Posts from October 2004


What was in the water in Minneapolis in the 80s? Some of the all time best alternative rock came out of there. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know of my obsession with the Replacements, recently rekindled by Steve Goldstein.

But there was more. Husker Du led by Bob Mould who went on to record some great stuff under various other names. Soul Asylum. Gear Daddies. This was the place to be in the early 80s if you liked alternative rock.

Well most of the guys who made this scene gathered last night in Minneapolis to raise money for the Soul Asylum guitarist Karl Mueller. I’ll have to see if the show was recorded and is available in Bit Torrent.

How do I know about the show? Because Jackson clued me in to Bob Mould’s blog.

Now that’s something I’ve got to subscribe to. Bob Mould. What a musical genius he is.

#My Music

Should WiFi Be Public Infrastructure? (continued)

I blogged about Philly making Wifi free throughout the city back in early September.

Today I read that San Francisco is doing the same thing.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom today said the city plans to launch citywide free WiFi access. Speaking at his annual state of the city address, Newsom said, “No San Franciscan should be without a computer and a broadband connection.” San Francisco will eventually deploy free WiFi access throughout the city’s public buildings and public spaces. Newsom said the city has already launched free WiFi service at Union Square, a shopping and tourist hub. The city plans to soon add WiFi access to several other sections of the city, including Civic Center around City Hall. San Francisco is the latest urban center to announce plans for a citywide wireless network. Both New York and Philadelphia have announced initiatives to launch WiFi hotzones.

It’s happening. Wifi is going to be public infrastructure like roads, tunnels, and bridges.

#VC & Technology

The Blame Game

If you are a public company CEO and your company misses its numbers, what do you do?

You’ve got a choice. Tell the truth and risk losing your job or you blame something, anything, other than yourself. The latter choice is all too often the choice that bad public company CEOs make.

We saw this at work yesterday when Bill Park, CEO of Digital Impact, (DIGI) talked about their weak third quarter. He said:

“Our growth has been slowed by external factors, including a pullback in marketing budgets by some of our technology clients and the slow adoption of e-mail by enterprise marketers as a result of spam”

Well that’s just a crock of you know what. Spam concerns and lower marketing budgets aren’t hurting anyone else in the email industry that I know of. We have two portfolio companies in the email business. And I know of a number of other email companies that are having banner years.

Bill’s problem is that other companies are taking his customers. Blaming spam and lower “marketing budgets” hurts the industry and won’t help Bill out in the long run. Fixing what’s wrong with his company is the only answer to his problems.

#VC & Technology

The Preacher vs. The Professor

As I was nearing 125th Street this morning on my bike ride, I saw a large billboard advertisement for Time Magazine. On it were pictures of Bush and Kerry from one of the debates. There they were side by side. And it hit me, we have a simple choice. The Preacher vs. The Professor.

These two pictures were so illuminating.

Bush was exhorting his parishoners to believe, to follow him to the promised land.

Kerry was standing upright and discussing the issues in his classic nuanced way.

This is our choice. Strong and wrong vs. nuanced and right.

I read Ron Suskind’s Without A Doubt piece on Bush in the NY Times Magazine last weekend and it’s been running around the back of my brain ever since.

No matter what political affiliation you are, this is a must read. Because we’ve got a preacher in the white house. If that’s OK with you, then vote for him. In case you don’t want to go read it, I’ll quote just one paragraph where Bruce Bartlett, a close advisor to Reagan, speaks about Bush:

”This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett went on to say. ”He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.”

I was raised a Catholic. I spent my youth listening to priests tell me how to behave and what to believe every Sunday morning. Then I’d come home and hear my Dad, whose spirituality is much more personal than programmed, tell me how the Pope condemned Gallileo to his villa until his death for stating his belief that the earth was round. Well you can guess what I took from that experience.

Fast forward to the present. I don’t believe in absolute truth. It doesn’t exist. The search for truth is what makes life meaningful for all of us, but we’ll never get there. Because there is no final truth.

George W. Bush, the preacher, believes in absolute truth. John Kerry, the professor, searches for it every minute.

That is why I will vote for the professor a week from Tuesday. And if you live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Oregon, I sure hope you’ll join me.


Left of the Dial

“I’ll try to find you, Left of the dial” – The Replacements

I went on my usual bike ride this morning. It’s a great way to clear the mind and just think.

My mind’s been on digital media a lot lately. Just count the recent posts on podcasting and exploding TV and you’ll see that’s true.

On top of that, I’ve been working on some stuff I can’t blog about that are right smack in the middle of this stuff.

Television, Radio, Film, and most of the other major forms of media are facing big changes. I want to be on the ride side of these changes. We’ve got some bets in place already and are working on making some more.

Radio in particular is on my mind. And so when The Replacments brilliant song Left of the Dial came on my iPod as I was fighting the wind north of 96th street this morning, I knew I had the title of my post.

