Archives For davis

bearhugI hate to admit it, but I’m feeling a little foolish right now. Last week, I raised the question of whether or not Dish was researching a hostile takeover of TiVo. In my article, I concluded that they might try, but that they’d never be able to afford the $7.5 billion poison pill that came with it.

Since then, I’ve spent more time researching the pill and realize that I made a terrible mistake. Not only is there an antidote, but Dish may already have it.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this pill, but could never figure a way around it. It wasn’t until I asked myself a simple question, that the solution became so obvious. What would Charlie do?

Love him or hate him Dish CEO Charlie Ergen has a special kind of brilliance. His reputation as a fearsome litigator is legendary and more than once he has demonstrated his mastery for the fine art of negotiation. Over the years, his decisions have created huge growth for Dish (albeit at great risks.) Unfortunately, his penchant for the legal system may have finally caught up with him and now he finds himself struggling in quicksand with the prospect of having to buy rope from TiVo.

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dish-tivo-poison

It’s been several years since TiVo initiated their patent lawsuit against DISH Network, but we’re finally reaching the endgame of what has been an epic chess match between the two companies. Between the he said/she said arguments that have played out in the press to the endless legal maneuvers by both camps, it has been a long and brutal battle for both. As a TiVo shareholder, I’ve certainly found the long delays especially frustrating.

In the latest development in this high stakes game, TiVo appears to have pinned Dish in a dangerous checkmate situation. With appeals quickly running out, Dish’s options are becoming increasingly limited. While things look pretty dire for Dish, they may try to play one more dangerous gambit before the game is up:

I believe DISH might try to buy TiVo.

While looking through my traffic logs, I came across a very interesting visitor. (pic above) In 2006, I wrote an article referencing a “poison pill” TiVo implemented in 2001. Since Google loves bloggers so much, my story somehow ended up near the top of the page for the search term TiVo poison pill. Given recent analyst chatter that TiVo could be an M&A target, I’m not surprised that people would be interested in taking a closer look at the nuts and bolts behind the agreement, but I was surprised at where my visitor was browsing from.

While there’s no way for me to know who exactly it was, someone at EchoStar’s corporate HQ’s spent nearly 25 minutes researching an article that I wrote on the topic. Their outclick took them to the legal document that contains all of the nitty gritty details on how the pill actually works. Now, there could be any number of explanations for why someone at Echostar would be interested in TiVo’s anti-takeover provisions, but the most likely one is that they’re interested in making some kind of play at TiVo.

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mkv-microsoft

I need not fear my enemies because the most they can do is attack me. I need not fear my friends because the most they can do is betray me. But I have much to fear from people who are indifferent. – Russian Proverb

Now I know that most people don’t really care about the mechanics behind playing video files and I can’t say that I blame you for caring more about your content than the technology behind it. So while this post will get into some of the more mundane mechanics of the codec industry, I ask that you stick with me because behind the scenes a war is being fought for control of your very television. This particular codec battle has been going on for over 10 years now.

When J.D. Rockefeller set out to monopolize the oil industry, there were several crucial areas where he attacked. He knew that he couldn’t control all of the oil fields because it was literally bubbling out of the ground, but what he could control was the distribution method for getting oil to the end customer.

In building his monopoly he seized assets used to transport oil from raw material to the end consumer. Whether it was owning all of the oil pipelines, so that he could control what oil cost him, owning the railroads so he could dictate how far his competitors could reach or owning the distribution points where consumers bought kerosene to light their homes, he made sure that he had control over every aspect of it. This was good for Standard Oil investors, but wasn’t very good for competitors or consumers.

Online video may not seem like it has a lot to do with the oil industry, but if you look at it’s early development, there are many similarities. So much content is bubbling up that the real challenge isn’t finding video oil, it’s getting it to consumers. Instead of pipes, now we have internet access, instead of railroads there are CDN networks, instead of gas stations, there are operating systems ready to serve us 24 hours a day.

In all of these industries, competition has been limited to a handful of big companies, but the industry that I’m most interested is much smaller than any of these. In the grand scheme of things, codecs (and the filters that go along with them) are the refineries of the video world. They take digital signals and convert them into the flickering magic that appears on our screens. Consumers may not understand the technical details behind it, but they are a crucial chokepoint in your digital video experience.

This battle has been fought on many fronts, but in the end it always comes down to one issue. Those who think consumers should have a choice and those who think they know better. It’s about control over your entertainment experience. Who, What, Where, When, and How you are allowed to consume YOUR media. On one side, well funded corporations with huge financial stakes, on the other, an unorganized patchwork of misfit companies and an army of guerrilla volunteers desperately fighting for a better entertainment experience for all of us.

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DivXlicious

I recently saw a link to an online survey on DivX’s website, and since I’m not shy in sharing my opinions, these sorts of things are the perfect click bait for me. Most questions covered how and where I watch online video, but after answering a dozen or so, one caught my eye:

5. Would you be interested in a free service that lets you bookmark online videos to queue and play back in media center software or on a device?

I’ve never really been a heavy user of bookmarking services, but being able to bookmark television content would be much more appealing. One of the biggest problems in bridging the computer to TV gap, is the process of finding the content that you want to watch and then getting it to the television set. For downloadable media this is easier to accomplish, but for streaming media you’ll need some kind of a PC or internet connected gadgetry. Once juiced up to the net, trying to navigate the vast sea of digital content with a remote is like trying to paddle upstream while going over Niagra Falls backwards.

So far, Netflix seems to have come up with the best solution, but there’s still room for others to build a better mousetrap. Instead of letting consumers use a remote to browse all of their programing, Netflix makes you bookmark your watch now movies via the old fashioned computer. This hybrid tv/computer approach may lack some elegance, but it does ultimately create a more satisfying experience to the end user. Sometimes having too many choices can create a paralyzing effect when it comes to finding content.

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If you ask the big content owners, they’ll argue that the only content on YouTube has either been stolen from them or is a lame cat video uploaded by your crazy neighbor. Unfortunately, in my seemingly endless quest to collect and document the best cat videos on YouTube, I keep getting distracted by some pretty amazing independent content producers. Here are ten who’ve recently impressed me.

Wicked Awesome Films - Kevin & Bobby create movie trailers of pop culture events. Whether they are remaking the latest films, riffing on popular internet memes or teaching underaged kids how to get alcohol, their quick 2 minute clips will keep you entertained and laughing. They tend to be a little over the top and crude at times, but that’s a big part of their charm. They are usually not safe for work (NSFW), so consider yourself forewarned. But if you enjoy listening to shock jocks on the radio, you’ll love their videos.

Jack the Danger BunnyFilmed in a style that is part documentary, part sitcom, and pure genius, Cait and Dan share moments of their dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the YouTube community. If their relationship in real life is anything like the show, I’m not sure how long the series will be around, but take advantage why you can because their silly antics make for some of the best videos on Youtube.

The Big Time ShowGabe and Dave moved to Hollywood with a dream to make it big. Along the way, they’ve been documenting their progress towards trying to break into the world of show business. They’ve got the looks, are willing to work hard, sell themselves out and have no shortage of motivation. The only problem is that they seem to be lacking talent. Filmed as a reality TV show, their videos take a satirical look at the movie business and features a wacky cast of characters including their sleeze ball agent, a clueless photographer and a student director who isn’t even willing to cast these guys in a student project unless they’re willing to pay him. If you’ve ever wondered how bad b-movies end up making it to the big screen, this mockumentary provides all of the answers. Spinal Tap fans will especially love this series.

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Over the last few years, Redbox has been able to build an impressive DVD rental network by being innovative and flexible while their competitors were still laughing at the concept of kiosk rentals. Over time they’ve added features to the Redbox website that allow customers to browse and reserve titles online. They’ve linked their kiosks together so that unlike competitors (ahem: Blockbuster), you can actually rent a movie from one location and return it at another. Redbox’s core business may ultimately be, plain old boring physical DVD rentals, but there’s no denying that they’ve been an innovator in their industry. Which is why I am so perplexed by their most recent decision to go hostile against iPhone owners.

Given the company’s reputation for thinking progressively, I was disappointed to learn that they’ve decided to take a technological step backwards by putting pressure on the Inside Redbox blog, to kill their Inside Redbox iPhone application.

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Night Of The Living DivX

Davis Freeberg —  February 26, 2009

6892943_490ef7667f_mThe last couple of years may have felt like a bad dream to most investors, but for DivX shareholders it’s been nothing short of a nightmare. They don’t hand out Oscars for businesses, but if they did DivX would have won hands down for best horror flick.

When the company first went public, expectations were high. YouTube had just been sold for $1.6 billion, DivX was demonstrating 75% gains in their high margin core licensing business, and their unique business model looked like it offered a very strong moat from competitors like Apple and Microsoft.

At one point DivX’s market cap exceeded $750 million, today it barely closed above $150 million. Over $600 million dollars in capitalization wiped out by one misstep after another. Admitedly, the tough economic environment can be partially blamed for DivX collapse, but the sad truth is that much of the value destruction could have been avoided. Continue Reading…