As Visual Media Is In Flux, The Originator of Streaming Returns
As the cable networks scramble to keep their money and the streaming world seeks new growth, a veteran of the industry gets back into the game to great success
I’m not going to lie. I’d pay ridiculous amounts of money to not go to the cinema at all, and I’d probably pay more to see TV shows in one go than when they air, regardless of whether this is actually a good thing or not for the human race. Sean Parker has a similar idea, as he’s been hitting headlines for his return from the shadows with The Screening Room, a streaming movie service for movies actually at the box office. However, there’s another streaming veteran returning, this time in the form of William Mobley, a guy with this silly idea that people might want to use the internet to stream television and movies.
Mobley, one of the fathers of streaming media, created MegaMedia Networks, one of the first streaming media empires, striking deals with top Hollywood studios like Miramax, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros. to stream their pictures back when the average modem speed was 56 Kbps – the year 2000. This was handled by streaming them via a 2-inch box that you’d find on a homepage, where MegaMedia’s own site MegaChannels.com delivered over 800,000 streams a day. While Facebook hit 8 billion views a day on their videos, consider that this was a time where internet speeds at home were effectively tiny percentiles of the worst 3G connection you can get your hands on.
Now, the dot-com bubble bursting destroyed online advertising rates, along with many companies and their properties, including MegaChannels. Though it was a tragedy at the time, it set in motion what’s inarguably become one of the core pillars of how people are consuming video. Though TV remains strong, I find myself largely renting and streaming movies via Apple TV, even if Blu-ray has slightly higher quality. It’s just easier.
Stream of Consciousness
Five years ago Mobley returned to thinking about streaming, as Netflix grew (and in 2011 had their hilarious Qwikster gaff) their streaming service to the point that TV companies began to get worried. Rather than resurrect 2-inch video players, the proliferation of broadband had meant that the time was right to start his current company FreeCast. Instead of retrying his old model, which Netflix had successfully seen and developed upon, his new startup didn’t license content to stream on the web, it aggregated it, pulling video together from a multitude of online sources without interfering with them or their revenue.
Similar to how websites have begun to aggregate from vast swaths of content to create their media entities, FreeCast managed to create a streaming platform with more content than Netflix at the time at a much lower cost. Rather than paying the licensing fees that slowed down Netflix competitors, they created a network of easily-accessible content and pay-per-view sources. This sounds similar to Roku, but the idea behind FreeCast’s products has generally focused on a subscription model – that crazy idea most of the valley missed about making actual real money with subscribers as well as free customers. In six months since launching their RabbitTV device, the startup would reach over a million paying users according to Mobley.
This has also coincided with a quasi-apocalypse in the TV industry. Cord cutting is finally hurting subscribers, and even Netflix is slowing in growth. The licensors are becoming prickly about the deals they’ve made, worrying about where their old content they once thought was boring and unprofitable now being profitable for Netflix’s streaming empire. FreeCast took advantage of this by becoming an agnostic aggregator, more like a Roku than a Netflix, one that charges a subscription fee but allows TV companies to keep 100% of their revenue through their own advertisements, with their mixture of your normal streaming TV and live TV channels like you’d expect from a cable subscription.
It’s an interesting take on a media industry plagued by profitability worries and monopolies. Sean Parker isn’t even the first to try and make the dream of in-theater at-home movie viewings happen, with Prima Cinema’s $35,000, $500-a-movie solution now six years old, and HBO Now shows that the immovable object of high-quality TV is ready to profit off of dropping cable subscriptions. Where FreeCast lies is interesting, a position of potential power as long as free or amenable pay-per-view options continue to exist. Time will tell, for them and for the rest of the media industry.
Read on Inc.com