Posts from Business model

Scarcity Is A Shitty Business Model

The Gotham Gal has been under the weather this weekend. Last night we made soup for dinner and decided to sit on the couch and watch a movie and go to bed early. After dinner, we fired up Boxee and checked out Netflix. Nothing good there. Then we fired up the Mac Mini and checked out Amazon Instant Video. Nothing good there. Then we went to the Cable Set Top Box and checked out movies on demand. Nothing good there. Frustrated and unwilling and uninterested in heading to a "foreign rogue site" to pirate something good, we watched a TV show and went to bed.

Making movies is expensive and risky. I totally get that the studios need to make a lot of money on those movies to make their business model work.

But denying customers the films they want, on the devices they want to watch them, when they want to watch them is not a great business model. It leads to piracy, as we have discussed here many times, but more importantly it also leads to the loss of a transaction to a competing form of entertainment.

We would have paid good money to watch Sherlock Holmes or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But it simply was not an option. So we went with a TV show that was free and then went to bed.

I am sure there was a time when scarcity was a good business model for the film industry. And I am sure that many of the leaders of the film industry came of age during that time. I understand their muscle memory in terms of the scarcity business model. But restricting access to content is a bad business model in the age of a global network that costs practically nothing to distribute on.

I've argued this point many times with film executives. They insist that they need their windows. They argue they need to manage access to their films to extract every last dollar from the market. That just doesn't make sense to me. If they went direct to their customers, offered their films at a reasonable price (say $5/view net to them), and if they made their films available day one everywhere in the world, I can't see how they wouldn't make more money.

I understand that many participants in the broader film ecosystem might do worse under this model. And I understand that moving to such a model will cause great disruption and pain to the broader film industry. But the studios themselves are likely to do better in a direct distribution model where they reach a broader market at lower effective prices to the end customer. This is what happens in digital distribution. Prices come down, markets expand, customers see lower prices and broader availability. Producers do better. Everyone else does worse.

But for some reason the fim industry doesn't want to move to the new model. They want to stick with scarcity. So they lost a transaction last night. And they lose transactions every night, to piracy, to competing forms of entertainment, and possibly to apathy brought about by frustration. Such a shame.


Boxee Payments

Well I'm stuck at the Virgin America terminal at JFK this morning. Due to the stormy weather today in SF, my flight has been pushed back by three hours. Fortunately, I've got my laptop, wifi, my sleeper hoodie with headphones cranking, and some interesting stuff to write about.

Our portfolio company Boxee announced its payments service this morning with this line:

Users want to see more content on Boxee. Content owners want to be paid for what they produce (whether that’s TV Shows, movies, music, or applications). We don’t believe these are conflicting interests.

Contrary to what Boxee's competitors have been telling big media for the past year, Boxee aren't pirates. They have always respected rights holders and their desires to find a new business model on the open internet. And this payment platform should make that abundantly clear.

Here's how it will work:

users will be able to make purchases with one click on the remote. The content partners we launch with will offer shows, movies and channels that were previously not available to Boxee users. The content owners will be able to package and price as they wish, including pay-per-view and subscription. Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it’s premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it “on air”…. Boxee will charge a small fee (i.e. lower than the 30% charged by many app stores) for transactions which we enable. 

For those who don't know, Boxee is free open source software that you can download and run on Windows, Mac, and Linux powered devices that are connected to your TV. Boxee's software is also free for consumer electronics companies to build connected devices and TVs for the family room and living room. I like to think of Boxee as "android for TVs."

I watch my kids and here's what I've seen. There is almost no difference between a laptop and a TV to them. They move seamlessly between the two. The only difference is what content is available on each. What do they want? They want all the content in the entire world available to them on their laptop and their TV. They want them to be the same thing. And they are very willing to pay for content. What they are not accepting of is content owners prohibiting them to watch what they want to watch where they want to watch it.

The new model for entertainment is "over the top" and it's going to happen. As Avner Ronen says in the Boxee payments blog post:

It’s our belief that the Internet is ready to become the 4th method of distribution for broadcast & premium content after Cable, Satellite, and IPTV (FiOS, u-Verse, etc.). In the case of Satellite and IPTV, it took an act of congress to open up these delivery methods. This time it’s people who are demanding this change.

If you are a content owner and want to partcipate in this new open model for content distribution, either free and ad supported or subscriptions powered by Boxee payments, please reach out to Boxee. They will be happy to help you make the transition and make money doing it.

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Business Model Jujutsu

The big moment in the history of TACODA (a company we invested in early this decade that was sold to AOL in 2007) was when they went from charging customers to paying customers.

I was reminded of that yesterday when Paul Forster, the CEO of Indeed, said this at our portfolio summit yesterday:

We tried charging for our API without much success.  Then we paid developers to use it and it took off.

It is such an interesting move to make on the market. In the case of TACODA, they initially built a powerful behavioral targeting solution for publishers to segment their audiences and sell them to advertisers. They sold the technology to about twenty large online publishers. But the sales cycles were long and the license fees were smaller than they needed them to be.

So TACODA built an ad sales force and said to publishers, give us your inventory and we'll send you back money. That was a much easier sell all around and the business took off.

In the case of Indeed, they initially offered online publishers the ability to pay for a real time search API of online jobs. Not many took them up on that offer. But when they injected their sponsored jobs into the API and offered to share the revenue with publishers, the demand was huge.

Not every company that has an API can do this jujutsu move on the market, but many can and should. It makes life much easier.

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