Free Fred Wilson

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barsFred Wilson finds himself on two sides of the fundamental issue of our time: the user’s right to access data the way he or she wants to. On one side, that of the user, Wilson is an investor and board member of Boxee, a startup that translates web pages into a form more easily consumable on a TV screen. One site in particular, Hulu, just shut Boxee down at the insistence of the content providers for material on the NBC and Fox-owned site.

Boxee’s popular because it leverages Hulu’s free access to mainstream content in an on-demand solution. It’s the long-awaited rollup of TV or the computer, where on demand entertainment can be watched on the big screen under computer control. The studios don’t want us getting used to that methodology, especially not when it breaks out of the tightly controlled box where you can watch for free (ad-supported) or pay (DVD and Pay per view on demand) but not free on demand on the big screen.

The main reason for this is the one users mentioned in the Hulu comments, namely that the Boxee/Hulu combination encouraged users to quit using satellite and cable services and their DVRs and time shift off the Net instead. It’s a variant of the reason Apple doesn’t open up AppleTV to direct recording and playing of studio content so as to protect the pay to download iTunes service.

Fred suggests users don’t understand the distinction between watching via Safari or Firefox and via Boxee. That may be true, but we certainly do understand it probably has to do with the studios protecting the networks and the set manufacturers just like they did when they all stonewalled DVRs until enough competition developed between satellite and cable to trigger the dissemination of free recorders to encourage switching.

The other side of the Where’s My Data Home version game that Fred is involved in is Twitter, where he has a similar investment and board role. Twitter has spent much of the last month or so rate limiting its third party developers, degrading their user experiences and in some cases, killing the add-ons outright. While it’s hard to tell whether the blame lies with outages like this week’s slowdown of Twitter messages moving to FriendFeed (near real time to 30 minutes at last word), the net effect is to raise questions about the viability of the satellite service.

FriendFeed aggregates many different activity and news streams, but Twitter produces the lion’s share of traffic to and from the smaller site. None of this would be noteworthy except that Twitter has been anything but open about how and with whom they will share “their” data. The history of Twitter’s removal of Track, acquisition of Summize search services, and recent surfacing of packaged search terms suggests the long awaited business model is tied to controlling the data pipeline, much as the studios control theirs in the case of Hulu, Boxee, iTunes et al.

Wilson commends Hulu for being open and transparent and “allowing the community to discuss and debate this decision out in the open” on the Hulu blog. He’s right about Boxee and should take his own advice to heart and encourage Twitter to do the same about user’s concerns on its site. “Open and transparent” is the first step forward to a time when users can use third party sites such as FriendFeed without fear that they will be cut off from living in the new converged media reality. Right now even Facebook looks more responsive to user concerns than Twitter.

  • http://www.notio.com Michael J.

    Twitter will probably sell a premium data stream with the rate card varying based on time delay.

  • http://www.notio.com Michael J.

    Twitter will probably sell a premium data stream with the rate card varying based on time delay.

  • http://twitter.tearn.com DJ Chang

    Typical Steve Gilmore – complex thoughts, but on-target.

  • http://twitter.tearn.com DJ Chang

    Typical Steve Gilmore – complex thoughts, but on-target.

  • http://www.localbroadcast.tv Drew Robertson

    Could someone please point us to an example of an open model that is cash flow positive. Craigslist? Not really. Google? Of course not. Farming? Sometimes. Please give us one example.

    • Arthur Howe

      Auttomatic

    • Chris Dodge

      Craigslist, are you kidding me! They are making a killing!

    • HankMehle

      Craigslist is not cashflow positive? Can you provide more info on that?

      In any case, I am reminded of a Steve Ballmer quote about search, that I think applies even more to relatively simple social network tools that are increasingly inter-connected.

      “it’s the easiest thing to switch out”

      While both Facebook and Twitter are giants (or growing fast, in Twitter’s case) both have stumbled, and neither is perfect by any stretch.

      Each is chasing the post facto (post success) business model Dragon and neither seems to be anywhere near the Princess.

      • http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki Bill Seitz

        I think his point is that CraigsList blocks other sites from scraping its data.

  • http://www.localbroadcast.tv Drew Robertson

    Could someone please point us to an example of an open model that is cash flow positive. Craigslist? Not really. Google? Of course not. Farming? Sometimes. Please give us one example.

    • Arthur Howe

      Auttomatic

    • Chris Dodge

      Craigslist, are you kidding me! They are making a killing!

    • HankMehle

      Craigslist is not cashflow positive? Can you provide more info on that?

      In any case, I am reminded of a Steve Ballmer quote about search, that I think applies even more to relatively simple social network tools that are increasingly inter-connected.

      “it’s the easiest thing to switch out”

      While both Facebook and Twitter are giants (or growing fast, in Twitter’s case) both have stumbled, and neither is perfect by any stretch.

