Will Telcos Want Their Dave.tv?
The company has built a peer-to-peer distribution network that it says can deliver IPTV programs -– as streaming media or as downloadable files -- to viewers via just about any IP connection. "We don't build the physical network, but we have a virtual network that spans all the physical networks out there," says Kenneth Lipscomb, Dave.tv's founder.
So far Dave.tv (Distributed Audio Video Entertainment Television) is backed only by its management staff, friends, and family. "We've put in about $6 million to date. We'll probably close a $10 million-plus round in the next two or three months," says Lipscomb.
Lipscomb was also the man behind ZapMedia, a now-defunct company that produced the ZapStation, a $1,500 digital media set-top box that stored downloaded music, movies, and other Web content. The vision then, as now, was to erase the line between what's consumable via the Internet and what's watchable in the living room.
The comparisons to ZapMedia end there, as Lipscomb is joined by some faces new to the IPTV world. Rex Wong is Dave.tv's CEO. He helped found Applied Semantics, which Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) bought for $102.4 million in 2003. Trey Gaskins is the chief operating officer. His last gig was as the founder and president of Advanced Telemedia, a Georgia-based cable MSO that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) bought in 2003.
Dave.tv has built a service that resembles a patchwork of old and new ideas. Like ZapStation, Dave.tv is linking all media types in the home and on the Internet together for viewer perusal from their TVs. But like Vonage, Dave.tv requires users to bring their own bandwidth. And, when they do, it supplies programs from more than 100 channels.
The Everlasting Gospel Broadcast Network and Femalemuscle.com are among the channels listed so far.
In addition to selling its service to consumers, Dave.tv is actively talking to cable companies, satellite TV companies, and telephone companies about how to incorporate its service into their video offerings. Lipscomb says those distribution conversations have included at least one Top 10 telco in the U.S.
Dave.tv is similar to peer-to-peer video services offered by Akimbo Systems , which also uses home broadband connections to deliver various kinds of video entertainment -- blogs, movies, documentaries, etc. -- to PCs and set-tops. Another potential competitor is Brightcove Inc. , which hasn't launched yet, but is also devising a way for video producers to reach consumer audiences via the Internet.
But Lipscomb says the Web's free stuff gets his goat: "Right now our biggest competitor is BitTorrent . They deliver, like, 30 to 50 percent of the content that's consumed on the Web, but that's a totally illegal system and nobody makes any money off of it."
What isn't clear is how services like Dave.tv will be perceived by the service providers. Will it give them a leg up in offering video services? Or will it be seen as competition to their own IPTV plans?
"Service providers are looking at all this stuff and saying, 'Where does the ownership of the service actually come from?' " says Rick Thompson, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "I think they're all a bit confused as to how it'll all play out."
Lipscomb, however, thinks his company's timing is spot on. "Now that Apple has broken the dam, or put a crack in it, all of the major content providers are rushing to try to make their libraries available for IP consumption."
Dave.tv hasn't revealed its pricing strategy, but the company says a "significant amount" of its content will be ad-supported and free to users. But the company's real step forward will be when its hardware hits the market and some larger service providers sign on to help it reach the masses. (See Dave.tv Adds IPTV Service.) The company's HDTV-capable set-top, the Xport, will be available in March or April, Lipscomb says. The box, which features Ethernet jacks and wireless connectivity, can play videos from itself, a networked source such as a PC, or from the Internet.
No pricing information is available for the Xport yet, but Lipscomb hints that it won't be anywhere near ZapStation's $1,500 tag. "We've designed it from the ground up to be very low cost. It's running Win CE 5.0 and it supports HD right out of the gate." — Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading