Viacom – the New Media Winner

An incisive analysis by the NYT on how some of the media conglomerates bet on convergence and failed, resulting in Viacom coming out ahead of the pack:

Viacom is the only global media conglomerate that never succumbed to the allure of the Internet. It has steadfastly resisted the defining “big idea” of the 21st-century media business: that the Internet will profoundly transform the way people consume information and entertainment, necessitating radical changes in the way companies distribute their movies, television shows, music and magazines.

It is not that Viacom rejects the importance of the Internet – or even the notion that it is changing the habits of consumers, particularly young ones, in ways that will generate exciting new businesses.

But unlike Bertelsmann under Mr. Middelhoff, Vivendi Universal under Jean-Marie Messier or AOL Time Warner under Gerald M. Levin and Robert W. Pittman, Viacom did not bet its corporate ranch on convergence – the marriage of old-line media assets with Internet-age technology.

Mr. Middelhoff, Mr. Messier and Mr. Pittman, the chief operating officer at AOL Time Warner, were all shown the door within three weeks of one another. So if career survival is any guide, Viacom’s pragmatic approach appears to have been the right bet.

What a turnaround in two-and-a-half-years – it was only in Jan 2000 was when AOL acquired Time Warner. People have lived a lifetime in these short years.

Virtual Worlds

Business 2.0 has a story on the online gaming and the parallel worlds that they are spawning. It is mainly about Sony and its plans. One of Sony’s biggest hits has been Everquest. Writes Business 2.0:

The beauty of EverQuest, aside from its subscription model, is that players effectively pay to entertain each other. Sony just provides the playground: more than 1,000 computers in San Diego that have kept the game running since 1999. EverQuest also relies on 47 staffers to continually add items and quests to the game; another 128 “game masters” function as customer service reps and patrol the world answering questions.

The result is a game so addictive that the typical player spends 20 hours a week on EverQuest. That’s about 8.6 million man-hours a month devoted to the game. (It took 7 million man-hours spread over 14 months to build the Empire State Building.) One-third of players 18 and older spend more time in the game world than they do at their paying jobs, according to Edward Castronova, a California State University at Fullerton economics professor who studied usage. Scarier still, some 22 percent said they’d spend all their time there if they could.

What’s the attraction? Mostly socializing. Players keep coming back to find friends. Some have held funerals there for players who have died in real life.

Coming soon to a video console near you: Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided.

.Net and J2EE

Scott Dietzen in Web Services Journal: “Despite the competitive uproar, coexistence of J2EE and .NET will be the norm – most sophisticated IT organizations will deploy on both development platforms. J2EE already has a strong position in enterprise applications, and enterprise ISVs require a code base that can be deployed on whichever hardware/OS their customers demand. On the other side, much of Microsoft’s existing ISV and small enterprise marketplace are already jumping on the .NET bandwagon.”

Microsoft .Net

There have been two recent articles on .Net – a 2-part series with reader feedback in WSJ and one in News.com. Writes Charles Cooper in News.com on how Microsoft has fumbled with .Net:

The underlying idea of .Net My Services was compelling enough: It was supposed to let people access personal information online on any device. They would then be able shop or bank or check their e-mail online. The only problem was Microsoft couldn’t figure out where it wanted to go and the project got sidetracked because of internal debates about the proper business model and a lack of industry support.

Elsewhere, the .Net-spawned concept of software as a service still isn’t ready for prime time. It works just fine with Windows Update, but that’s a far cry from the usefulness that would get Corporate America to pay for automatic updating across various devices.

Microsoft puts out great videos, but the reality is that .Net remains largely a repackaging of existing technology, accompanied by a collection of jargon-ridden press releases.

He cautions: “Breathing life into grandiose visions is no easy feat. Hewlett-Packard’s former CEO Lew Platt couldn’t do it. When he began plugging the company’s E-speak technology in 1999, Platt was trying to explain what was the first comprehensive vision of Web services. But it fell on deaf ears–in no small part because of HP’s own bumbling–and in the end, the company shelved the project. ”

Lee Gomes asks in WSJ if .Net is imitation or innovation.

TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: The East: Uncaged Tiger, Rising Dragon

Question: Which among the following companies — Microsoft, Intel, IBM or Samsung — had the highest profits in the quarter ending June 30, 2002?. The answer cuts to the heart of what is a major technological shift. But more on than a little later.

Let us first go back in time. A few centuries ago, countries like India and China were the cynosure of all eyes. They had wealth, history, culture, religion everything that successful civilisations were about. The Europeans were fascinated by these lands, and sent first their explorers, then their traders, and finally their armies. China closed itself to the world. Many of the other nations, including India, came under foreign rule. Power shifted to Europe, especially Great Britain. Much of the East become a colony of the West.

As technological changes powered much of the 20th century, the US has gained ascendancy, along with Western Europe. Japan, for a brief period, threatened to become the most powerful financial and trading nation, but that has now hanged as it has gotten caught within its own internal problems. The past couple years have seen the stock market bubble burst, none more so than on the Nasdaq, which is down to levels not seen for nearly five years. It is as if, for the stock markets, the technology and Internet boom never happened. The final nail in the coffin has been the accounting scandals which have roiled American capitalism.

Amidst all this, the Eastern nations have had their share of problems, especially the Asian financial crisis in the second half of the 1990s. Nations have emerged with varying degrees of resilience from those events. The last decade also saw India and China open up their markets, with China powering ahead much more rapidly.

An example of Chinas growing prowess in the Asian region is the recent announcement that for the first time, Japans exports to China have reached half the levels of the US. With nearly half the worlds population, the East has always been a attractive market for the rest of the world. But the insular ways of many of the nations always held them back. Now, however, things are changing, as countries seek to combine the head of China and heart of India to engineer a shift in the technology epicenter.

To get an indication of where the technological wind is blowing, consider the following:

  • Companies from Korea, Taiwan, and China have grabbed 7 of the top 10 slots on the BusinessWeek IT 100 list (June 24, 2002 issue).
  • By 2006, China will have the largest number of Internet users, and will be the biggest PC market, overtaking the US.
  • China is already the worlds largest market for cellphones.
  • Filipinos do more SMSing than anyone else in the world.
  • Wired called South Korea the Bandwidth and Gaming capital of the world.
  • India already provides as many software engineers to the worlds pool as does the US.
  • Japan and Korea are the world leaders in 3G technology.
  • Taiwan has more semiconductor fabs and manufactures more chips than any other nation.
  • China is the outsourced manufacturing champ, while India reigns in the outsourced software development area.

    Back to the question I had asked at the start. The answer is South Koreas Samsung with profits of USD 1.63 billion for the quarter, more than Microsoft, Intel and IBM.

    South Korean companies have, in fact, been leading the charge worldwide. Companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai are symbolic of the transformation is a country which just five years was at the heart of the Asian economic crisis.

    Tomorrow: The East (continued)