Venture Round Up: 3 Companies Funded and 1 that Wasn’t

VC DealsThe markets may be volatile and concerned but the VC industry is chugging ahead.  There have been 4 IPO’s and 4 $100m-plus M&A exits for portfolio companies at Accel Ventures this year.  Buoyed by that success, the firm just closed their tenth fund with $520m available for investment.  That total, while still below the $950m raised in 2000,  is up a handsome 30% over prior fund Accel IX  (IX closed with $400m in 2004). 

Accel hasn’t been involved in any new digital media or entertainment related deals the past couple weeks, but other firms have committed plenty of capital.  Takkle, Vivox and Vobile are among the recipients.  On the other hand, AmeriTV, a supposed IPTV company that sounds like Joost, apparently didn’t receive capital despite a press release to the contrary.  AmeriTV’s financing, possibly even the existence of the company, appear to have been a hoax that tripped up a few news sites that didn’t check on their facts.

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Details of a Dish Network Spin–off

echostar splitShortly after EchoStar bought Sling Media in September the story mills starting grinding out reports that no sooner than Sling was absorbed, they’d be spun off into a new company with EchoStar splitting itself in half.   That buzz gained ferocity a few days later on rumors that AT&T was circling to acquire one half.  The stock surged and one analyst at Oppenheimer even  upgraded his rating from Neutral to Buy. 

From late September forward, the writing was on the wall that EchoStar was in some way putting itself in play.  Their Chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen confirmed they were exploring it.  Now, courtesy of an information statement filed with the SEC, details of the proposed spin-off are starting to emerge.  A buyer could still step  in to pick up one side before this all plays out, but one way or another,  it’s looking pretty certain the company will split.  In fact, it seems it’s not so much a matter of if as when.

Per the deal described in the preliminary review documents, it looks to be a stock distribution to existing investors.   The current company would divide into two halves and trade as two separate companies on Nasdaq.  Half one, which retains the  EchoStar Communications Corporation name, would be renamed  Dish Network Corporation.  It would become home to the Dish Network satellite television service.  Their 13.7m subscribers would remain with them. 

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Blu Ray Encryption Hacked?

blu ray discThe promise of high definition DVD for consumers is better image quality and more features.  For movie production houses, that’s all nice but arguably as important is the promise of better encryption standards.  The more secure the content, the less likely there will be theft.   Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone put it  succinctly in a speech Thursday.  He said  “If content is king, copyright is its castle.”

There’s no question that castle should be secure. The trouble for the studio’s is, when it comes to software, if it can be built it can be broken.  For every tally they put on the scorecard for more security, somewhere, someone is going to try and undo it – even if the only goal is to see if they can unlock what’s supposed to be secure.  And given enough time, they’re going to be successful at breaking through. Reports are, that happened this week with Blu Ray.

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Pandora and AT&T Ink Mobile Music Deal

pandora attThose listening to music online are probably familiar with Pandora.  The popular and fast growing company has been a pioneer in net radio.   On Thursday, they announced a mobile version of their highly personalized service will be available via AT&T Wireless on select phones.

Pandora’s traditional offering is built around an extremely sophisticated personalization engine.  Drawn from what was called the Music Genome Project, Pandora analyzes and catalog songs by as many as 400 musical attributes.  All that data is then correlated against music a listener’s likes and dislikes in order to build a profile and stream comparable music.  If I like music by Eric Clapton, B.B. King and The Rolling Stones, for example, Pandora’s engine will recognize the underlying blues riffs, they’ll recognize whether the songs are up tempo, or slow, whether acoustic or electric.  Then, when the song’s I’ve chosen are done playing, Pandora will play something similar – maybe something from the Allman Brother’s, or Buddy Guy.  They will recommend music my patterns suggest I might like. Click to Read More

Bandwidth Blockades: Net Neutrality, ISP Throttling and the Entertainment Industry

bandwidth blockadeIn February 2006, notable executives from Internet companies and Telecom giants converged on Capital Hill to lobby to consider revising a ten year old Telecom bill.   The issue at stake was the concept of Net Neutrality, a divisive idea suggesting that all internet content (regardless of format) should be treated equally.   

On one side of the debate fell Internet and software companies.  Businesses like Google and Yahoo wanted to insure that all websites – from blog to portal, could be accessed equally.  Even more so, they wanted legislation that would protect different types of content like video, or music, or the technologies that deliver them (like Peer to Peer) from arbitrary exclusion.  Their goal was to insure nothing was singled out and taxed by the ISP’s who control the supply pipeline, the network infrastructure over which Internet traffic flows.  The software and Internet companies wanted to insure their content would always flow freely without tax or toll.

The Telecom companies, on the other side of the stage, wanted the freedom of an unregulated market.  Click to Read More

Ubisoft buys Digital Kids and lots of Air Time on MTV Networks

ubisoft mtvnMTV Networks (Viacom) may own game developer Harmonix, and they may be working with Electronic Arts on the heavily hyped Rock Band game, but those relationships won’t preclude MTVN from working with other game companies too. There’s no conflict, especially when it comes to advertising on their TV stations.

Monday, MTVN and rival game publisher Ubisoft struck a substantial promotional deal to advertise Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed title. Beginning November 7th, ads and even two minute "sneak peak" trailers of the game will run on Comedy Central and Spike. Click to Read More

The gPhone Revealed: Inside Googles Mobile Strategy

gphone OSIt is the story of the day. Scan the headlines and everywhere that touches technology has a tidbit on the subject. The mysterious G-phone, a myth as exotic as an udumbara flower and as circulated as a chain email has finally been revealed. The urban myth quashed.

Today, Google revealed as widely expected there will not be (at least for now or the near future) a Google branded cell phone; no gPhone to challenge the iPhone. Instead, Google has been applying its considerable software development skills to the development of a next generation open-source mobile operating system platform. Engineers with analog and cellular design experience were there for optimization, for marrying software to hardware, not to reinvent the phone itself.

Andy Rubin, head of Google’s mobile platforms said unequivocally, "we’re not building a GPhone; we are enabling 1,000 people to build [it]."

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