Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Startup Has an Awesome Idea That Will Get Crushed by Big Media

mushroom cloud-featureHere’s a great idea that’s long overdue: If you own a digital copy of a movie or TV show, you should be able to lend it your friends. Just like you can do with a DVD.

And that’s what Streamnation, which launched today, said it is going to offer: A free locker service that lets people stream their pals’ videos.

Of course, the reason that idea is long overdue is that Hollywood hates that idea: If you can stream your friends’ copy of “Monsters University,” why would you buy it yourself?

Instead, when Hollywood does address digital storage and playback, it does it in ways that don’t make sense to regular humans — try explaining to your kids why they can only watch the copy of “Peter Pan” you bought from iTunes on your iPad, and not your wife’s iPhone, and gauge their reaction.

It’s telling that UltraViolet, the industry’s own attempt to create a locker system that works across multiple devices, has been a dud.

So if Streamnation CEO Jonathan Benassaya gets any traction at all, he can look forward to spending a lot of time with lawyers. Perhaps that’s already begun today.

Streamnation, by the way, used to be Plizy, a now-defunct “video discovery engine;” the old company raised $5.3M, and Benassaya said he has raised another $1.2 million since pivoting.

Benassaya, whose resume includes a stop at Deezer, the French streaming music service he co-founded, has certainly built Streamnation with a lawsuit in mind. It’s constructed using the same “private performance” legal architecture that supports Cablevision’s virtual DVR, which survived a Supreme Court challenge, and which Aereo is also trying to use in its court battle.

The idea in a nutshell: A customer uploads a video — either one they made themselves, or ripped from a DVD, or got… however … to Streamnation’s servers. Then they can stream it back anytime they want.

Streamnation doesn’t technically know what it’s holding on its servers. Instead, it asks users to label the videos they’ve stored — but with a nudge and a wink, it supplies artwork and metadata that go with well-known movies and TV shows.

All of which might fly if Streamnation stopped there, and kept the playback limited to the person who uploaded the file. After all, Amazon and Google launched music lockers that worked the same way, and initially did so without the permission of the music industry.

But Streamnation also allows users to designate a list of friends and family that can “check out” their library of videos, and stream those themselves, one at a time. The big idea here is that there’s only one version of a given video in use at any time: No copying, no downloads. See? No problem!

That sounds great to me, the person who is happy to pay for media but also happy to borrow stuff other people have paid for, with their permission.

But there’s no way Hollywood lets this go.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus