Consider that $899 flatscreen on your living room wall. In a few years will it still be a television, or will it merely be a screen hooked up exclusively to the internet where you can access your stored media (housed locally or somewhere in the cloud)?
For some of the attendees at SXSW, it’s a perplexing question, one of thousands being debated here at the interactive festival. But for Mark Cuban (he of Broadcast.net, Dallas Maverics, Magnolia Pictures and HDNET) and Boxee’s CEO Avner Ronen, those are fighting words. The two media heavyweights went nearly toe-to-toe at one of Friday closing the day’s sessions to the delight of 500 fans and the cyberazzi clicking away from the first few rows.
The staged tête-à-tête was actually a re-match, if you will, a resumption of hostilities between Cuban and Ronen late last year on a chat room debating cable TV’s dominance despite its shrinking penetration.
The jabfest Friday was part AV Geek Debate, part professional wrestling weigh-in and part “you’re mama’s so ugly …” smackdown. Except in place of “your mama,” insert “your business model is so screwed, I’ve lost more money in a day than you could hope to make in a whole quarter.”
The argument comes down to a few salient points, one of which was made repeatedly my Mr. Cuban: “In an a ‘la carte world, the cost to create, produce, distribute and market content via internet is unsustainable under any business model.” Coming from a person who made his first billion selling off Broadcast.net to Yahoo, that doesn’t make Cuban a hypocrite as it does make Yahoo a patzee.
Ronen of Boxee on the other hand blames greedy content providers and their billionaire enablers like Cuban and Comcast that perpetuate the strangelhold on household penetration and true net neutrality that will allow all of us more freedom and lower costs in selecting video entertainment content through the web. His company Boxee, which is commonly lumped together with HULU in articles, develops cross-platform freeware with a 10 foot user interface and built-in goodies like social networking tools that have to this point around 1 million subscribers.
Watch the video. It’s not pay-per-view, but it could’ve been. Cuban is always a delight to everyone not wearing a referee’s uniform
My highlight was going up to him during an unexpected building evacuation break. Mark’s a jeans and t-shirt guy who actually went to the high school where I live (Mt. Lebanon). We reminisced about the town and he was aware of the recent high school renovation, as well as the proposed pricetag.
“What, is it something like $113 million?”
“No, Mark. It’s exactly #113 million.”
“Wow, that’s a lot.”
“You know you could do a lot for my taxes and get a the Mark Cuban gymnasium and media center named after you. What do you say?
“No, I don’t do that.”
“Save me taxes?”
“No, put my name on anything.”
He missed the point, or at least avoided it. The same bobbing and weaving he continued the next 60 minutes with his worthy, but overmatched adversary.