      Each is chasing the post facto (post success) business model Dragon and neither seems to be anywhere near the Princess.

      • http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki Bill Seitz

        I think his point is that CraigsList blocks other sites from scraping its data.

  • Swag

    IPTV will ultimately render Hulu’s protests irrelevant. It’s just a matter of time.

    Until then, they’re like music industry execs insisting upon DRM while consumers with digital music players work around them.

    • http://blog.offbeatmammal.com Offbeatmammal

      IPTV has great promise – a la carte programming, virtually infinite on-demand content, p2p data distribution with smart rules to pre-cache content etc all supported by suscription and targeted (ie better value) advertising but …. the very arguments that are currently causing pain at Hulu and downstream re-users of the content like Boxee are going to continue to hurt any chance of real progress.

      I’d be happy to pay for content. I’d be happy to have it wrapped in DRM as long as there was a concept of fair use (if I buy it let me keep it forever. if I rent it enforce the terms I agreed to but let me watch/listen on multiple devices if I want etc)

      The problem is … no-one has worked out a viable model that will allow the incumbent riders of the gravy train continue to make money while producing decent content (though the quality of a lot of content the studios deliver is questionable now as everyone heads for low cost RealityTV programming!)

  • Swag

    IPTV will ultimately render Hulu’s protests irrelevant. It’s just a matter of time.

    Until then, they’re like music industry execs insisting upon DRM while consumers with digital music players work around them.

    • http://blog.offbeatmammal.com Offbeatmammal

      IPTV has great promise – a la carte programming, virtually infinite on-demand content, p2p data distribution with smart rules to pre-cache content etc all supported by suscription and targeted (ie better value) advertising but …. the very arguments that are currently causing pain at Hulu and downstream re-users of the content like Boxee are going to continue to hurt any chance of real progress.

      I’d be happy to pay for content. I’d be happy to have it wrapped in DRM as long as there was a concept of fair use (if I buy it let me keep it forever. if I rent it enforce the terms I agreed to but let me watch/listen on multiple devices if I want etc)

      The problem is … no-one has worked out a viable model that will allow the incumbent riders of the gravy train continue to make money while producing decent content (though the quality of a lot of content the studios deliver is questionable now as everyone heads for low cost RealityTV programming!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paula_Moore/511472644 Paula Moore

    Interesting issues debating data pipeline control.

    The Boxee/Hulu solution for accessing mainstream content under computer control seemed close to perfect.

    Hoping this is a mere bump in the road as we edge closer to true converged media reality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paula_Moore/511472644 Paula Moore

    Interesting issues debating data pipeline control.

    The Boxee/Hulu solution for accessing mainstream content under computer control seemed close to perfect.

    Hoping this is a mere bump in the road as we edge closer to true converged media reality.

  • Paul

    If the studios and networks would just embrace Internet technology they would be making bank. The more they fight the more the end user finds ways to do it themselves, eventually not ever needing their proprietary players and DRM’d videos.

    It happened first with music — see Napster and all of the P2P clones that followed. Now we have BitTorrent and flash-like video that actually works. If they wait any longer they will effectively cut themselves out of the loop.

    I download my TV shows on BitTorrent and then play them on my plasma via my XBOX360 and PC. No commercials, no waiting, and I get them all in one place.

    iTunes has sold 1,000,000,000+ songs. When are they going to learn?

    • HankMehle

      It’s the same lot as the music execs. Instead of learning to make money off data, they are going to cut off their noses trying to protect the content, which is a losing battle.

      Why would they want a bunch of free word-of-mouth marketers showcasing their content to their friends? I’ll not quote Cory Doctorow here. They can look him up. Maybe pay him for some advice! LOL.

  • Paul

    If the studios and networks would just embrace Internet technology they would be making bank. The more they fight the more the end user finds ways to do it themselves, eventually not ever needing their proprietary players and DRM’d videos.

    It happened first with music — see Napster and all of the P2P clones that followed. Now we have BitTorrent and flash-like video that actually works. If they wait any longer they will effectively cut themselves out of the loop.

    I download my TV shows on BitTorrent and then play them on my plasma via my XBOX360 and PC. No commercials, no waiting, and I get them all in one place.

    iTunes has sold 1,000,000,000+ songs. When are they going to learn?

    • HankMehle

      It’s the same lot as the music execs. Instead of learning to make money off data, they are going to cut off their noses trying to protect the content, which is a losing battle.

      Why would they want a bunch of free word-of-mouth marketers showcasing their content to their friends? I’ll not quote Cory Doctorow here. They can look him up. Maybe pay him for some advice! LOL.

  • http://www.robblatt.com Rob Blatt

    Awesome. You managed to take an argument about one of the current hot topics in tech and turn it around to your crusade about Twitter. Here I as thinking I would get some insight into the Hulu vs Boxee debate and why Fred Wilson is importat to all of this.

