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Posts from January 2006

More on SkypeTones

Since news and details are so sketchy, I went out and talked to some friends in the music business and ring tone sector to get some more insight about what this could mean to Skype and the music business.

Overall, the feeling is unanimous that there is more to the deal than RingTones and images. One very senior ringtone industry veteran flat old told me that the word last week in Cannes was that this is all about WMG introducing their bundling strategy, something the WMG execs I conferred with this morning seem to agree on.

There is also quite a bit of concern about DRM (Digital Rights Management) a subject that Skype’s PR person in London, Kat James said was not yet ready to be announced. Yahoo’s Brad Garlinghouse when queried wondered “if we really need another DRM solution” and I tend to agree.

Here are some other thoughts I’ve collected this morning from a few friends in the biz who are in the know, but for reasons of confidentiality asked to remain anonymous.

“Ringtones are a start, but probably not what they're aiming for long-term. It's unclear how much value a personalization product has when the "phone" is ringing in your office or home, not out in public where people look at you and think how cool you are based on your tone.”

“Master tones might not be the best fit. If I'm at my PC and a song starts playing, I might think it's an ad on AIM or a misfired stream or something, not necessarily an incoming skype call. Unique sounds might be better suited.”

“Ringbacks make more sense. It's annoying to listen to the "ring-ring" while waiting for someone to pick up”

“Their current ringtone store, powered by Qpass, desperately needs better content than all the sound effects. Who needs a "zip" sound to go off when they receive a call? (maybe that's for incoming booty calls). Should let you record your own ringtone ("Andy on skype line one, sir") so you can feel important. This all could be part of their plug-in strategy.”

“DRM is critical for PC-based downloads; I'm unclear on what they're using/how it works/how hard it is to hack.”

“With all those users, they could easily turn it into a storefront for other products by adding new options in the dropdown for how you want to use the file: as ringtone/as chat alert/ even leading to a full track download”

Another person from the industry wondered about "carrier reaction", citing this may be the first global solution for ringtone sales without carrier involvement (or 40% rev share). Wonder what sort of deal Skype struck with WMG.”


Skype Goes With Warner Music For Ringtones and Maybe More

Skype has entered into a deal with Warner Music Group and while the deal is announced as for Ringtones, sources say that last week at MIDEM the talk in the hallways and on the luxury ships in the harbor that it was that it's for more than simply that, with Ringbacktones as likely also as well as the announced artist images. The deal which is global in nature was struck here in the USA and led by the Skype USA team, according to Skype sources.

This is much like what Yahoo has also been planning to integrate into their Voice and IM roll out of the new Yahoo Messenger.

Music industry sources tell me that Warner Music has a strategy in place to go beyond the ringtone and break the .99 cent per download per track approach that has been established largely by Apples iTunes. One of the rumors floating around is that Skype, with their built in Video approach will be able to send snippets of music videos, interviews and live concert footage over their pipe to the end user, and hence the reported $1.50 price point will allow for that, though at the time of writing neither Skype or Warner Music were available to comment. Even the $1.50 price point, as first reported in the Wall Street Journal is only now being confirmed. Other industry sources beleive the agreement with Skype is non-exclusive (why would it be) and that more partnerships of this type are likely.

This all makes total sense as the music industry insiders have known for some time Warner Music Group wants to be in the bundling of content business, not just sell tracks or tones on the one off, as a differentiator. Steve Jobs' Apple iTunes has been viewed in that world as being too inexpensive so by offering the full catalog and in a bundle, Skype could help drive those price points up. Since the content is already in house or can be in house, the label repurposes and makes money off of digital assets that have been sitting around. Lastly, for archived content this is a boon, as it means back catalog, one of the reasons why punters download around the world, becomes more desired by the consumer, something the labels have struggled with when it comes to the digital world. Out of print tracks become more easily available.

Questions posed to Skype about what format the content will be stored in, how it will be DRM'd (digitally rights managed), if the downloads or services are user or device specific, if users can swap digital assets (now wouldn't that fit into an eBay auction model with file sharing already in Skype) remain unclear as this is being viewed as a deal announcement, so no specifics were available, but other sources very close to the relationship have intimated that Skype will use their own proprietary DRM solution, likely derived from their current Skype Voice Mail code base, which only allows for Skype messages to be played from within Skype.

If they are using their own DRM, does the world really need one more. One thing I have learned is that the digital rights are account or user based, making the concept of portability by a user more important than a single end point.

But if the above is on target, Skype as a Pipe keeps coming more and more to fruition.


Tello Explained

Last week a rocking big story broke in the Wall Street Journal about Tello, a company that has extremely deep roots in VoIP, especially when you realize that the essence of the company is Presence, and the person who has been championing presence almost as long as he has been championing VoIP is Jeff Pulver.

It was back in the 90’s when Jeff and his original incarnation of the VON crew (meaning pre Key3Media buy out days) and Jeff’s later relaunch of VON, held the first real event on Presence and what it means. That seven plus year journey provided the seeds for what Tello will become.

You also have to look at Jeff’s efforts with the Pulver Communicator. Long before anyone was really delivering interoperability in VoIP, Jeff’s crew was building a messaging client that was both Voice and IM and was working on multiple platforms, between disparate networks flawlessly. I truly believe had Skype not come along, Pulver and his vision was well on its way with the FWD Communicator to really be the disruptive force in communications that Skype has become.

So enter Tello.

Pulver began working this long before it came to be, but when the stars aligned and he was able to make rain, he did, joining forces with mobile pioneer Craig McCaw, telecom dealmaker Michael Price and VC John Scully. Yes the same John Scully of Apple days gone bye.

Along with a CEO, Doug Renert, who comes complete with a background from Oracle, Pulver and crew are setting out to continue Jeff’s vision. A vision which, unless you have been around long enough to understand, is about as clear as anyone’s in communications. The problem is, like some others of us, Jeff sees around corners, and already has a clear picture of what can be, given what is available.

With Tello that vision of easily connect to whomever you need to be is what the view clearly is.

Over the past week three or four people asked me about how similar to my agency’s client, iotum, and their Relevance Engine Tello is.

The answer, which is as plain as day to iotum co-founder Alec Saunders and myself, as their advisor, was not as easy to discern based on initial news accounts, until it was explained.

To me, Tello is about the enterprise and how disparate networks are able to be linked together to enable collaboration and communications. The need to communicate with partners, suppliers and customers is growing, as people travel less, work more in collaboration and communicate from more than just the office.

With the mobile workforce on the rise, and more people working virtually, access and being connected takes a role front and center, the way the weekly staff meeting used to.

Interoperability is a myth. Integration into regular business process is a dream, that only really Microsoft, Apple and IBM are in a position to dominate or are actually working on, while others all claim to be trying. But trying isn’t the same as doing, and Tello is seeking to do, not try.

As Om and others have pointed out, the silos are here more than they are being broken down, and as I have said before we are Balkanizing the Internet by not working really in a federated fashion. Tello, like a few other new and emerging companies are moving in that direction the right way.

So after reaching out to Jeff and affirming what we on the inside already knew, CEO Doug Renert and I had a very good up front talk about Tello and just what it’s setting out to do. Renert also provided me with some very solid background which I’m including here along with my comments, for one simple reason. It needs to be stated.

Here’s what I learned, with some really good help from Jeff and Doug:

1. What Tello does?

Tello provides a hosted Instant Communications and Collaboration service, with complementary client applications, that allows users to instantly locate, contact, and connect with others across their business communities over the different systems, devices and applications they already use.

Any application running on the Tello service, including their own clients, can show at a glance the availability of contacts at any time anywhere in the world and initiate multi-modal communications with the click of a mouse or push of a button.

Andy says→This is what being Presence enabled is exactly all about.

Tello makes this happen by "federating" the different real time communication systems in the market and has an open platform allowing any other application to run on top of it and to serve as the core user interface, launch from it instantaneously within a live communication session, or trigger it so users can find their contacts at critical times.

