Mitch Berman has 27 years’ experience in the television entertainment industry including pioneering work in pay TV and interactive TV services. His resume includes stints at HBO, E! Entertainment Television, Sky Network in New Zealand and OpenTV. His latest venture is the founding of ZillionTV.
SM: Let’s set the stage for the beginning of your personal story. What is the story of Mitch?
MB: I like to quote Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite authors, who wrote a lot of stories in the 19th century. He once wrote “experience is the name we give to our mistakes”. I have 27 years’ worth of experience in the world of television and launching pay TV as well as all kinds of interactive television services in places like New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the United States. It is a culmination of a professional life that started at HBO, then becoming one of the executives that helped start up E! Entertainment Television, start up Sky Network in New Zealand, start-up what now is FOXTEL in Australia, and start-up OpenTV which is software for interactive television that launched on BSkyB in the UK and Dish Network in the United States.
More recently, I helped re-form C-COR, which was recently purchased by ARRIS and was selling cable operators video on demand technology deployed by Comcast, Time Warner and other cable operators. All of those experiences lead up to this moment in time for the creation of what is called ZillionTV.
SM: What was the single biggest mistake in your experience portfolio?
MB: Leaving public service and getting into the private sector. It was one of the hardest transitions in my life. I went from helping people on the street to selling HBO to cable operators. Very hard thing for me to do.
SM: You would have preferred to be President of the United States?
MB: I don’t know if I would go that far. My wife said that someone was either going to shoot me or I was going to die trying to change the world, because I was too idealistic at the time. Giving up a life of helping others who were not as fortunate as me and going to sell HBO to cable operators was literally one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. But, things worked out as they should and as they always do. So, here I am.
SM: Now here you are starting an interactive television company in a generation where public service is again becoming popular. How do you reconcile that?
MB: There are a lot of analogies between what President Obama is doing and what I am trying to do here. He talked about how you must maximize your sense of purpose. That is what “Yes We Can!” is all about. I believe ZillionTV has is maximizing its sense of purpose. This company is not just about interactive or personalized TV. It is about a multidimensional ecosystem grounded in partnerships. It is about a new business model. Thus, based on creating partnerships and a new business ecosystem, ZillionTV is literally changing the world and forming a new industry paradigm.
What President Obama has done in attempting to change the world is the same kind of spirit that has been infused into the foundation of ZillionTV.
SM: Help me frame this discussion with where we are in the industry’s evolution. YouTube was a big splash and almost legitimized the fact that people do view video over the Internet. Hulu seems to be getting a lot of traction.
MB: Those companies have done a terrific job of opening a new door. There is a critical ecosystem and convergence, if you will, of content providers, advertisers, and ISPs that still needs to occur. I mention those three. Sitting above those three at the top of the ladder are consumers. Those companies that understand the relationship between those three entities and how they translate into providing the consumer what they want will win. There are a lot of video companies trying to make their way out there in the market on the Internet side.
We have Hulu, Joost and a total of 238 different Internet TV providers. These are companies that call themselves Internet TV, although they do nothing with the TV itself. They are merely providing video access via a PC, and yes, there are millions of views of video over the Internet daily. Then there are standard cable operators like Comcast and IPTV operators like AT&T U-Verse . There is DirectTV and Dish Network, who cannot do IPTV or deliver broadband based services via satellite, but they do provide video services. All of these “operators” are competing for video subscriptions and against the free and open Internet TV companies that are springing up daily. It’s still TV vs. PC. And, those are all just in this country. Satellite guys are beaming down video into the home but are limited by bandwidth. Telecoms have spent billions on deploying their IPTV services. Cable operators are trying to preserve their world of subscription against all these players by offering the “triple play” of video, voice and high-speed Internet.
The New York Times recently had an article on AT&T and Verizon’s IPTV launches, comparing their different approaches and what degree of success they are actually having. It’s a difficult world for them. These operators are also competing against independent set-top box providers such as Roku and Netflix, the Blu-ray player, TiVo, Vudu, AppleTV and other devices. Consumers have to pay a fee of $99 and up just to get the box. AppleTV is $200 or more. You have to buy these operator’s independent boxes and pay subscriptions to go “over the top” and download or progressively stream or do peer-to-peer in order to get the video into your home. This clogs the broadband pipe, which is causing significant consternation with the operators as Internet video grows in popularity and is using operators’ pipes to get to the consumer directly. The operators’ costs of building those broadband pipes was enormous, yet they are being bypassed. Consumers don’t care about all this, of course. They just want to watch their favorite video programs.