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Andy Plesser, the Executive Producer and Founder of Beet.TV recently posted a video and blog on Ping Li, a partner at powerhouse venture capital firm Accel Partners (investor in Facebook, others), who says the big opportunity around video is mobile for startups, but is less optimistic about the connected TV space from a VC point of view.
It was rather surprising to hear - considering the powerhouses in the space such as Google TV, Apple TV, Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Sharp, Loewe, Philips, Toshiba, Vizio etc. that are expected to make hybrid Web/TV OTT devices. 90 percent of all TV sales by 2015. Weirdly enough, he seems to think mobile video has more legs than connected TV. With tablets I guess he has a point. But my laptop plays video as well. Not sure how much this will change the game. As a second screen for Social TV or Transmedia experiences - yes. Perhaps.
But he further clarifies in the video that he does not expect that startups will be able to get any traction in this space. Mainly due to all the kerfluffle around rights, IP, copyright, and the very powerful distribution chain that controls the video and TV rights industries.
"It's a question of whether or not a startup can actually affect that ecosystems," says Li in the video clip. When tossed with the Boxee example, Li followed with they seemed to be getting some traction but there's been too many other ones that have not seen the light of day.
"That's an area you have to be careful of from an investment perspective and we haven't see that ecosystem open up as much as the mobile phone or the PC."
Interesting choice of words. Open up as in lack of pitches, startups, opportunities...? Or open up as in platforms? Because if it's the latter, things are certainly opening up with Samsung giving away 1.5 million dollars in prizes for best apps in Korea, US and Europe using their open SDK and API's. Or the recent deal between Philips, Sharp and Loewe to create another open standard for their connected TV's for developers to work in CEhtml and build apps. Or Sony who is offering Google TV, and going to create what will be likely be an enormous ecosystem once they port their mobile dev community over to thinking about TV and nudge online publishers to optimize their sites for Google TV. Or Toshiba who also has an open platform and is offering a three screen solution called Toshiba places... Boxee is open source... Vizio has an app dev program. Even the old-school US cable guys are forging head vis a vis Canoe Ventures which promised more interactive TV and is opening the walled gates of cable for 3PD developers, via Cable Labs EBIF and Truway standards. And I have not even touched on Youview in the UK or HbbTV in Europe and Korea... both standards that the US simply does not have yet for Connected TVs.
I can't see the Bear Li. I only see the Bull. Maybe it's early, and rightfully so - caution is a good thing. But this is not rocket science. The world of TV apps is not far from Mobile and Web - HTML, Flash, Android, CEhtml, etc. And the big screen in the living room can do more than just channel video and TV shows... and dreaded 30 second commercials... the players in this space are banking on innovation driven by developers to take it to the next level.
The other question is - how much is VC really needed in this space? Does Silicon Valley have enough knowledge of the convergence landscape - particularly from the TV side? Do young startups need the VC to enter - or can they bootstrap their way in - or look for Angel investment instead? Interesting roads lie ahead - and they will meet in the middle somewhere as media convergence rises over the horizon. Or as Nicolas Negroponte put is so well: