Friday, September 15, 2006

VON Recap - Loose Ends

Am not sure which is more stressful - tying up loose ends before going to a show, or catching up when you get back. I had every intention of posting first thing today, but one thing leads to another, and here we are, Friday night, finally getting this done.

I just wanted to add a few things to yesterday's post, which was more about the photos I took on my Nokia N90. Oh, and thanks Jeff - he was nice enough to cite my post on his blog this morning.

Here I'm just going to add some observations along with a few other things. First off, in terms of overall impressions, it was tough to gauge the experience. It was certainly a good show, but there were a number of distinct tracks, especially video, and for one person, it's impossible to see it all. In short, I liked what I saw, but really have no idea about the rest.

I'm sure the video content was very good, but for a guy like me, between briefings, biz dev, the occasional walk around the floor, doing some Pulvermedia podcasts and videocasts, and covering all the basic VoIP/telecom stuff that I need to do --- you get the idea. Oh, and yeah, steal some time to see the odd keynote and panel - plus speaking on one myself. There's just not any time left for all the other good stuff. I'm sure I'm not alone on this one. That's one variation of the VON blur Jeff likes to talk about.

So, what did I see? The first two keynotes - Jeff and Ted Leonsis. Aside from what I covered yesterday, I'll just add a few thoughts. These things have been blogged to death already, and it's old news by now, so I'll be brief. Hopefully I'm adding things you haven't seen yet. And if not, just move on to the rest of this post....

Jeff did his usual recap of how we got to this point with VoIP, but then used this to provide context for what's happening now in the broadcast sector. Aside from the reference I made yesterday to SecondLife, he cited other examples to make his point. One was a trailer for the film Ghost Rider - but this one was produced for the Internet, and watching it on the monitors, it was every bit as good as what you would see in the theater. This really got his point across that IP-based video is broadcast quality, and largely explains why it's so disruptive now. Another reality check was Jeff's reference to a recent blog posting of his showing 88 different sources that are broadcasting TV content over the Internet today. With so much content freely available this early in the game, things are happening quickly, and hats off to Jeff for trying to make sense of it all at this show. Building on lessons learned from the disruptive nature of VoIP on the telecom space, there were two sage takeaways from Jeff's keynote:

1. In Jeff's words, the question just begs to asked: "who starts the Vonage of TV?".

I didn't hear any answers, but you just know it's going to happen. Jeff noted you don't need ANYTHING to become an IP-based broadcast disruptor. You don't need a network, you don't need endpoints, and you don't even need content. The pieces are all out there, just waiting to be put together into something that works in a Broadcast 2.0 kind of way. It could be you, it could be me, or could be a high school geek. A few years back, this was Jeff's message at VON. It was us - the people in the room who had the opportunity to be innovators and disruptors with VoIP. It's safe to say that this turned out to be true for several people out there - and now it's time to do it again for broadcasting. Any takers?

2. Regulation will come to Broadcasting 2.0 - not if, but when. As with telecom, when the key stakeholders feel the pain, they will fight back to protect their turf. Hollywood is not oblivious to what VoIP is doing to the incumbents, and they've had a few scares already watching how the music business is being transformed before their eyes. Jeff's parting thoughts on this are exactly what he has been saying about telecom for years now - "don�t let the threat of regulation get in the way of innovation". Absolutely.

AOL's Ted Leonsis gave a really engaging keynote, and boy, was it well produced! Of course, if you were in his position at AOL, would you be doing things any differently? While a lot of mass marketing caters to the lowest common denominator, Ted has vision, and if anybody understands the essence of the mainstream Internet community, it's AOL. I've always felt that way, and what I saw in this keynote reaffirmed my long-held hunch that AOL has the raw DNA to make Web 2.0 real. Sure, their execution over the years has been off at times, but now is what matters. Take this very simple statement from his presentation - the success of Web 2.0 will be about "taking the things you need and transforming them into the things you love".

Pretty basic, but profound stuff. Sure, it's a bit like Big Brother, or learning to love the bomb, but the Internet generation is defined by the Web, and we're at a point now where almost every facet of our life can be expressed or experienced online. This is WAY more powerful than any medium before the Web, all of which are static, and uni-directional. Seeing all the neat stuff AOL has going today, you look at them and say yeah, they get it.

He demonstrated many examples of Internet driven content catering to all types of tastes, and stressed another basic point - "the Internet makes things better". One great example was showing how most search pages are text-based. He then showed a Web 2.0 version of search, with Madonna as the topic. This search was far richer, turning up all kinds of multimedia references that make plain text search look very dull. Similarly, he cited the quality of content from Wikipedia, which is far more engaging for learning about things than using traditional sources. He gave other examples as well, but I think you get the idea.

Finally, to pull it all together, he touched on the validity of an advertising-driven business model to make this work. He noted that the broadband technology/bandwidth is ready now, and so is consumer demand. Much like television, the time is right for an ad-driven medium to take form. That basic idea went off in my head right away, and has stuck with me ever since. While we're talking about the Internet and Broadcast 2.0 - it's really just television all over again. We watch it for free, and the price of admission is the advertising. Pretty simple formula, and we'll soon find out if it works. I think we'll also find out pretty quick if it stays pure, and the content remains independent from the whims of the advertisers. I'm not so sure, but time will tell.

Just one more thing to comment about - the question everyone seems to ask - what did I see that was new or different? Geez - there's a lot I didn't see, and I'll just cite the ones I saw. I don't have the energy now to comment on each one, and instead urge you to visit their websites and see for yourself - and then you can come back to me and we'll go from there. Fair?

In no particular order, but there's a lot of wireless and WiFi here... Truphone (see Martin Geddes's post for more), Fonav, TalkPlus, Paragon Wireless, RingCentral, and Pika Technologies.

And.... just in case you need to know more, the usual suspects have written numerous posts, and they're all worth reading, especially Andy Abramson, Jim Courtney (Skype Journal), and Alec Saunders and Brough Turner.

That's enough for now. I have more, but will put it on the next post...

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