Iveria TV – the “Hulu of Foreign TV”: Delivering Foreign Language TV Streams to Millions of Immigrants Living in the U.S.
December 10, 2012 • Arch Grant News •
Once one embarks on a difficult task of conceiving a business idea, turning it into a working product and building a reliable revenue base there’s little time for looking back and examining the path traveled. Looking back and reflecting, though is a vital exercise as hindsight is a powerful precursor to foresight.
Looking back, the first seeds for the idea of starting an Online TV business (now Iveria TV) were planted as early as in 2008. I watched a video on YouTube back then featuring a young man in Korea who came up with a remarkable idea: he hooked-up his Wii controller backwards allowing its infrared sensors to capture the movements of his gloved hands and then plugged its data into a little software driver. The result? The driver translated his hand movements into some virtual equivalents. Years before Kinect, this demo reflected a very “Minority Report” style. I loved the idea; in fact, I bought a small infrared camera and wrote a driver which would virtually capture hand movement on a screen without any special glove. This love for tinkering with new technologies stopped there as a hobby. Turning a prototype into a commercially viable product would take large financial and technical investments, which I was not up to it at the time; I was getting married.
Looking ahead, I did start thinking and reading about the future of TV – where was it going? How would the Internet reshape it? Would the internet alter television as drastically as it has altered essentially all the other way we communicate? The more that I learned about the internet, the more I became convinced that we were headed toward an era of a truly interactive media experience. Soon gone will be the days when large-scale media blasts will assume passive viewership. Even within the last few years several new products appeared pointing to this new direction. For example, Samsung SmartTV now offers a gesture based user interaction; there is a startup in Chicago which allows advertisement agencies to receive real-time feedback from their users; HULU is experimenting with a customized AD sequence generator; and, finally, there is YouTube’s Leanback. Fifty years ago Ray Bradbury described a future where people would continually listen to a personalized stream of audio through “earshells” and TV talk show hosts would personally speak to each user on first name basis, thus turning the guest interview experience akin to a dinner table conversation. Uber-futuristic, huh?
The path to such media experience is still a long one. It will take gargantuan effort on social, legal, political and technical levels to carry out this transformation but the technical one, as usual, is already in the avant-garde.
In 2010, my co-founder Serge Turabelidze and I got together for a casual dinner to throw various business ideas back and forth. Some months ago, Sergi had setup a small Mac mini to help his aging Grandma watch Georgian TV channels with ease. It was still cumbersome, she would have to work with a wireless keyboard, surf web on a large flat screen and operate a very unfriendly laser mouse. We were both looking for innovative work so serendipitously between my thoughts on the future of television and his experience with his aging grandma, we thought something up. ‘What if we could find an inexpensive way to turn this into an actual TV watching experience with a remote control and quality streams?’ we thought. At that point, we had not heard of Arch Grants, which provides money in the form of grants for startups.
Several difficulties would need to be overcome – content acquisition (legal and technical issues), content delivery for fast loads, some sort of a low-priced (but reliable) set top box and a user management system. We decided to try out the idea before committing any serious effort though. Sergi started analyzing the potential market (with some very creative ideas I’ll keep to myself) while I began putting together a crude prototype system with a single stream and an off-the-shelf STB box. We gave these boxes to a dozen or so volunteers for free and asked them to use it and report their feedback. Within weeks some positive results started coming in – the demand was certainly there and so was the technology. In January 2011 we officially launched the sales.
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Stay tuned… in another posting, we will continue to describe the metamorphosis of Iveria TV, including the role of Arch Grants, a non-profit which provides startup capital in the form of grants for early stage startup businesses.