There are a number of technologies in the market today and more are coming to the market over time that are going to move large numbers of listeners “left of the dial”. Satellite is the first. Between XM and Sirius, there are over 3.2 satellite radio subscribers and that number is growing fast. The recent Stern and MLB deals will almost certainly drive these numbers a lot higher next year.

Then there’s the iPod. Everyone is wearing an iPod these days. 2 million iPods were sold in the third quarter. Expect that number to be north of 3 million this quarter, possibly even higher. People listen to their iPods in their cars, their homes, and their offices. That’s territory radio owned until recently.

Add to that the threat of podcasting and other forms of digital audio distribution (like Audible’s radio shows) and you’ve got an even bigger threat.

We’ve seen this movie before in cable television. First came satellite. That took a big dent out of the growth in cable. Then came DVRs.

But the cable companies have responded. Check out this talk that Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, gave at Wharton (where I went to business school). Roberts said:

“We think that with this new platform, we have to reinvent television,” Roberts noted. “Television today is a one-way experience. It seems totally clear to me that the personalization of television is the future. Everybody wants to do what they want, when they want. And we happen to have a platform for that, where our competitor, satellite, doesn’t. So all of our energy is to give our customers, on demand, the ability to get as much content as possible.”

Well I hope we start hearing the same thing from Mark Mays (who was made the CEO of Clear Channel this week), Joel Hollander (who runs Infinity Radio), David Fields (who runs Entercom), and the rest of the leaders of the radio business.

Radio is going digital too, as readers of this blog know by now. HD Radio is the new platform for radio. With it, the radio business can be reinvented too. For everyone’s sake, we hope they move fast. Because if they don’t, we’ll all end up Left of the Dial.

#VC & Technology

Exploding TV (continued)

The interactive aspect of blogs is what makes them so great. The rewards I get for blogging go way beyond the $50/month I get from Google and send to the Grameen foundation. The top two rewards are comments on my blog and links I get from other blogs. Some people send me a track back ping when they link to me, but mostly I find these links from Technorati.

Today I found a new site via Technorati called TV Harmony. It’s all about digital convergence. I read all the recent posts and it’s great stuff. It’s in my feedreader already.

I particularly liked the post in response to my post on Exploding TV. It’s like we had this guy in the room with us last Tuesday. He makes a strong case for VOD and states some issues with downloadable TV. Here are some clips. Go read the entire post if you are interested in this topic.

for a large percentage of the population, VOD, especially if it expands to becoming a centralized DVR, is likely going to be the easier solution.

the battle will ultimately be played out on HDTV. The cost of HDTV is getting lower each day, and more and more people are buying HDTV-ready sets. More and more content is being delivered in HDTV format, and it won’t take too much time before people demand HDTV streams as a viewing preference. HDTV content will ultimately have a “broadcast flag” making reproduction more difficult for people, and the size of the files will increase.

video’s relationship with people [is] different than the relationship people have with music. People listen to music over and over again, but in general, video is a single use commodity for the most part. This changes the calculus slightly in that the pain to download a video has to be less than the pain to download a music track, or it doesn’t seem worth it.

content providers have an excellent opportunity to create their own services before the suffer a napster-like meltdown.

Great stuff. Blogging the lunchtime converstation extended it very nicely.

#VC & Technology

PodCasting (continued)

In my post this morning I mischaracterized what Podcasting really is. And Scott corrected me, as he should, in the comments. Since most of my readers don’t read the comments (you should!), I’ll put his comment without edit on my blog:

BIG corrections in order. Well, semi-big at least.

First, “podcasting” is not creating and delivering content for “iPod.” It’s a concept that goes a little bit like your first commentor’s take on what he’d “like to see”:

“I want to subscribe to different radio shows, and every day plug-in my audio device (in my case an iPAQ with a 1GB SD Card) and have a program that automatically downloads the content and places it on the device like a simple “sync” process. THAT is when podcasting will take off.”

Podcasting is really just the idea that a feed (RSS, Atom, whatever) has the ability to deliver not just text, but ANY audio format you choose (including torrent files, that would then be downloadid “in the background”).

Just as you “read” blogs today, you’d listen to them tomorrow.

And as far as Brian’s “nice to have,” this is EXACTLY what iPodder, Adam Curry’s little thang that has now caught on and had many variants, such as iPodderX for OSX, and other programs already do.

As far as the content goes, people ARE creating it. However, I’ve had to listen to far too many amateur hour radio shows, including Adam Curry sniffing into the mic’ “I’ve got to blow my nose!” ANd most of the content is about making podcasts — not fun.

Content aside, the idea that iTunes and Audible could deliver this interesting. They already deliver content for the iPod. Wouldn’t a “podcast” just be a file of a radio show or somebody’s broadcast? How is that different than a book on tape or a song exactly? There’s no “casting” in that. But make it an RSS feed, and this is, what I like to call, the record label of the future.

Thanks for clearing that up Scott.

#VC & Technology


There is a lot of discussion going on in the blog world these days about Podcasting. This is creating audio content for the iPod and making it available for others to listen to. Some say that it’s the new radio. I am not sure about that, but I think its interesting and worth following.

