Blog Post

Digital Home: Sling Co-Founder Krikorian on Android And Innovation

Selling his company in 2007, when the U.S. stock market was at an all-time high, has put Sling Media co-founder Blake Krikorian in a pretty comfortable position to pontificate about the state of innovation in digital media since then. But–apart from Google’s Android operating system–he isn’t too impressed by what he’s seen lately.

In a half-hour Q&A that capped off the Battle for the Digital Home conference, ContentNext editor and EVP Staci Kramer asked Krikorian about what’s happened with Sling Media since he sold it to EchoStar (NSDQ: SATS) for $380 million–and he didn’t sound too impressed.

The company’s flagship Slingbox product allows customers to watch their favorite TV shows via the internet. But the still-unfulfilled part of his vision for Sling, said Krikorian, had to do with creating a more robust search that allowed consumers to find more televised media that would interest them.

“We thought we could really change how people search and discover content,” said Krikorian. “We developed this thing called the Sling Guide — and I could Google (NSDQ: GOOG) my DISH DVR from my phone, or my iPad, and see everything that’s on. The problem with these damn cable and satellite systems is, you can’t find what you want to watch.”

The kind of TV-focused search that would really move the industry forward “hasn’t materialized at DISH or at EchoStar, or frankly, at any company,” said Krikorian. Speaking more generally, he added that “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in this space. The content folks and operators, understandably, are trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.”

Krikorian also criticized the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, as an impediment to innovation. Those rules criminalize the breaking of “digital locks,” such as those that prevent the copying of DVDs. “If [the DMCA] was in effect 25 years ago, we wouldn’t have seen the VCR,” said Krikorian. “It was very threatening… but those technologies ended up being the savior of those industries.”

Later in the talk, Krikorian praised Android, Google’s open-source operating system, as one that offers “the ability to innovate and do what you want to do… Android is going to be absolutely huge. The challenge is going to be the fracturing of the platform.”

Companies in the VOD space are going to have to start thinking more about simplicity, he added. “Consumers want to have this experience where they just walk in and stuff works — where you don’t have to have five remote controls on your coffee table,” said Krikorian. “Complexity is not shrinking, it’s increasing.”

Finally, Krikorian talked about some of his other recent investments. He briefly mentioned Wavii, a company that he said will “change the way people are fed relevant content and data.” Beyond that, Krikorian said he “can’t talk a whole lot about [Wavii]… they’re still in super-stealth mode.” Another investment is in a company called Refocus, which will allow digital photographers to fix out-of-focus pictures after they move the image onto their computer. The technology also has applications in other emerging areas, like 3D viewing, said Krikorian.