From science fiction to desktop for telepresence

Star Trek

Telepresence was science fiction in the 50s, a Disneyland attraction in the 60s, and eventually morphed into costly corporate “telepresence rooms” and other high-end systems, which relied on expensive dedicated communications lines.

Vidyo, a start-up company in New Jersey, says it has invented the next generation of teleconferencing that is cheaper and more portable, in part by using the Web to transmit, getting around the need for special communications lines and instead using the Web. It says that it will make teleconferencing available in offices, homes and hotels – and not just in boardrooms.

“Our product is a breakthrough to democratize telepresence and make it more affordable and portable,”  said Ofer Shapiro, chief executive of Vidyo.  Shapiro knows the earlier generation. He led the design team at Radvision in the 1990s that designed a key piece of equipment called a Multipoint Control Unit, or MCU, still in use today. Shapiro thinks it  obsolete.

Most teleconferencing offered today by such dominant players as Tandberg and Polycom, depends on MCUs, which are refrigerator-sized appliances that take television pictures from individual feeds, re-digest them and then put them together as Hollywood Square style pictures on a single screen.

The companies are players in a market projected to explode. Research firm Gartner says Teleconferencing among corporate users is projected to increase nearly 30-fold by 2015, to 200 million from 7 million last year.

from DealZone:

Next in M&A: the WordPress Hug?

Maybe it's time to add a new weapon to the old M&A arsenal of poison pills, dawn raids, and white knights -- the corporate blog. You could call it the WordPress Hug.

Late on Monday, Cisco's Ned Hooper used the company's blog to insist it had offered "a very good price" for Tandberg, after some shareholders of the Norwegian videoconferencing company said the price was too low. (See his full post here.)

The "Driving Conversations" blog of General Motors Europe has also been a source of news on the long-running (and now abandoned) talks to sell Opel, hosting posts from GM's chief negotiator, John Smith. (See some of his posts on the topic here.)

Did Cisco Flip too soon?

I’m in Silicon Valley this week meeting technology bankers and venture capitalists. Among the deal chatter, this is a question that came up more than once: Does Cisco feel a little silly for buying Flip camcorder maker Pure Digital, now that Apple has launched its popular iPod music players with built-in video?

The networking giant has long been trying to expand in the consumer gadgets market, and six months ago, it paid $590 million to acquire the San Francisco-based maker of pocket-sized digital camcorders. These sell for between $149.99 and $199.99.

Last week, Apple unveiled a new iPod Nano with built-in video. The 8GB version that can shoot up to two hours of video costs $149, and the next version costs $179.

from Commentaries:

Online video: Revolution, Evolution or Counter-Revolution?

Lots of news in online video world, some potentially significant. 

And some we can only wait and see about.

Google Inc, Cisco Systems and News Corp are separately doing things that could mean sweeping changes in the way video is produced and consumed on the web. Eric Schmidt John Chambers Rupert Murdoch

from Commentaries:


On Cisco System's quarterly earnings conference call last night, Flip camerasCEO John Chambers gave out an interesting tidbit about the demand for consumer video cameras among corporate users.

Recall that in March, the world's largest maker of network equipment for enterprises and telecom carriers, made an underappreciated acquisition of Pure Digital Technologies, the maker of the insanely easy-to-use Flip video camera line. 

Flip video anatomyCisco's CEO said his company had signed a contract to sell $1 million worth of its Flip handheld video cameras to just a single corporate customer. That's a promising sign for a company Cisco paid $590 million to acquire in March. Just 589 more customers to go, John, plus the cost of the software, the chips, the plastic cases and the stock options.

Cisco flipped for Pure Digital, but did VCs flip out?

Cisco’s $590 million all-stock purchase of Flip video camera maker Pure Digital last week may sound like a nice price for the venture capital-backed company, especially given the non-existent exit market right now.

But Venture Capital Journal editor Larry Aragon writes in a PEHub blog post that the $590 million number doesn’t sound that meaty when you calculate the return on investment for Pure Digital’s venture capital backers. And that’s especially true because some top-notch VC firms like Benchmark Capital and Sequoia Capital have invested in Pure Digital. (Venture Capital Journal and PEHub are part of Thomson Reuters.)

Aragon calculates that if Pure Digital’s VC investors put in about $95 million, and assuming that they own about half the company (since it’s a stock deal), “that’s a return of just over 3x their money.”

March Madness: The great CBS experiment

Get your brackets filled out, hand over a few bucks to the office pool manager, and settle in for some March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament starts today.

Besides terrific basketball, the next two weeks will showcase what is a great paring of old and new media by CBS. Give the folks over at CBS credit, they’ve done a tip-top job of bringing the games to both your television set and your computer.

(In 1999, CBS acquired the rights to 11 years of broadcasting the tournament, paying about $6 billion. It also has the exclusive online rights.)

Economy check

It’s the question of the moment in the technology world: have we hit bottom?

Tech execs appeared at a bunch of investor events this week and gave their best guess on what’s going on in this murky economy of ours. Some said things seemed a bit better, while others said visibility is as bad as ever. Here’s a collection of their comments:

Yahoo Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen, who is leaving the company, said advertisers are “in shock” at the moment because of the economy, but cited the superior return on investments that they get online compared with traditional marketing mediums.

Yahoo: new boss, and (almost) everyone’s happy!

We’ve had two months to ruminate, speculate and analyze about who will take over as Yahoo chief executive after co-founder Jerry Yang who decided 18 months in the hotseat was enough for him.

Carol Bartz, former chief executive of Autodesk, was appointed CEO on Tuesday after her name had been floated ”on sources” a few days earlier in various reports.

Yahoo shares were flat on Wednesday morning and most Wall Street analysts viewed the appointment as a positive as it clears the way for Yahoo to do some sort of merger/outsourcing deal with Microsoft.

CES: Chambers talks portable

Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers is in Las Vegas again for the Consumer Electronics Show, where he unveiled products including a wireless audio hub for the home and promised new consumer product announcements as often as every two months from now on.

Chambers said he didn’t plan to bet in Sin City, except perhaps a little BlackJack, though you could call Cisco’s entry into the consumer electronics market a bit of a gamble.

The technology industry veteran took a moment to answer some questions from Reuters at a Cisco drinks reception at the show. We asked him if Cisco will come out with portable devices small enough to put in your pocket?