Andy says→This means that application engines and programs like iotum work with, and don’t compete with Tello. Even Microsoft’s LCS or Skype could work with it and use it. It is meant to be a platform, and agnostic, not parochial.

2. How Tello is going to market?

Because Tello supports entire "trusted" communities of business users, the service has to support anything from a large enterprise to an individual. It just so happens that many individual businesspeople have close relationships with large firms and SMBs and vice versa.

Tello serve these communities with the two Tello solutions available today: Tello Basic and Tello Enterprise

Tello Basic is targeted for the individual business user, and Tello Enterprise extends Tello Basic with features for the enterprise like the ability to integrate and display Telephony presence from the enterprise's telephony (PBX) network or instant messaging system.

The Tello Basic service along with the client applications is available now in a beta trial at no charge. It does not have all the functionality they plan to add, but it does cross mobile and IM networks and provide instant collaboration capabilities. They leverage user input during the beta process to drive our focus and direction for individuals.

Tello Enterprise is available for direct purchase from Tello, has run in beta with a number of companies in 2005, and will often be implemented in conjunction with our systems partners like Avaya, Digium, etc.

Andy says→ this is much like the open exchange platform that many Fortune 1000 companies use to manage purchase orders and invoices, only this time someone has taken the same idea and federated Voice and IM to stop redundancy and reduce costs, making it easier to communicate and collaborate over various networks that do not regularly peer with one another.

Hopefully this helps clarify, not more confuse anyone…The exercise has sure helped me.


My Heart Goes out To A Fellow Journalist's Family

We all think the blog wars and our ever ongoing battle to get news out is tough, but heck, guys like me have it easy. No one's having us drive over land mines to get stories. I just saw this story and my heart skipped a beat.

While we cover stories and deal with PR people and seek to scoop the mainstream media or go deeper than they do, nothing compares to being embedded in a war zone. As a student, one of my journalism teachers was an investigative reporter and he did things I wouldn't ever dream of doing. But to hear that someone who we regularly see on the nightly news has fallen victim to an attack makes me realize more and more, how easy we really have it.


About Skype and Sales Force.com

This is about setting the record straight. Seems I missed the news release on the wires back a week or so or more. The announcement was out on the wires and just not advanced to any of us. For that reason, and a reliance on being advanced news releases by the PR team it got overlooked.

eBay being in an earnings period went quiet and didn't take a proactive media outreach, letting the wires do the dissemination. For whatever reason I missed it, asked around, found others too had missed it, and wrote what I wrote below...which I have since ammended, you see I can correct something especially when I didn't have all the facts, which I now have.

This is a big deal to Skype and one they are to be commended for..it is a great business move and one that can have significant upside for all.

So in true journalists style consider this a correction and amplification.


 


Is Skype Trying To Keep Things Secret?

Why in anyone's mind would a deal between SalesForce.com and eBay/Skype be kept mostly under wraps? No it wasn't under wraps. I missed it. (see above) and so did a lot of the other VoIP bloggers.

The implications of a Skype & SalesForce.com alliance are huge. 

What’s bigger than Skype getting into the business of business? It is a huge move, especially with a company like SalesForce.com.

Someone wrote that "Skype's software is available as a Salesforce-built plug-in that enables companies to embed voice-over-IP capabilities in their Salesforce environments for doing things like launching multi-party conference calls."

This is exactly the kind of thing that goes right at the heart of Microsoft's LCS strategy and puts a heap of hurt on the conference call business. Why? SalesForce.com is used by sales organizations. Sales organizations talk to millions of customers each day.  It is a Skype Viral move to the nth degree, but candidly, the way this whole thing was executed it sure reads more like Mark Benioff being the procurer of customers like he always was the top procurer for Larry Ellison back when he was at Oracle.

I wonder what is next up Skype's sleeves?


AOL Widens Broadband Offerings

Taking a page out of Yahoo's playbook, AOL has announced a series of relationships with DSL providers to help migrate their users from dial up to broadband for as little as two dollars over their dial up package price of $24.95.

Expect to see a bundle deal with the MSO's coming down the pike would be my guess as to what is next. This could be a big boost to the AOL Total Talk package also.