• Building B Has Cable and Satellite in its Crosshairs

    Building B is major league stealthy company with an audacious vision for how consumers will access video content in the future. If it succeeds current multichannel video service providers (namely cable and satellite providers) will feel the brunt.

    Building B has a blue chip executive team and pantheon of accomplished investors and advisors. It made headlines a few months ago when it announced a $17.5M funding round led by Morgenthaler Ventures, OmniCapital and Index Ventures.

    Last week I had a briefing with Buno Pati, CEO/Co-founder and Phil Wiser (Chairman/President/Co-founder). They are both highly-experienced and successful technology executives who are also quite PR savvy. They know how to stay on message and close to their stealthy script. I needed to use my "virtual crowbar" persistently to try to pry a few new morsels of information out of them. From what I learned, it's a pretty cool story. Following is what I learned about what the company.

    The company's plan rests on a number of key assumptions:
    • TV must be the center of the consumer video experience, and today's service must be redefined
    • Access to broadcast content is critical for success
    • On demand, high def is in, linear, standard def is out
    • Open access to robust wireless networks will be prevalent
    • Advertising will be key value driver in the future
    • Price of storage is going to virtually zero;

    Given all this, in Buno's words, "Building B's opportunity is to unify, simplify and deliver a video experience to consumers at a more palatable price." This simple sounding statement belies an excruciatingly tall order.

    The company is creating a next generation set top box of sorts that will deliver the gamut of video: TV, movies and broadband. Buno and Phil don't see their box as comparable to ones from say Akimbo, Vudu or Apple TV. These are really broadband-only augments, whereas Building B aspires to be a full-on substitute for cable or satellite. Their box will be able to access content through both wired and wireless delivery infrastructures. One engineering challenge is to match content with the optimal delivery network. So for example, one-to-many broadcast networks might be delivered over wireless while niche and interactive content would use broadband.

    But Building B doesn't see a model selling the box at retail (though Phil concedes this might be a secondary outlet). Others have tried and failed at retail. Rather, its go-to-market strategy contemplates partnering with service providers like telcos and ISPs which want or need to be in the video business, but don't have the stomach or cash to upgrade their networks to do so.

    Building B plans to develop a video entertainment service offering incorporating its box which can be made available turnkey to partners. These partners could include smaller telcos, particularly in rural areas, which have traditionally stapled on a satellite offering to fill out their triple play bundle. Or they could be larger telcos like AT&T or Verizon, who might augment their fiber rollouts with Building B's approach. Or they could be broadband ISPs, portals and others who aspire to be in the video business.

    A key hurdle for Building B is assembling a fully competitive video lineup to what today video providers offer. This is no easy feat. Cable programmers in particular are reluctant to make advantageous deals with new distributors for fear of antagonizing existing cable and satellite affiliates. Yet Buno feels confident that Building B will gain access to major cable networks' fare, on demand, and on deal terms that are both economic to the company and non-disruptive to these networks' current arrangements. Accomplishing these deals alone would be noteworthy.

    Lastly, Building B envisions delivering a personalized and easy-to-access service. Buno speaks of having a "dumbed down approach" aimed at satisfying only primary consumer needs and routines. Given its emphasis on HD, this is the part of the Building B vision that must necessitate a colossal hard drive in the box to cache content for ready access. Indeed, Buno said the company is "betting heavily that the price of storage is going to zero." If this assumption is off the bill of materials on storage alone could bust the box's budget.

    Listening to Building B's vision, it's hard not to get enthusiastic about the world it seeks to create. As a consumer it would be thrilling. Yet the technology landscape is littered with ambitious would-be contenders whose aspirations foundered when faced with real-world engineering, marketing and business model challenges. Building B is simultaneously climbing tall mountains in multiple directions. If it succeeds, it will become a big-time disruptor of today's business models. It's going to be fun to watch it try.