  • http://www.robblatt.com Rob Blatt

    Awesome. You managed to take an argument about one of the current hot topics in tech and turn it around to your crusade about Twitter. Here I as thinking I would get some insight into the Hulu vs Boxee debate and why Fred Wilson is importat to all of this.

  • http://joeduck.com Joseph Hunkins

    Wow, I think the situation is simpler than all this: Hulu will soon offer their own Boxee-like environment and it’ll be a lot easier to control ads and other monetizing schemes if they are not running content via a third party. Hulu simply is nipping Boxee in the bud before it gains a large following. Rightly or not, they probably have succeeded.

  • http://joeduck.com Joseph Hunkins

    Wow, I think the situation is simpler than all this: Hulu will soon offer their own Boxee-like environment and it’ll be a lot easier to control ads and other monetizing schemes if they are not running content via a third party. Hulu simply is nipping Boxee in the bud before it gains a large following. Rightly or not, they probably have succeeded.

  • http://soeet.com Chris

    MediaMall playon STILL STREAMS Hulu to your HDTV.

    Who gives a crap about Boxee.

  • http://soeet.com Chris

    MediaMall playon STILL STREAMS Hulu to your HDTV.

    Who gives a crap about Boxee.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul_Bouzide/665129867 Paul Bouzide

    Reminds me of what happened to the music industry when the content providers tried to maintain their analog-age business models at any cost. The audience shrunk because they refused to put up with the nonsense. Which isn’t the same as “can’t monetize” by the way. But how much should I spend per month on cable, internet. netflix, mobile data plans and for ^%^&* studio-produced least-common-denominator ENTERTAINMENT??? I don’t think it’s sustainable folks…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul_Bouzide/665129867 Paul Bouzide

    Reminds me of what happened to the music industry when the content providers tried to maintain their analog-age business models at any cost. The audience shrunk because they refused to put up with the nonsense. Which isn’t the same as “can’t monetize” by the way. But how much should I spend per month on cable, internet. netflix, mobile data plans and for ^%^&* studio-produced least-common-denominator ENTERTAINMENT??? I don’t think it’s sustainable folks…

  • http://smoothspan.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/why-you-want-to-eliminate-middlemen-in-the-cloud/ Why You Want to Eliminate Middlemen in the Cloud « SmoothSpan Blog

    […] writes an amusing post entitled Free Fred Wilson.  Fred needs “freeing” because he is caught between the rights of a user to view […]

  • http://smoothspan.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/why-you-want-to-eliminate-middlemen-in-the-cloud/ Why You Want to Eliminate Middlemen in the Cloud « SmoothSpan Blog

    […] writes an amusing post entitled Free Fred Wilson.  Fred needs “freeing” because he is caught between the rights of a user to view […]

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com Mark Sigal

    One wonders if in these tough economic times, we’ll see more of old media reverting to bad (distribution) habits.

    You can already imagine the meeting of the suits:

    “There’s a time for vision and a time for counting beans. We’re in bean counting mode right now. If we piss off any of our PAYING distribution partners or lose even a smidgen of control that can otherwise be monetized, it’s just not worth it.”

    That said, I believe the exact opposite; namely, now is the time for long term planning, to deepen your engagement with consumers and create new value chains, so the move by your media partners is truly penny-wise, pound foolish.

    A smarter path would be for old media to work with Boxee to gain deeper user/usage insights so they can better understand how new media consumers are digesting and propagating their content.

    Alas.

    Mark

    Read: What it Means to be a “Social” Media Center: Boxee, Apple TV and Square Connect (http://bit.ly/qc5hA)

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com Mark Sigal

    One wonders if in these tough economic times, we’ll see more of old media reverting to bad (distribution) habits.

    You can already imagine the meeting of the suits:

    “There’s a time for vision and a time for counting beans. We’re in bean counting mode right now. If we piss off any of our PAYING distribution partners or lose even a smidgen of control that can otherwise be monetized, it’s just not worth it.”

    That said, I believe the exact opposite; namely, now is the time for long term planning, to deepen your engagement with consumers and create new value chains, so the move by your media partners is truly penny-wise, pound foolish.

    A smarter path would be for old media to work with Boxee to gain deeper user/usage insights so they can better understand how new media consumers are digesting and propagating their content.

    Alas.

    Mark

    Read: What it Means to be a “Social” Media Center: Boxee, Apple TV and Square Connect (http://bit.ly/qc5hA)

  • Redge

    I download all my TV shows from Bittorent. Why? Because there’s no legal alternative in Canada. I want my show on my HDTV, commercial free and of course, in HD. Where’s the offer? Where’s the content? No where to be found. I’m willing to pay but no one offer me the possibility to purchase Lost in HD in Canada.

    And if you ask, no I don’t have a cable/satellite subscription. I don’t need to pay 50 bucks+ a month just to watch 2-3 TV shows.

    So again, piracy is still the best alternative.

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