The Black Box from the developer perspective

This is a great post :: http://stratechery.com/2014/black-box-strategy/

WHY TV IS SO ATTRACTIVE
As I’ve written multiple times, the scarcest resource for consumer tech companies, especially ad-supported ones, is user attention. There are only so many minutes in the day, and their consumption is zero-sum: a moment spent doing activity A is not spent doing activity B, and then that moment is gone.

Meanwhile, TV continues to monopolize a significant amount of that user attention. Although digital products have overtaken the amount of time spent on TV, primarily due to the accretive time spent on smartphones, the absolute time spent on TV has remained stubbornly persistent at about four-and-a-half hours per day per U.S. adult (source).

That four-and-a-half hours really is the gold at the end of the rainbow for tech companies: just over the next hill/technical hurdle, yet never actually attainable.

TV really is a cool spot to work in – or video to be more blunt. However what really annoys me is that every article from a tech angle is normally very US centric or US content centric. Of course there is a reason for that – America is where the best content is coming from, where the most ad dollars are and where most of the tech companies playing in the space reside. No argument there but the world is not just America and some of us are playing in the video space from other parts of the world with the hopes of attacking the global stage.

I won’t do a Spuul sales job here but just state that we are global and we are doing it from Singapore. Not easy but fun.

So the article breaks down the TV battle by naming the dominant players who are hacking on the problem. What is telling to me is what or who is not listed – Smart TV’s. I think in theory if you are skating to where the puck is going then possibly you can leave them out but if you are dealing with the video space today you can’t. They exist and users want to see your app there on whatever Smart TV they have but boy, oh boy what a mess. I don’t want to bash here but we know why most of them are not listed as players for the future – they are not going to make it in the future. Their ecosystems are just brutal – they want a cut of payments but they don’t have payment engines. They want a cut of ad revenue but they don’t have ad ecosystems. They have brutally ancient build and deploy systems that look like the early web development days. Frankly – they build shitty software and they are at risk of just going away or being dumb glass. They could fix it but it doesn’t seem like they want to.

Moving down the list we get into Apple TV:

I agree in that this is the one to watch – I don’t say this due to apple fanboyism but mostly cause it works well, they distribute internationally and for developers this stuff really is mostly magic. It just works. The work we go through to get chromecast to work is night and day when it comes to Apple TV which is dead simple. Apple has room for improvement though. They need to get into carrier billing, they need to open up their stuff for the rental market, and they need to open up Apple TV to apps. I don’t see all this happening but it would be awesome.

Amazon:

I don’t have a fire to play with so I can’t say much. Usually with Amazon though their international focus is lacking but when it comes to being open and such they do a good job. Since Amazon has video I find working with them tough because they favor their stuff and then America – but for them to win I think they need more content players on the box. I think if Amazon could make the fire really awesome for developers it would help but that remains to be seen.

Google:

What can I say but keeping up with Google and TV stuff is challenging. There was google tv the web based stack, then the Android 3.2 made for tv stuff, then chromecast and now supposedly a new Android TV. Very hard unless you have insider status to get good info here. They favor America for content and partners and their international stuff is opaque. But the hardest part with Google is they compete with all of us using Youtube, they reward piracy and they make it hard to want to go deep with them but you must go deep with them. There is no choice. On the plus side they have a better ecosystem for developing, they have some carrier payments, they are being open about other payments in android apps and they tend to try and break down the incumbents. We see this with adx, chromecast and the like – so Google is evil but you must work with them on some levels. Android is huge – bottom line. I hope Android TV is killer, truly open and Google courts international developers at some point.

Roku:

Roku is always the one I find interesting in this matrix – first off they are only in America and UK. Of course big markets but it can’t stack up to the other global players in any regard. Worse though is since being invested in by DISH the entire international content library is controlled by DISH. So if someone like Spuul wants to get on Roku we have to go via DISH who usually says no cause they have their own international content packages that they foist onto Roku. So when it comes to Roku being a player – I say not until the DISH deal is done. Roku is one of those funny things that purports to want to give the best experience to users but is really no different than a cable company deciding what you get and what you don’t. Roku claims now to be gaining ground by getting into all the TV’s but I don’t buy it. They should have opened up when they had the chance and gone big – now I think google and amazon will have their way with them.

Microsoft:

Oh what could have been. To me they should have created something akin to the media center PC by creating a cheaper version of the XBOX just for the TV but they wanted TV and Games – both suffered. Now they appear to be tilting back to the gamers which means the TV will suffer. XBOX is cool but MSFT has to step up their game or build a home entertainment to rival the others. I will say this about them though – working with them is getting easier and they are trying hard to build stuff for media companies. If they open up playready DRM more and really cloudify the DRM plumbing then they could become a platform for streaming companies. Time will tell.

