Blinkx Reinvents Itself Again, Adapting to the Future of Video

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you are doing so many of the incremental business things that you end up focusing just on that. There was a big part of my job that was not disruptive, that was just continuing or refining or growing. That is the part that I found harder to get excited about. At one point I thought that meant I would have to leave the company completely. I was quite stark in my thinking. But I talked to my board and they were very supportive and they all said, “Everyone goes through these phases. Make sure leaving is what you actually want.” And I thought hard and realized that I love what we’re doing, and that there will be a lot more change in online video. YouTube has been the one really big story in our space, and there will be at least two or three more before it’s all up. So I’m still just as excited about what we’re doing, but I wanted to focus differently.

X: Yes, speaking of really big stories in video, I’m surprised that the next one hasn’t started to unfold yet. It seems like we’ve been on the cusp of another big change for a year or two, something involving a major integration of online video and linear TV, and of mobile devices and traditional big screens. I would have expected Apple to jump into this in a big way, beyond Apple TV, but they haven’t. What do you think is going on?

SC: I have two totally different answers to that. The first is that from a technology perspective, there is a lot of stuff that needs to be hooked up that hasn’t been hooked up properly yet. For the new version of TV to really work, the first thing that is needed is for your TV to be much more intelligent than it is today. Sure, most TVs now ship with an Internet connection, but we know it’s not really there. Whether it’s an interface design question, or the cable companies strangling the economics of it, the point is it’s not realy working. Everybody is waiting for that to happen. Whether that happens in the form of a product like the iPod that delights the market so much that everybody follows behind, giving Apple the leverage they need to change the economics, or whether it’s something else, I don’t know.

The other answer, which is quite different, is that maybe [this transition] has already happened and we haven’t realized it. We spend a lot of time building an informal network of users that we profile, and we connect with lots of people’s children and nephews and nieces and siblings to try to get an unscientific picture of how people under 16 are using video. And one thing that fascinates me is that a massive number of them don’t watch regular TV anymore. They seem to spend all their time on YouTube, and they watch content that is non-professional, from my perspective. They are not watching anything that you and I might consider to be TV. I can’t tell whether that is an age thing and once they hit 20 or 30 they will become mainstream, or whether this is going to stick, and stuff that is relevant to us will stop being relevant to huge chunks of society.

X: On the first answer: What’s the holdup to making TVs smarter? We have the technology. Why can’t somebody like Apple just build a giant iPad and stick it on a wall?

SC: The second you stick it on the wall, people expect it to do what a TV does, and right now, because of all these commercial reasons, it can’t do what TV does. That means you will immediately disappoint the user. Apple can’t build this until the people who own and control the content give easier access to it. These things didn’t matter with the other devices: with the iPod you already had most of your music ripped on your hard drive, and with the iPad it was a whole new device so there were no expectations for it. I think with TV, we have so many expectations built in. It’s like electric cars. They’ve been around for a long time, but you can’t sell them until they can at least do everything that a gas-powered car does.

The good news for us is that there are lots of smaller shifts that will occur. I think that when we set out to build our new site, the two big ideas that Matt Scheybeler and I talked about a lot were discovery versus search, and online video as your companion to consumption of normal TV. We are both big fans of the idea of companion apps, and we don’t think that any of the current companion apps are that exciting. We ended up going away from that, because a lot of what companion apps need is not video—they need to be social and textual—and we are not experts in that area. But it’s a very interesting area, and maybe we will look at it later as a company. It’s a big disruption on the way. The reason TV is so exciting to advertisers is because it has these massive, engaged audiences. But if you can create a massive, runaway success in the companion area, it’s going to steal the commercial value of television. It’s not in our sweet spot, so we decided to do something we know well first, but it’s a great area.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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