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Let's do a Net lunch

Let's do a Net lunch

Try talking not about business but entertainment on the Internet. Trouble is, there's no business like show business.

Last month at Spotlight 97 (an IDG Silicon-Valley-meets-Hollywood conference), ex-executive producer Michael Schrage gathered some of the most influential people in Internet showbiz (www.spotlight.com). Among those speaking were David Bowie's banker; Elvis Presley's agent; Barbie's lawyer; James Murdoch, who is Rupert's son; and Thomas Dolby, who is no relation to Ray. Among the Internet celebrities were Yahoo chief Jerry Yang, and founding president of Wired Magazine, Jane Metcalfe, who isn't my daughter.

Writer and consultant Schrage focused Spotlight on business models for interactive media. This year was about entertainment, advertising, and related transactions on our favourite interactive medium, the Internet.

First, let me dispense with the Internet's bogging and collapsing. I asked repeatedly over Spotlight's three days about what needs the most fixing on the Internet. Speakers responded consistently with these problems, in order of importance: (1) bandwidth, (2) bandwidth, (3) bandwidth, (4) reliability, and (5) security. It's the bandwidth, stupid.

Now, here's what I found to be the big three issues at Spotlight: linking, broadcasting, and advertising.

Linking. Ticketmaster sells event tickets on the Web (www.ticketmaster.com). Recently, Ticketmaster sued the Microsoft Network (www.msn.com) for linking to Ticketmaster Web pages. Paul Allen, who then owned a lot of Ticketmaster, was suing himself - he's on the board of Microsoft and owns billions in stock. Ticketmaster's suit asks whether Web sites have the right to link to pages on other Web sites?

My first reaction was, "Yes, of course." However, Ticketmaster's Alan Citron turned me around. Microsoft was wrong in how it gave its paying customers access to Ticketmaster event schedules. MSN "framed" Ticketmaster content in MSN pages and took MSN users directly to pages deep in Ticketmaster's Web, bypassing content that Ticketmaster visitors are expected to see.

Ticketmaster contends, and I agree, that Microsoft stole Ticketmaster's intellectual property. Microsoft sold ads against Ticketmaster content while bypassing Ticketmaster ads. Imagine rebroadcasting network television with your ads instead of the network's. Wrong. So, is that issue settled?

Broadcasting. A lot of entertainment is broadcast to its audiences, and so using the Internet for broadcasting was a big issue at Spotlight. Imagine working at an office PC with your hometown radio station coming in over the Internet and playing in the background.

Is broadcasting a good use of Internet bandwidth? Is Internet radio a lot like Internet telephony, which abuses Internet backbones by using bandwidth for which users are not (yet) charged? What would Internet response be like if everyone used their PC as a free radio signal?

As Internet backbones collect money for consumed bandwidth, Internet broadcasting will look worse. However, as multicast routing is deployed, Internet broadcasting will look better. How will this net out?

Advertising. Spotlight participants again agreed that advertising on the Internet is unique. The focus can't be on isolated purchases. Building interactive customer relationships is where it's at. Yoyodyne's Seth Godin noted that customers in such markets will give you "permission" to market to them. Will needing permission deter spam, or do we need e-postage?

The hot company at Spotlight was PointCast. It, like MSN, links to the content of other sites, but only after getting their permission. And PointCast delivers advertising along with personalised content. PointCast looks to me like a "network" for the Internet.

See www.pointcast.com.


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