Breaking Out With Broadband

What a week. Right now I’m flying back from San Francisco where I was the Chairman of the Rich Media Advertising Forum: two days of intense discussions with a roomful of very savvy people trying to work out the problems of rich media advertising.

Earlier this week, I was squeezed against the wall at the Rich Media Luau in lower Manhattan, where more than 1,200 people RSVP’d (and at least that many tried to squeeze past me on their way to the cocktails). It was so crowded that it took only one quick move for me to knock somebody’s glass of bluish alcohol all over the shoes of Enliven’s VP of marketing.

And then I had my own personal rich media epiphany this week…

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “The Tipping Point,” talks about those moments where things move from just “being” into being epidemics. The fax machine, the cell phone, the email address all reached their individual “tipping points,” rapidly moving from a state in which few people lived with them to a state in which few people could live without them. If this week is any indication, rich media may be headed toward its very own tipping point.

Back to my epiphany: This week, for the first time, I was able to walk into my local Wiz at the local strip mall and purchase a cable modem for $100. In less than an hour, without anyone having to come to my house (hear that, Verizon?), I was hooked up to a high-speed line, courtesy of my local Cablevision. The first thing I did was download Cablevision’s OEM version of Internet Explorer 5.01, all 49 megs worth, in less than one minute. Now THAT is life-transforming.

Half an hour later, I hooked up my SonicBox, which had been sitting in my closet just waiting for this day, and suddenly I was receiving, with absolute and startling clarity, hundreds of radio stations from around the world through my home stereo system!!

Needless to say, my life has been forever altered. SonicBox is truly one of the coolest devices I have run into. It consists of three pieces of hardware: a transmitter that hooks off the back end of my computer, a receiver that plugs directly into any audio input of any stereo system, and a hand-held remote control that allows me to dial in Internet radio from the comfort of my easy chair.

In addition to the hardware device (which sells for $99 off SonicBox’s web site), SonicBox has developed the IM band (instead of FM and AM, it’s IM, get it?) that you can access via the remote control.

There are 26 bands (A to Z) with 32 channels of content within each band. For instance, Band A is for alternative music, Band B is 32 different channels of Blues, C for classical, and so forth. There is even a channel devoted to Buddhist chants from Poland and one focused on nothing but 24/7 cartoon music. The Z band is reserved for the user so that you can program and drop in your favorite stations for easy access.

And the sound? With my new cable modem the sound was clearer than any terra-based radio station, at least in my neighborhood. No dropouts, no static. Just pure, unadulterated sound. My neighbor thought it was a CD. (By the way, he immediately took off for a little road trip to the local Wiz.)

Which is why I think we headed toward the tipping point with broadband access in the home and rich media on the Internet. If I can get this in my little suburban community by going to the local store, then that, my friends, is a huge event. Throw out those bearish predications from Jupiter and Forrester this stuff is going to be huge, available, and ubiquitous faster than we thought. If you’ve been waiting to put your rich media broadband strategy together: WAKE UP!

Oh, and by the way, Verizon can just stay out on strike as far as I’m concerned. They broke two appointments with me to install a simple phone line (even before the strike) and said it would be another two months before they could install the DSL, even though it’s available in my area. Seconds after the cable modem went live, it was me who was canceling the appointment. Guess what guys? The war is over, and you’ve lost. All hail Cablevision.

Of course, right after wasting hours fanatically tuning in my SonicBox (“Hey look disco music from Taiwan”), my 10-year-old son downloaded Napster and has not been heard from since. I expect a knock on my front door from Metallica’s lawyers any day now. Come on back; I’m ready for you now!

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