Recognizing Video, Realizing Opportunity

February 19, 2007

Mark Stirling (serial entrepreneur and all around good guy) pointed me to a New York Times article discussing the state of digital video fingerprinting – the practice of identifying copyright videos.

It focuses on Audible Magic but also discusses other companies vying to fill the need of content owners to identify and stop unlicensed online video, including Guba with their Johnny product.

Digital video filtering and recognition is considered by many to be the holy grail of 2007, and many start-ups are focused on getting it right.  As the article suggests, it’s by no means trivial and whoever has a launch-ready solution will have an easy time getting the attention of the big guys; keeping it depends on the quality of the solution.

The article also contains a couple of lessons for entrepreneurs:

1. Don’t be afraid to switch direction when it makes sense

Audible Magic started with the goal on audio recognition. They changed direction after realizing the opportunity in video and also being able to execute on the opportunity.

2. Look to innovate of the innovation

Everyone wants to be the digital video recognition company and most are focused on presenting their solution to online video properties.  I like Attributor‘s approach of scouring the web and finding copywritten video.  It adds something more than the others. If they get the digital recognition portion right then it sounds like a great venture. They’ve already raised a Series B round bringing their total funds raised to $10M, and have the management pedigree – the company was founded by Jim Brock (former SVP of Yahoo), and Jim Pitkow (former CEO of Moreover). Definitely a company to watch.

2006 was a banner year for online video. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens now that the honeymoon phase is over.  With the recent troubles at YouTube, 2007 is off to an interesting start!

Internet and Interactive TV: Know Your History

February 16, 2007

It seems that everyday a new company pops up claiming that it will revolutionize television, and a common theme is interactivity. But is interactive t.v. really the future?  For starters, interactive t.v. isn’t new.  It was a concept thought up by people back in the early 90s, most notably Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape, Healtheon(WebMD) founder…grand daddy of the internet).

 Here’s an excerpt from an Oct 1994 Wired article where Mr. Clark is interviewed. Remember, this is 1994 – before web browsing, e-commerce, or anything we now take for granted. Amazing reading this today!  (there was concern the internet would be used for commerce!)…

A quesition on why he likes Mosaic (resulting in Netscape; bringing the internet to life)…

Mainly because I ran into Marc Andreessen immediately upon leaving SGI, and Marc was the author of Mosaic. The original thought was to go into interactive television in some fashion. But what is Mosaic? A navigator for interactive stuff on a network. The network happens to be called the Internet, but the physical network is slowly improving in bandwidth and someday it will be capable of carrying video. The slope of growth of the television industry is zero. It’s even negative. Television doesn’t change. Cable is nothing but an overlay of a physical delivery scheme for broadcast television that has been around for 40 years. There’s no two-way interactivity, nothing. So I began to think about the difficulties of the transition of the cable industry into interactivity. It’s a completely daunting task. First of all, you have to cause the television industry to get accustomed to digital technology, which is a major change. Then it has to think of two-way interactivity, which is a major change. And it has to make the physical network carry switched-video capability. That’s just a whole group of major changes.

That’s not even talking about the consumer.

Right. People don’t have problems with interactivity on computers. More and more, computers are being built so you can see video on them. You look at those dynamics, and you look at the dynamics on the other side of the ledger, and you say, What are you doing over here? Get over there.

I’m sure you’ve followed all the concern about the coming commercialization for the Internet.

That to me is peculiar. When the phone system was invented it was primarily for voice. We commercialized it when we began to use it for business, and we commercialized it further when we began to do data transfers over the wire, money transfers over telephone lines. It’s exactly the same thing. Commercialization of the Internet is as inevitable as the sun coming up tomorrow.

To read the full article go here. It’s truly amazing to look back on what once was. I agree with the idea that interactive t.v. depends on the network accepting responses.  We’re still not there today, and I don’t think it’s in the near future. Can the cost of enabling upstream communication on a network really be covered by interactive t.v. shopping? Don’t think so.

There’s a lesson in this for existing interactive t.v. players and start-ups or companies looking at entering the space – if you don’t know where you’ve been, you have no idea where you’re going. Silicon Graphics burned through a billion dollars before realizing that interactive t.v. might be cool but was missing two keys to success: market demand and a viable business model. That was back in the early 90s but do these keys exist today?

