Monday, 28 February 2011

Seesaw - the value's in the technology...

So Arqiva has decided to sell off its popular but clearly unprofitable Seesaw venture. Seesaw, it seems, has struggled in a market in which much of the catch up content that users value most is offered for free on top-drawer technology platforms like the BBC's iPlayer. The latter must rank as one of the BBC's biggest successes - astronomical cost aside, it has created an incredibly rich online TV ecosystem for UK consumers. Comparing it to Hulu, the darling of US TV consumers is like comparing a Ford Model T to a Porsche 911 - Hulu is quaint and functional but hardly a cutting edge product from an experience perspective (and yes, I know, the 911 has evolved since the 60's, which is partly the point ;) ).

Where does this leave Seesaw then? It shouldn't be forgotten in all this that Seesaw rose from the considerable ashes of the ill-fated Kangaroo joint venture. It is, therefore, based on the iPlayer technology stack. Considering the technological superiority of the iPlayer/ Seesaw platform its value as a white label product for broadcasters in non-UK market is likely to far exceed its value as a standalone VOD platform in the UK.

The BBC tried a similar thing two years ago, with the equally ill-fated Project Marquee (aka Open iPlayer). By way of full disclosure, I spent an enjoyable few months working on Marquee, so perhaps I'm biased. In my view, commerically it made a huge amount of sense - the underpinning technology stack offers broadcasters a ready made SaaS VOD player that is vastly superior to the competition, particularly in UI and hence could command a good price in project fees and in ongoing support. Leveraging economies of scale to continuously develop the platform was also a massive benefit.

Unfortunately the BBC Trust disagreed and the idea faded away. For a Seesaw purchaser, the challenge will be the lack of an anchor tenant of the BBC's scale, however Seesaw is (as I understand it) closer to being capable of white label deployment than iPlayer was, so the investment required to get it over the line may be less.

To close, I was asked by a colleague to name the buyer. If I were a betting man, I'd say "Tata", because they'd then have an end-to-end offer from digital production, through workflow, distribution and playout or perhaps "Ioko", who as Arqiva's SI partner know the platform well and could use it to shift from pure SI to digital utility. Any other thoughts?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Google Translate

Short on updates at the moment because of a project in Norway, so just a quick one about the capabilities of the amazing Google Translate. It's frankly a tribute to the ingenuity of their developers and the community of linguists on the Web who've contributed, that Translate has developed from a fairly rudimentary dictionary to a functional, easy to understand translation tool. Frankly, anything that can make a Norwegian treatise on mobile network architecture readable is an achievement!

Hopefully the next step is voice recognition - that really would be something!

Friday, 11 February 2011

WebOS - the other OS

On the day that Nokia and MS announced their tie up, HP also released their latest set of Web OS devices. Yes, Web OS. The OS2 Warp of the 2010s. Even the intro video is frankly a bit embarassing - for starters, Todd Bradley appears to be the only person in the audience clapping when he arrives.

Anyway, if you haven't got two hours to listen, here's some highlights:

The aim
  • Leverage the capabilities of HP to create a step change in mobile computing similar in scale to the introduction of the HP35 calculator (wasn't that the iPhone?)

  • First OS designed from scratch to fully embrace the Internet (and the need for that is...)
The market

  • Most people have multiple devices and they consume a lot of web based content

  • No one has developed a solution that works consistently across those devices (Android?)

  • WebOS is a unique technology leveraged across a range of (HP) devices


  • The "Synergy" feature merges information from cloud and brings it onto devices in an interactive and easy to use way

  • Techies like WebOS

  • They've launched a mini smartphone that uses cloud computing to replicate the features of the big phone in the package of a small one - Veer

You may have noticed that I'm skeptical about WebOS. The trouble as I see it is that although it seems like smart technology, the clever bit about OS X, Android and (perhaps in the future) mobile Windows is the underpinning business ecosystem they support.

HP has the scale in devices to make such an ecosystem appetising for developers, however it lacks the guts at an enterprise level to pull Windows out of the desktop and laptop and replace it with WebOS. If it isn't willing to do that, then the OS remains on niche devices and the ecosystem won't develop. In that case HP should stick to being a commodity hardware manufacturer and stop messing around with operating systems it isn't committed to.

The Nokia announcement has been received as bad for the Finns. As HP is Microsoft's biggest vendor, perhaps its worse for HP - now they won't be the partner of choice on non-desktop devices. All their eggs are firmly in the Web OS basket.