This Olde Website: 2022
The holidays are here and the new year is just around the corner. That means it's time once again to go back in time to the World Wide Web of yesteryear – when hyperlinks were novel, Steve Case and AOL were still grabbing headlines and dial-up connectivity had yet to cede the throne to broadband.
But rather than providing a review of web page relics from cable and telecom operators as we've done before, this year's theme focuses on once hot or interesting video services and video tech companies that were sold off ages ago or flamed out.
For this edition of the Web That Was, we dug deep into the Internet Archive's WayBackMachine.
Aereo (August 2013)
We realize that Aereo isn't that old, but it had an interesting idea: using tiny, thumb-sized antennas to capture local broadcast TV channels and stream them to subscribers. US broadcasters didn't take too kindly to that and delivered a killing blow in the courts.
Diva Systems (October 2000)
Diva Systems was a video-on-demand (VoD) pioneer that provided the tech to make VoD go and licensed the content. Diva had some big-name backers in its heyday and secured sizable deals with major operators such as Charter, AT&T Broadband and Insight Communications. But eventually, Diva fell victim to crushing debt and was forced to file bankruptcy and sell its assets to what was then Gemstar-TV Guide.
Wink Communications (March 2000)
Wink Communications was a big name in interactive television when the sector was (maybe still is) full of hype rather than substance, and was doing its thing well before IP distribution and video apps entered the picture. Wink eventually got low on cash and was sold in 2002 for about $100 million to John Malone's Liberty Broadband Interactive Television.
nCUBE (December 2003)
nCUBE, a VoD tech pioneer with ties to Oracle founder Larry Ellison, was once a top supplier to cable ops that also got into some scrappy court battles with then-rival SeaChange International. C-COR (which later became part of Arris) acquired nCUBE in 2004.
Scientific-Atlanta (June 2004)
Scientific-Atlanta (S-A) was a major supplier of set-tops, security services, cable modems and network gear to the cable industry, and eventually became a key partner for AT&T's U-verse IPTV service. After being swallowed up by Cisco in 2006, those assets have since been divided between Vantiva (formerly Technicolor) and Synamedia. S-A's name came up recently amid word that old set-top boxes equipped with the original S-A "PowerKEY" conditional access system are poised to "time-out" and become interoperable in late 2024.
Akimbo (June 2004)
Akimbo Systems was among the first Internet-based VoD download services to scare the cable industry back when video, not broadband, still represented the foundation of the cable business. At one point, Akimbo took a stab at partering with cable ops on a 'Queue-and-View' client-server system for cable boxes equipped with DVRs. It shut down in 2008.
Sezmi (February 2011)
Sezmi was among a small group of startups focused on a slimmed-down pay-TV package that used a blend of over-the-air "datacasting" and Internet-based video distribution. It raised $90 million but eventually ran out of steam and sold its assets in 2012 for $16 million to what was then Kit Digital.
Sling Media (November 2010)
Before TV Everywhere and the virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPD), there was Sling Media and its gadget, the Slingbox. Acquired by EchoStar/Dish in 2007, Sling Media and the Slingbox had a good run. The brand carries on in the Dish-owned Sling TV service, but the servers keeping Slingbox going were taken offline last month.
ReplayTV (October 2000)
ReplayTV was a rival to TiVo in the early days of the DVR. It caused quite a stir among programmers with a "send show" option that could enable a ReplayTV customer to share an episode of a series like The Sopranos to another ReplayTV customer who didn't have a subscription to HBO. ReplayTV, started by current Roku CEO and founder Anthony Wood, was acquired by a company called SonicBlue in 2001.
USDTV (November 2005)
Like Sezmi, USDTV targeted cost-conscious consumers and so-called "cable nevers" back in the day. The company, which viewed itself as the JetBlue of pay-TV, used datacasting and broadband to distribute a slimmed-down pay-TV channel lineup and some VoD. It went out of business in 2007 when the coffers ran dry.
Boxee (March 2010)
Back in its day, Boxee, a broadband video platform/device company that perhaps could've turned into something like Roku, was once a thorn in cable's side over a debate centered on the encryption of cable's basic digital TV tier (Boxee wanted to keep that tier "in the clear;" cable didn't). In addition to styling itself a threat to the bloated cable TV business model, Boxee was able to curry some favor at the FCC. But the dream didn't last and what was left of Boxee was sold to Samsung in 2013.
Locast (December 2018)
Like Aereo, Locast's rise and demise isn't exactly ancient history. But the nonprofit made a go at providing free access (alongside a campaign asking for user donations) to local broadcast TV by capturing the signals and streaming them out. At its high point Locast touted some 3 million registered users. Mirroring Aereo's fate, major broadcasters also squashed Locast in the courts over copyright grounds. The organization ultimately paid a $32 million settlement.
Tru2way (November 2008)
Tru2way, a rebrand of what originally was known as the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP), was a cable industry-backed effort to establish an "open" interactive software platform for retail video devices, including set-tops and TVs. Despite getting some public support from Sony and Panasonic, which did sell a lineup of tru2way TVs for a short time, the platform never got the necessary backing from the broader consumer electronics industry. As streaming started to take hold, the market went in a different direction. The development of app-centric platforms and models from Google, Amazon, Apple and Roku cultivated a much more competitive and successful market for retail video devices.
Worldgate Communications (May 2002)
Founded in the mid-1990s by high-energy cable tech vet Hal Krisbergh, WorldGate was another interactive television (ITV) pioneer that had some good ideas but was ahead of its time, as the cable industry reprioritized toward broadband and video-on-demand. WorldGate eventually exited the ITV business by selling those assets to a guide consortium run by Comcast, Cox and Charter. But there was more to WorldGate's story...
Worldgate Communications (September 2004)
In 2003, WorldGate pivoted to make and sell a proprietary videophone called the "Ojo," a device that eventually gave way to products such as Skype. But it had some moments. Motorola, the exclusive reseller of the Ojo for a time, managed to get it featured in some episodes of 24, Fox's action drama series starring Kiefer Sutherland. Alas, the pricey Ojo (some early models listed at more than $700 per unit) never went mainstream, and WorldGate filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2012.
Joost (September 2008)
Joost, a hype-fueled Web TV startup once led by former Cisco exec Michael Volpi, touted a library of thousands of shows. But it never managed to get its mitts on enough great content to make a dent in the nascent days of over-the-top video, when much of the consumption happened on a PC rather than a smart TV or TV-connected streaming player. Time Warner Cable was rumored as a potential buyer, but Joost's assets were sold to London-based Adconion Media Group in 2009.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading