All broadband was not created equal, as we all well know. But this fact was painfully illustrated to Tejpaul Bhatia when he was working for ESPN, where he was part of a team tasked with taking the ESPN 360 video platform around the world and matching it with local content and business models. Four weeks before the product was supposed to go live in Brazil, the deal fell apart, according to Bhatia, because “the video looked terrible.” Even on fiber-to-the-home connections, he said, “[W]e would go to play the video and it would freeze, and play really poorly. But when we talked to the CDN and said can we get closer to the edge, the prices started skyrocketing.”
With the failed project weighing on his mind, a mutual connection introduced Bhatia to Michael Rourk Hallinan, a captain in the Marine Corps who had worked on deploying wireless networks in the Middle East.
“He was managing a direct connection from Falluja to the Pentagon,” said Bhatia. “[Hallinan] said, ‘If we can do it real time from a city we just destroyed, you have to be able to do it in Brazil.'”
So now, a bit over a year after Bhatia left ESPN, he and Hallinan have launched MediaMerx, a platform for bringing entertainment over the Internet to emerging markets. The New York City-based startup has raised
$330,000 $440,000 from angel investors. (Update: The company tells us it recently added another $110,000.)
MediaMerx has signed just one customer so far, an ISP in Africa, and has some test deployments in South America. The company charges a monthly licensing fee based on the size of the ISP’s subscriber base. It’s also trying to build a library of premium content to distribute — even though local content will perhaps make more sense. In the meantime, MediaMerx is using Tilzy.tv and a few other independent video sites to kick-start its offering.
So what’s the technology solution to different definitions of broadband? MediaMerx CTO Vikash Mishra explained that rather than using satellite data access, as is common in the developing world, MediaMerx has its ISP customers pull down content based on local demand, and its end-user video players access versions of the media files that are nearest to the consumer.
Will it work? We shall see. For now the company has four people and a small amount of funding, but to meet its ambitions it will need more than technological innovation.