The End of Traditional Cable Television. Q&A with Peter Redford

For those who cling to the traditional ways of doing business, a discussion with ILOOK’s CEO Peter Redford will send shivers down your spine. 

Redford has a long history in media improvement and disruption. He was there in the beginning with the development of the mouse, the laser printer, GUI and the Ethernet while working for PARC right out of graduate school. “The public would not see these technologies for several more years. The PARC experience changed my life — it reinforced in me the notion that ANYTHING is possible. It also got me hooked on electronic media.”

From there, Redford got his hands into micro-processing, sound cards, flash and developing the first steps towards touch technology. Eventually he started his own company ILOOK which is focused on changing the face of traditional cable television.

I sat down with Peter and asked him the following questions:

CW: What is your background - how did you get to where you are today?

PR: I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1977 with a master’s degree in integrated circuit (chip) design, which was the hottest field at the time (like Big Data is today). Then I was hired out of school by Xerox PARC to be on their research staff to develop a methodology for the design of VLSI (very large scale integration) chips. We also worked on the graphical user interface (GUI), the Ethernet, the mouse, the laser printer and electronic media.

Eventually I was recruited by Zilog to help them design the Z80 microprocessor. It turned out to be the most popular microprocessor ever designed. Zilog was acquired by EXXON and I received a small windfall from my stock options. Shortly after that, with this small windfall and a Zilog engineer named Jim Miller, I started my first company, Redford-Miller Productions (RMP). Inspired by Star Wars, our mission was to develop advanced electronic media technology and to use it to produce science fiction movies. The first advanced technology was going to be a 16-bit digital mixer, modeled after a room-sized digital mixer that Jim used while studying at Stanford. We finished our version in 1982 and it fit into two ganged IBM PCs. In late 1982, Yamaha purchased our digital mixer technology and integrated it into a chip-set that became known as the Sound Blaster sound card. We never did produce a movie.

I took this second small windfall and in January of 1983 started my second company, Trillian Computer. My mission was to develop the first ever animation engine that would run on the IBM PC. We called it Action.  By 1984, Action was used by virtually all PC software companies to create product demos and tutorials. In 1986 the technology was acquired by Macromedia and, when Adobe acquired Macromedia, became known as Flash.

I took this third small windfall and in January 1990 started a company called TV Interactive (TVI). My mission was to create a technology that merged the personal computer with the television set and was useable even by small children. By 1993 we had a “touch-&-view” technology called AirPlay. When a child touched a picture of a horse on a printed page (2nd screen), the page signaled a computer (1st screen) which played a short video about horses. The video was stored on a CD. We quickly realized, however, that an adult was needed to start the CD because the process required many keystrokes and mouse clicks (and the reading of an entire page of instructions). So, we developed another technology which we called AutoPlay. Now the child simply inserted the CD into the drive and the correct program started automatically. After we filed fourteen patents for both technologies we showed them to Microsoft, hoping that they would include AutoPlay in the forthcoming Windows 95. Just a few months after our meeting, Microsoft did include AutoPlay in Windows 95 — without a license from TVI. When all the AutoPlay patents were granted in 2004, I sued Microsoft (along with all PC, DVD and Blu-ray player manufacturers) for infringement — and won! 

In 2009 I took this not-so-small windfall and started a company called ILOOK. My mission was to develop a television platform that would be a successor to traditional cable.

CW: Tell me about your company and your role in it.

PR: I am the CEO of ILOOK Corporation, located in San Jose, CA.  ILOOK is a cloud-powered OTT television platform, modeled after traditional cable, that instantly converts YouTube channels into branded mobile "channel apps" enabling: “Amazon of TV networks” and “GoogleAds of TV commercials”; video plays on mobile or connected TV; zero-cost broadcasting; e-commerce enabled commercials; and a user-customizable, “touch & view” program guide on the user’s mobile device.

“Amazon of TV networks” implies an infinite “shelf space” for TV networks — so, anyone can create and operate a TV network on ILOOK. “GoogleAds of TV commercials” means that ILOOK inserts TV commercials into TV networks just like Google inserts text ads into websites. The end result is an Ebay-like marketplace that crowd sources an infinite number of ads (TV commercials) and add-space (TV networks). ILOOK keeps 10% of TV commercial revenue, 90% goes to channel app owners. 

TV viewers download only the channels they want from app stores to their mobile device screens. Starting a “channel app” displays the program guide. Touching a program listing plays the program on the mobile screen or on any connected TV screen.  

CW: How would a specific channel break through the clutter?

PR: To discover Channel Apps of interest, a TV viewer typically performs a simple keyword search. Channel Apps in the search result can be listed according to different sort orders such as most popular or newest on top. Although there may be millions of available Channel Apps, the viewer only downloads a small handful that will be watched repeatedly. Just like with print magazines -- there are over 18,000 of them in the US but most people only subscribe to 2 or 3. 

CW: Wouldn’t this fragment the network market and create tiny networks?

PR: Yes, there will be thousands or even millions of affinity networks. The US print magazine industry has  18,000 magazines that represent 265 interests (affinities). The lower barrier to entry when creating a TV network on ILOOK compared to printing a magazine will make it cost-effective to cover even narrower areas of interest via a huge number of special interest networks. 

CW: What measurement would you use – what are some of the metrics you would report?

PR: Which videos were watched, when, how much of each video was watched. Did the viewer "Like" the video or share it. How much of each commercial was watched. How often did the advertised product generate a viewer response. 

CW: Would you use a form of programmatic buying?

PR: Yes. A video playing on the mobile or TV screen can trigger the display of a Buy Now Button on the mobile screen. Also, a video's information pane can include a Buy Now button. 

CW: How would this work on connected TVs?

PR: The connected TV is just a "slave" display for the mobile device. All the user activities, such as buying or searching are always performed by the mobile device. 

However, when a mobile device commands a connected TV to play a video, the video streams from the cloud directly to the TV -- not through  the mobile device. This saves battery power and allows the phone to be used for other tasks (such as making a call). 

CW: Is this multi-platform?

PR: Yes. iOS now, Android in Q4. 

CW: Where do you see the media landscape in the next 3-5 years. Give me some predictions.

PR: Let’s see…

1.  The Internet will become the preferred “pipe” for TV providers, replacing cable/satellite/telco pipes. This will be mostly because of Internet's lower cost compared to proprietary cable/sat/telco networks and because it will enable new services such as e-commerce enabled commercials.

2.  All TV commercials will become e-commerce enabled. For example, a TV commercial playing on a TV screen will trigger the display of a Buy Now button on the viewer’s mobile device. This will have profound implications on the effectiveness of advertising by reducing the “impulse-to-purchase” time to zero.

3.  The 2nd screen (mobile device) will become a de-facto, “touch & view" electronic program guide (EPG). Video will play on the 1st screen (TV) or on the 2nd screen (mobile) but the EPG will always be displayed only on the 2nd screen. This will ensure a consistent UI independent of which screen the video is playing on, and will make it simple to switch screens. All TV “brains” will be in the mobile device. The TV will be just a dumb display device.

4.  Media players such as Roku, AppleTV and Amazon Fire will disappear to be replaced by “thin clients” like Chromecast that will be embedded in dongles like the current Chromecast and directly in TVs. The media player approach is a dead-end because it does not allow touch & view (a dedicated remote must be used), does not allow screen switching (because the “brain” is in the box that is physically connected to a TV)  and is more expensive (since it needs lots of memory to store channel apps and to display the program guide). Thin clients rely the mobile device to store the channel apps and to display the program guide.

First published, in abbreviated form, on MediaPost.com

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