All in all the streaming world is booming but to me it is very US centric and I am waiting to see who will change it or maybe it can’t be changed but if so then I will be watching what the international players do more than the US centric ones since the playbook seems pretty well known at this point.

Interesting stuff I learned

Yesterday while hanging out at my kid’s taekwando lesson I started to chat with another parent about what they did in Thailand. Normally I keep to myself, watch the kid and get some reading in but I tried to branch out a bit this time.

So what did I learn.

This gentleman moved from India to Rayong to help with a factory that builds the giant machines that can extrude aluminum into the aerosol cans used for sprays and deodorants. It’s a giant machine that on one end can take the aluminum and at the other end kicks out the painted can. At this point the cans can be shipped to be filled for retail sale.

It takes this factory team 8-9 months to build one machine. They assemble it in Rayong and then test it for production usage. Then they dismantle it into 80-90 crates for shipment by boat to anywhere in the world.

Then they send a team to re assemble it, test it and turn it over to production usage.

This company can only make 2-3 machines per year and it turns out a large Japanese company in Sri Racha owns like 20 of them.

Was fascinating.

I may ask for a tour next time I see him.

Sometimes Thailand does amaze me.

Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 4

Part 3 :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/03/04/koprol-the-inside-story-part-3/

The process for acquiring Koprol was kind of a chaotic one at best. For my part all I could do is step aside and let the corp development team work their magic. I was involved in helping to complete the technical due diligence process and to act as a chaperone for all the comings and goings to the Koprol team. I was not involved in any of the deal negotiations at all since that is the responsibility of the corp dev team and by design the people agreeing to the tech or the initial product desire are not involved. This is to keep it from getting personal and to make sure there is no funny business.

One of the big worries was how much strain the acquisition would put on such a small company since the needs and wants of the Yahoo deal could easily put too many requirements on the small team. My singular worry was that in the event the acquisition did not go through how would Koprol survive? This one was tough cause the due diligence process and the post acquisition integration needs were already keeping the senior management quite busy but the rank and file needed to keep working like nothing would happen. So my goal, not sure I kept it, was to try and stay close enough to keep the acquisition moving forward and to help mitigate any issues while encouraging the team to keep building according to their plans and goals. Of course I was in and out of their office all the time and was talking to the management team daily. There was much to do in both prepping for the acquisition and planning for post acquisition activities.

At this point the process of closing the acquisition was in place and it was just going to take time on the due diligence side plus working through the negotiation and legal process. So in other words I sat back and let the corp dev machine do their thing. We had lawyers, integration specialist, security specialists and even had the Yahoo APAC marketing team working on the acquisition message plus post acquisition marketing. Even the outside PR companies were brought in – will talk about the post acquisition press plans later. It felt pretty incredible but also scary as shit since anything could go wrong and of course something did.

This is something never mentioned in the press or the public story cause no one was suppose to talk about it, it nakedly exposes how big companies are so messed up, but as we neared the due date we suddenly lost our core sponsor. To be clear the due date is the CFO of Yahoo being presented with all the info, the price, the plans and then deciding at the moment to sign or to bail. My feeling was as we neared this point there was no bailing out but turns out even at this juncture it is quite easy to not close the deal.

As I stated in the beginning the person running product at the time and who also was overseeing the IGTF was the sponsor of the deal. Without a sponsor there is no deal but I never really thought about what would happen if prior to closing the deal we would lose our sponsor. I don’t blame our sponsor at all – life goes on and people leave companies and at that point more people were leaving Yahoo than ever. Of course the sponsor did the best he could to transition the deal and to make sure that the CFO knew what was going on but unfortunately at big organizations the sponsor is key and without the sponsor deals generally just die.

I remember the call with trepidation – all of us involved with deal, on the line from various corners of the world with the CFO making a case that the deal was almost concluded, the IGTF would go on, the corp dev team was still for the deal but that yes – we lost the sponsor. Shit. Already I was coming to grips with how to tell Koprol and how to unwind something that was months in the works. I was a nervous wreck. The Indonesian country manager and I were discussing how to tell the market if the news leaked out that we tried to buy Koprol but pulled out knowing that no matter what we would say the market might paint us as the big evil company. Keep in mind, as stated before, Yahoo already tried to by one Indonesian company but pulled out for various legit reasons.

What can I say other than I am very thankful that at the time the APAC Yahoo management, who used to carry a lot of power, decided to lobby heavily to keep the deal alive. They had plenty of good reasons – Yahoo could use a good SEA story, Indonesia was (is) a hotspot and the ramifications of a failed deal might be worse than a small deal, closed, possible going south due to a lack of sponsorship. In theory APAC stepped in to play the sponsor role. It took a lot of convincing and unfortunately the downside was having to agree to some APAC metrics that now forced us to push things a lot more than the original IGTF plans. In hindsight this is another juncture that probably influenced the overall outcome.

We did the deal with the devil. Deal was closing but now we had to push things harder and faster than what made logical sense.