A MUST READ for anyone that wants to look back at the beginnings of the internet and Jim Clark is The New New Thing by Micheal Lewis.  You can get it cheap through Amazon. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs might get all the press (well deserved), but Jim Clark was right there and a visionary behind much of what we enjoy today. Thanks Jim.

The Power of P2P – A revolutionary opportunity for operators!

February 8, 2007

There is no denying that P2P (peer-to-peer) content distribution is massively popular with consumers, and disruptive to operators, content owners, etc.  The guys behind Kazaa made their bones in the internet game using P2P, then launched Skype, and now are focused on video with their coming service Joost. Network operators should take notice. 

Like I’ve always said, consumers are in control and they will get what they want no matter what you try to do to stop them.  P2P is great because it is a democracy – you get what you want, and pay less for it (if at all).  But it’s also an efficient and cost-effective distribution mechanism – way more cost effective than point to point distribution.  Instead of fighting it, operators can embrace P2P.

Computers aren’t what they used to be, adding the storage capacity of PVRs, people can have a terabyte of data sitting in their homes these days, and a fast broadband connection connected.  Those are the two enablers of P2P, storage and bandwidth.  Collectively, soon the storage in people’s homes could exceed that of the operator! The idea here is for operators to embrace P2P (BiTorrent, etc.) and incent customers to become content distributors!

An operator could…

1.      Recognize the number of people on a node in the network

2.      Provide an incentive for consumers to ‘sign up’ to be content distributors, and build the content their content distribution army!

3.      No when they get an on-demand movie order they can direct the consumer to any of the content distributors on the node

4.      The consumer picks the node with the best speed/price/etc. to deliver the content to them!

Basically, the operator still owns the rights, lowered the cost of distribution, and created an open marketplace for consumers to make money while providing a great, consumer-centric service!

Just one more way that ‘old media’ can take advantage of the greatness of the new digital world!

Escapade through Customer Service PT2: It’s my fault!?!

February 2, 2007

After, three more phone calls to Primus customer service, I finally got a call back today from their tech support department.  Here was the answer…

Primus: “Hi this is Primus, I understand you’ve been having an issue with service where your fax interferes with your voicemail?”

Me: Yes. It’s been three weeks now.

Primus: “Sorry about that but we fixed the issue.  What you have to do is program your fax machine to pick up on the other ring tone you have.”

Me: “Ok that’s fine, but it took three weeks for you guys to tell me that I have to do something?”

Primus: “Well, in the notes it looks like you logged the issue January 15th.  We just got the ticket in Tech Support January 31st.”

Me: “What?!? Since we first called about the issue almost three weeks ago, I’ve talked to five different CSRs. All of them told me that the issue is being worked on and it will be fixed within 24-48hrs. So, all of them lied to me?”

Primus: “I’m sorry that happened. You can definately log a complaint against the CSRs. We just got the ticket and fixed it.”

Me: “I understand. But actually, there was no fix.”

Primus: “Ya, I guess not.”

Me: “Ok, thanks. I guess I’ll write a complaint to the company.”

So, this post (and the last) is my complaint.  I didn’t have to program my fax machine when I was with Bell, so didn’t think I had to now.  The amazing thing is that none of the five CSRs I spoke with could tell me to do so! 

Bottom line:  Horrible customer service = loss of customer.  I’m deciding between going back to Bell or trying out Vonage.

Also, a note to companies:  Customers don’t care about what the CSR did/did not put in ‘the notes’, so stop using sentences that start with ‘well the notes say that…”.  If a CSR isn’t compitent enough to help me with my issue, why would I trust what they put in ‘the notes’?!?

My rant is over. Next post will be back on topic – everything digital. 🙂 

My Escapade through Customer Service

February 1, 2007

This post is a little divergence from the usual content of Digital U but I had to write it. I just got off the phone with three different telecoms in my city. Why three?  I signed up with Bell Canada and got my first bill.  Wow.  So I switched to a competing provider, Primus, because they had a great ‘unlimited long distance package’.  After some insanity (described below), I’m on the search again. 

Here’s my story in the not so wonderful world of telco customer service…. 

I switched from Bell Canada becausetheir long distance plans suck. Primus hasa great package with long distance. They also said that I would keep all my existing features and seperate ring tone for the Fax.  So I switched and life was going to be great!