There are two companies that should be paying notice to this trend and building out services to support it.

The first is Apple. I have not seen anything on iTunes that looks like podcasted content. They’ve got this shared playlist thing, but that’s really just a way to sell more music. They don’t support a marketplace for content created explicitly for the iPod and they should.

The second company that should be all over this is Audible. My partner Brad was part of the VC group that financed Audible and its a great sucess story. The stock has tripled in the past 12 months and the company carries a market cap in excess of $400mm. But today, Audible is mostly about books on tape for the iPod. And that’s only a $30mm/year business. Clearly the market is expecting a lot more from Audible. And Audible should give them it in the form of a marketplace for all things audio.

I’ll be watching both companies closely to see if either of them makes the right moves.

#VC & Technology

AdSense (Continued)

Longtime readers of this blog will know that Adsense was a bit of an obsession of mine about six months ago. I still run it on my site, but for the most part I have stopped paying attention to it.

But for some reason, I decided to go look at the stats today and to my surprise, I am starting to make some money on Adsense. It’s only $4, $5, $6 a day, but that’s a huge improvement to the $1/day or less I was making this summer.

So I drilled down a bit to figure out why the sudden increase. Some of it is traffic. My site regularly gets 1000 page views a day and some days it gets 2000 page views. Those are small numbers, but they start adding up.

But mostly the sudden increase is in the click-thru rate. It was stuck between 0% and 1% for most of the summer and averaged below 0.5%.


Something happened right around labor day. It’s been 1% and 2% for much of the last two months, with an average day being around 1.25%. That means the ads are more relevant or more eye catching or possibly both.

One possible explanation for the increased click-thru is the change to banner style ads and away from the classic Google text ads. I am getting a lot more banner style ads on my site these days.

Another possible explanation is the increased amount of political advertising on my blog. It seems that the political ads starting showing up in volume around early September, so that could also be the cause.

Whatever the cause of this increase, its good to see. I give all the money I get from Google to the Grameen Foundation and this will allow them to do some more microlending in Africa this fall. Good stuff!

#VC & Technology

Exploding TV

We hosted one of our regular monthly sandwich lunches in our office yesterday. We pick an industry that we think is ripe for disruption and invite a bunch of smart people who work in that industry to come have sandwiches and talk. There’s no agenda, no moderator, and the food isn’t even that good. But the conversations are always fascinating.

Yesterday we talked about what happens when TV content becomes available and addressable the way web content is today. We talked about Video On Demand (VOD), TV delivered over phone lines (IP TV), Video on the Internet (Streaming), and Downloadable Video (Bit Torrent).

Of the ten or so people that attended, I suspect that each and everyone has a different view of how this will ulimately play out. Some were big fans of VOD and that’s a real market that is developing quickly with the support of Comcast and Time Warner.

Some were big fans of streaming content over the Interent. Apparently advertisers are lining up to sponsor such programming and there is way more demand for streaming ads than supply right now.

There weren’t too many fans of IP TV. The prevailing wisdom is that the content owners won’t piss off the cable MSOs by making their channels available to Verizon and others.

The Bit Torrent crowd grew larger as the lunch went on. I am in this crowd. I believe “digital television” will play out largely like digital music. At first the content owners (like the musicians) will be held back out of loyalties to the cable MSOs (like the record labels). Content owners will not make their content available for download legally. But consumers will want to get their TV truly “on demand” and they will use Bit Torrent or whatever other technology becomes available just like Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa were used to get music on demand.

I think the advent of the media-centric PC will cause this trend to accelerate. If my family room is driven by a PC with a DVR, set top box, and web browser built into it, connected to cable for both programming and high speed data, and then connected to a nice big flat panel display, the option to watch a show via live TV, VOD, DVR, or Bit Torrent is just a click of the remote. And when its that easy, why will my girl’s choose to watch One Tree Hill via DVR when they can just as easily get it via Bit Torrent?

Then there’s the issue of what you didn’t record. Take the whole Jon Stewart Crossfire thing. I didn’t DVR that show. I don’t Tivo Crossfire. I don’t watch Crossfire. But I love Jon Stewart and when I heard he slammed those guys live, I went to Bit Torrent and downloaded the show and watched it. Apparently a lot of other people watched it that way too.

So I believe we are going the way of downloaded TV over the long run. What should the content owners do about this? I think they should recognize that the ad sponsored content model can work in a downloaded world. They should cut ad avails into their programming, hard wire an IP address into those ad avails to pull an advertisment off of their servers, and then let the programming go wherever it will go. In an always on world, they’ll get the ad impressions they always got, and probably a lot more.

Who is going to build out the infrastructure for this new world of exploding TV? I am not sure, but I do hope they stop by our offices and tell us what they are doing. Because we want to invest in this trend.

AN ASIDE: We also talked about the new U2 iPod ad. That’s an amazing piece of marketing at work.

#VC & Technology