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DID YOU READ

The Battle for the Future of TV Sets SXSWi On Fire

The Battle for the Future of TV Sets SXSWi On Fire (photo)

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Day one at SXSW Interactive ended with a bang or, more precisely, a fire alarm, which presumably was a result of the heated exchange between Boxee‘s Avner Ronen and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and the man who made millions selling Broadcast.com, an internet-based media delivery system. The medium made him a rich man, but today he’s skeptical about its legitimacy as a business.

About 20 minutes into the debate, the alarms went off and the entire Austin Convention Center was evacuated. 20 minutes later, everyone was let back in and the talk continued. Ronen had the room stacked with tech-savvy people, many who have already cut the cable cord. The crowd had grown jaded from years of paying extravagantly for hundreds of channels in order to watch the few they actually want, rather than going with the a la carte cart model being pushed by Avner’s Boxee.

Cuban and Ronen had been going back and forth online regarding this very topic, and they decided SXSWi was the perfect venue for them to try and settle their differences. For those who aren’t familiar with Boxee, it’s software that you can run on the company’s Boxee Box device, or almost any computer you hook up to your television, to tune into internet-based media.

It’s a great piece of software, which owes much of it’s technology to the XBox Media Center platform, developed more or less by a community of hackers who wanted to use their XBox for more than just a gaming device — they wanted to turn their television into a internet video portal. What was once available to the realm of a few technically savvy homebrewers cracking open their console (and thus voiding the warranty) is now going mainstream. It’s become the darling of the tech crowd who prefer to pick and choose what they want to watch, rather than pay for a cable service that decides for them, and charges a premium for the privilege.

Cuban wasn’t buying it, though — he more than held his own in a room where he had very few friends. “This a la cart model is for morons.” he dismissively stated, as he tried to make his case for why the emperors of online video had no clothes. Cuban pushed hard, arguing that other than a few big players, like Apple, you simply can’t get people to pay on a scale to make a solid business case for internet delivery of media. Ronen fired back with the question “What you are saying is that because you have lack of choice, you are going to win?” Cuban kept going back to the fact that Boxee can’t monetize their business, while Cuban won’t broadcast anything he can’t make a dollar on, and he has a point. Everyone wants to be able to pick and choose what they want to watch, but with the internet giving so much of it away for free, few are willing to pay.

Ronen sees cable as a dead end. “If you’re looking for innovation in cable, you’re making the wrong bet.” Cuban hailed tru2way.com as an example of where video delivery is headed. He stated that it gives you all the flexibility of the web with customized, on demand content, but with cable as the delivery system. Cuban doesn’t believe the net has the plumbing available to be able to deliver the level of bandwidth that massively distributed video requires, but the current cable systems do. “Television is the future of television.” Cuban stated, unimpressed with the medium that made him wealthy enough to make such sweeping statements.

In the end, the crowd (and many of those commenting along on Twitter under the hashtag #battleforyourtv) thought Cuban had won the debate, but that he was a dinosaur in a medium that’s changing whether he likes it or not. However, some were willing to concede that if the next generation cable services Cuban described can actually deliver on the promise of real choice and customization of content, the delivery model won’t matter. People don’t really care if they’re getting their content via cable or internet, they just don’t want to keep paying extravagantly for 70% of television programs they never wanted to begin with.

Ronen wasn’t able to make a clear argument as to why or how Boxee will succeed, other than citing a “generational shift” that simply doesn’t accept the old models of pushed, packaged traditional media. He has a great product on his hands, but he’s going to need to do a better job articulating his business plan, or hire else someone who can. Cuban’s dissent and the platform SXSWi allows him are a good indication that the interactive community isn’t an echo chamber where everyone’s completely drunk on internet Kool-Aid. Although there are great ideas here, talented people and an unlimited supply of passion and enthusiasm, there are some tough business questions still yet to be answered.

I checked in with Tim Shey, the co-founder and head of entertainment at Next New Networks, who’s been at the forefront of the content side of internet video. Shey noted that the net delivery system is experiencing the same growing pains cable felt in the beginning: “It also took many years for cable TV to be a profitable business. We’re definitely right in the middle of a shift.” Shey made the same argument that Ronen did, saying that given the option, and realizing what they’re paying for, consumers would be more likely to choose the flexibility the net-based model allows. “I thought it was telling that Cuban said he didn’t want HDNet on the web where ‘he would have to compete with everybody.’ “

Shey continued “companies like Boxee are trying to build that future, and they’ve clearly struck a chord — the best thing smart cable mavericks like Cuban could do is partner with and learn from them.” Oddly enough, that’s exactly what they did. Midway through the debate, Cuban and Ronen actually shook hands on a content deal: “If you offer me $3 a sub for all million of your subs, I’ll do it.” Ronen replied, “If I bring you a deal that pays you three bucks a sub…” Cuban said he would need to guarantee 500 thousand subscribers. Cuban said yes, based on the current HDNet rate card: “You take rate card for a half-million subs and you’ve got a deal.”

Anthony De Rosa is the cofounder of Neighborhoodr.com. His personal tumblr soupsoup.tumblr.com is, according to Compete, in the top 25 of over 2.3 million tumblogs and among the top 200 blogs in the world listed on Technorati.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.