Turns out Primus couldn’t offer two featuresI had.  Even worse, the Fax interfered with my voicemail! No one can leave me a voicemail at home, but they do get blasted with the fax shreek when they least expect it.

So, I’ve been dealing with Primus for three weeks to get them to resolve the issue. During the first week (after I contacted them twice to follow up) they told me the fax problem would be resolved in 48 hours max.  Week 2, I call back and ask why it hasn’t been resolved.  They tell me that “it wasn’t escalated properly”….so the guy from Week 1 lied to me.  Just for fun I spent time trying to get the Week 2 guy to agree that I was lied to by Week 1 guy.  He finally did. Then the thing that would rank as the worst customer service process….

I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told that no one was available and if I wanted then a supervisor would call me back in 24 to 48 hrs!! 

Wait, when a customer isn’t getting proper service and wants a supervisor, isn’t it because they want an issue dealt with NOW?  I have to wait 24 to 48 hours to even talk to someone?!?!?!   I call back, talk to another CSR and get the same story.

Now its week 4 and the fax is still annoying my callers.  The unlimited long distance isn’t worth it.   If someone from Primus reads this I would be happy to discuss your CS process (and I’ll be happy to write a recant if you can convince me).

I call my cable company, Rogers, to ask why their On Demand service isn’t working (ya, cable issues too…hey, atleast my web connection is working (Rogers)!).  They can’t pull up my account and say “it doesn’t look like you’re a customer.” I tell him that I am a customer. He says he doesn’t know what to do.

I explain that I am, at that moment, watching T.V. with their cable service and on the web through their internet connection.  Still, the guy says that “the system can’t find you”.  He puts me on hold and goes away.  After 20 minutes on hold I hang up and call back.  I get another guy that finds my account easily and helps me out.  The problem with this is that every time I call Rogers I have to call twicebefore I get someone that even finds my account!  In fairness, Rogers always has great service. It’s the CS process that needs work (at least according to my experiences). I didn’t even ask about phone service.

After looking at the plans online, I call Vonage.  They have two plans that look the same…

Residential = $40, add a fax line for $13 = $53  or Entrepreneur = $70, which looks like its the same at the Residential plan with a fax.  So makes sense to do the Residential with a fax line and save money, right?  I call them in case I’m missing something that gets provided with the Entrepreneur plan.  The Customer Service Rep answers and this is how the conversation goes…

ME: “What is the difference in service if I just add a fax to the Residentialplan. Won’t I then have the same thing as the Entrepreneur plan and save money?”

CSR: “Residential is for personal use and Entrepreneur is for business use.”

ME: “Ok, but is their a difference in service, features, etc. if I add a fax to the residential plan?”

CSR: “Like I told you, the residential is for personal and entrepreneur is for business”. 

ME: “Buthow would you know what I use it for?  Can you just tell me if its the same service and features? I don’t see what the difference is.” 

CSR: “Well, Vonage will know if you’re using a residential plan for business and cut you off without warning.” 

ME: “You mean, they will know how I use it…”

In mid sentence I hear the ‘hold music’!!   No lie, she simply cut me off by putting me on hold.  She didn’t tell me, just did it.

Two minutes later a tech support guy answers and asks for my Vonage number. I explain that I just called to ask a question, told him what happened, and have no idea why I was routed to tech support.  I ask him what the difference in the two plans are.  He puts me on hold! WTF.

HUGE QUESTION:  Does anyone out their know if it’s true that Vonage monitors how you use their service?  How is this possible with eaves dropping?  I can’t see this happening and being legal.  (Vonage, can you clear this up?)

I hung up and wrote this blog.  The worst is that Bell Canada, the guys I was with in the first place have the best customer service. Always knowledgeable and responsive.  For that reason alone I’m looking into their long distance plans again. I’m going to give Vonage one more chance. Depending how it goes I’ll either sign up or switch back to Bell Canada – even if I have to pay more.

Moral of this story for service providers, companies, and virtually anyone running a business or aspiring to do so one day….Priority #1: YOUR CUSTOMER.

This is just one mans experience. I’d be interested in knowing if you’ve had similar experiences, or faired better.  Would be a good test of what the public feels about how much they are valued as a customer and knowing who really cares about keeping their customers happy.