At first blush there are remarkable similarities in what ace coder Jeremy Allaire’s new start-up, Bright Cove is trying to do and what others such as TiVo and Akimbo plan to achieve. They are all trying to become the platform to publish video content over the Internet, which can, and will be displayed on television and other connected devices.
However, as Allaire explains it, Bright Cove will be quite different from the other two. Instead of developing a hardware platform, the company will base everything it does on open standards, and will essentially be a software platform that will run on any kind of device – Microsoft Media Centers to TiVo to connected DVD players. In other words, he is gunning for a market that is the super nova of consumer-acquired devices.
Though many might confuse Bright Cove as the culmination of all Long Tail and Exploding TV prayers, in reality, and Allaire was quick to point out that this is really a platform for the little guy. Someone who is interested in video blogging, short form film and other downloadable forms of video. “For live broadcasts, cable and service providers there is no substitute, and it is not feasible,” he says, “Network PVR and connected DVD players and other devices that are connected to open Internet will be able to use this to deliver content.” It is through this consumer electronics proxy, the video content will be delivered to the only screen that matters for video: the television.
Allaire succinctly put it when he says that his model is no different from that of a software developer who writes a program for say Windows or a Mac platform. “We are building all the pieces which are going to be needed including billing and DRM infrastructure,” he says, “We are piggy backing on platform where we don’t need distribution agreements. We are focused on open platforms and ultimately that is the model that is going to succeed.” Much as I would like to cheer him on, I do not share his optimism for the Microsoft Media Center platform.
[What follows now is conjecture on my part, since the company refused to let us know how this all will work. So read with skepticism or as I like to call it realism.]
On the other hand, the company needs to overcome the inherent nature of television consumption – which involves minimal work and maximum passivity. In a recent chat, someone smart, whose name slips my mind, told me that when watching television, you tend to lean back, and when working on a PC you tend to lean forward. In order for TV-to-marry-PC, the bedrock on which future of television rests, cannot be trusted to a PC-centric media center product.
With about 2 million or so media centers in circulation, it is not a terribly exciting market and the company will have to get its, presumably proprietary client onto devices connected to the TV. I am assuming this client will be a combo XML/Flash/Browser based product. Striking deals with Phillips, Sony and others might not be that easy. Despite the inherent nature of an open Internet, my sources within network world say that both phone and cable companies are going to zealously guard their networks, and do traffic monitoring. These are practical real world challenges, which are not unique to BrightCove but to every start-up.
Though no experv on running a company, I can say this: Bright Cove’s platform must and should have the ease of use of say an Apple, if it can be successful with the little guys. Technically, I have no doubt that Jeremy’s posse, which includes some folks from Art Technology Group, will recreate the ColdFusion magic. CF’s ease of use, well I still remain sanguine about that. Then there is the most important challenge: unlike blogs where folks can self aggregate what they want to consume, video content on the Internet will need hand-holding, and need some sort of an easy to use interface. I wonder if Bright Cove has that in the works. Otherwise I will be watching cat videos before I turn back to the good old Law & Order.
Allaire’s brilliance will be in overcoming these issues. His financial backers – General Catalyst Partners and Accel Partners – at least believe in him. “We’re going to build a service that marries what the Internet does really well, with television,”he told the Boston Globe. Allaire was the man behind web-page development environment called ColdFusion and other fine products such as HomeSite, which now dwindle inside of a morass called Macromedia. BrightCove is Allaire’s second shot at glory. I am cheering for him to succeed.