luck. The “corporate refugee” was a recurring theme of many conversations with both the media and mentors. If you’ve been in a corporate position for a while then you bring a wealth of connections, experience and a built in “gut check” of your own. Hopefully you bring a healthy lack of tolerance for bullshit. I strongly encourage you to consider jumping into the Gazelle Lab program if you’re in this situation. I did and I have not regretted it for a second. You can DM me on twitter if you want to talk.

Since this is Part 1, subsequent parts will delve into the “Be prepared to’s” that I spelled out earlier. This is a great time for Tampa Bay, StartupBus is coming in March, StartupWeekend is coming again next year and BarCamp Tampa Bay was the biggest we’ve ever had. Keep pushing!

Digital Hollywood 2011

I’m attending Digital Hollywood LA in Marina Del Rey. Although the weather has been chilly (I call it cold) the sessions have been eye opening. I came out here thinking I’d be a pariah – the IPTV guy in the middle of the status-quo. What I found instead was essentially everyone looking for way to increase distribution, support advertising and better target consumers with that advertising. I came also out here to discover what the entertainment industry really thought of the disruption taking place in Internet TV thinking that most would be looking to extend the existing model. That was a bad assumption. Instead, the disruption is being embraced head-on. There are of course the questions revolving around how to monetize the platforms but nobody is really fighting the shift and the conference really feels like “how do we deal with the end of cable?” Almost every session I’ve been in has been about multi-screen distribution across mobile, tablet and Smart TVs. I’m getting ready to head into the third day most of the sessions I’m attending revolve around internet video and TV 2.0 programming. The trip out here has been well worth it. I’ve met several potential strategic partners that I’ll be following up with in the next week. What was unexpected however was the unintentional discovery of a potential competitor. By piecing together bits of other conversations I’ve found that a leading brand is probably creating a platform for indi-producers and is quietly booting people off their parent platform. Not quite what we’re doing with our platform but I see this as validation that the industry is moving away from typical cable distribution and towards internet TV. With this development, combined with the rest of the discussions I’ve been having with people, I’m more convinced than ever that we’re on the right track with our platform development.

And now… off to more sessions.

Glenn Beck, GBTV, and the Future of Internet TV Programming

Say what you will about Glenn Beck but he is paving the way for a lot of other shows to jump to Internet TV. Think of it this way: the music industry was flipped on it’s ass because we had to buy entire albums or CD’s when we really only wanted 1-2 tracks. As a consumer, buying my media this way is ludicrous, I only want to pay for what I want to watch. Today the cable operators drive money through advertising and subscriber fees. Of that, maybe 40% gets back to the content creators. See the parallels with the music industry here?

This morning I re-read the 9/12 through 9/18 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek’s article about Glenn Beck Bets Big on GBTV. One of the major challenges is filling out the content space with quality programming. That’s not cheap and can run about $25k per episode for 1970’s programming. $25,000 for reruns. How much of that goes back to the people that created or acted in the show? Probably very little. But there’s actually a cheaper and more effective way to go about this. The intent is to accomplish two things here: 1) Fill out the day with more programming  2) Make that programming unique and interesting enough to attract more viewers.

Who creates unique and interesting content? High school students, college students and indie studios. Usually underfunded and fighting for space on YouTube, Vimeo or Ustream, hoping to go viral or at least gain some notoriety.  There’s definitely unique story lines, things we haven’t seen before on cable TV because the studios just won’t take a flyer on an unproven producer or writer. The costs are just too high for a studio to do that. But the economics of Internet TV are different, you don’t have to pay the network, studio, local stations and all the other people in between the story and the viewer.

So here’s the plan… Create a competition that awards 10 shows $25,000 each in financing. That cash allows the creators to really begin to produce their story lines. Give them enough funding to add actors, stunt people, creatives, writers, special effects, whatever is needed to really produce what most people consider a TV quality experience. How to pick the top 10? That’s a little tougher but should attract an audience (aka, subscribers). First, how much programming needs to be filled out? Of 24 hours, 6 are dedicated to GBTV. The most anyone can reasonably shoot, edit, and produce is probably 30 minutes a week if they’re going to class or have day jobs. At 30 minutes each you need 36 programs per day, 252 programs per week. Contract with 252 creators that over a 3 month period they will produce one 30 minute program each week for 12 weeks with zero dollars in funding. If they miss the production schedule they get dropped from the competition. At the end of the three months the top 10 shows, based on consumer votes, get $25,000 to re-shoot, re-edit and re-publish their shows and to really tell a more in-depth and complete season. Do the same thing for the next three months, and the next. In a year you’ve got 40 shows and you did it for $1,000,000.

Think it’s a crazy idea? The dry run for this has already happened, it’s Kiefer Sutherland’s “The Confession” which ran on HULU for 10 episodes. It was well produced, had a great story and two great actors. And it was never seen on cable TV. That’s where Internet TV has to go in order to attract a mass audience. Which it can do, we just need to foster it along. So in the end, I pay for Glenn Beck but I a whole lot of new programs to watch. Oh, and there’s yet another reality show wrapped up in all of this which seems to attract a lot of viewers still.

TV 4.0

Smart TV 4.0Still struggling with seeing the need for smart tv’s? They’re cool, have lots of features, price points are dropping and screen sizes are increasing. But that’s not enough. I think we’ve got it all wrong – surfing the web or porting Android apps to them isn’t where this should be going. That’s a disconnect for me, people typically use a laptop or a mobile device for those purposes. Instead, think home integration. What do you want to do when you’re watching TV and don’t want to get off the couch? Those are convenience items for consumers, services that we’ll conceptualize and bring to market. What do you order, have shipped to you, and then watch on TV? Those vertical’s are ripe for disruption over smart TV’s. That’s where this should be going. Surfing the web on my TV? No. Sorry.

Envision the Future.

I was at ITS2011 in Tampa last week watching Carlos Dominguez give a presentation about innovation and how the best companies approach it. After giving a handful of examples he asked the crowd “How many of you take time out of your week to actively envision what the future will look like?” Out of the entire crowd, perhaps 5 raised their hands. That’s absolutely horrendous. My parents used to say “What will they think of next?” We’re not in that age anymore. It’s up to us to think of what’s next. At a time when ideas are a commodity and technology is relatively cheap, anybody can come up with and start to build “what’s next.” Five people raising their hand for looking into the future is ridiculous, especially at a technology summit. It should be everyone’s job to examine their own lives and those of their family members and ask “What is too complicated today? What tools do I want to see come to market that make my life easier, more connected, or more effective?”

If you’ve ever tried opening a restaurant in Tampa you should be able to come up with at least two services that would make the process faster and more effective for the restauranteur as well as the City of Tampa. How much of that could also scale to other cities? Probably several. Those are products. That’s the future. It’s not the next Facebook but it’s cost savings for municipalities in a time when they’re looking to cut costs and gain efficiencies.Where else would you start looking?

At ITS2012 can we please have 10 people raising their hands?