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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.