Sunday, August 21, 2005

Battle of the Network Stars 2005

I used to really dig that show... B-movie actors battling it out with the gang from WKRP, with Howard Cosell calling the play by play. Now that was ol school reality TV (and no million dollars to anyone). Back then it was all fun and games - maybe Heather Locklear would get dunked in the pool or William Shatner would take a vicious hit in flag football (even at 7 I thought that was poetic justice). Today's version of Battle of the network stars is a lot more serious - more like Survivor than Hollywood Squares. This time its all A-list actors - the major wireless carriers, cable operators, pure-play internet companies, hardware manufacturers, media companies, hell even the stalwart utility companies are in the game, only this time there's no re-run.

With the division between voice and data networks completely obliterated, control over the data/voice network is the endgame for not only companies, but potentially entire industries. (The rumored acquisition of Skype for $3B by News Corp is proof that someone out there sees the endgame coming fast.) Should Google/Yahoo succeed integrating VOIP with IM, build their own national or global data/voice fiber networks, and build out wifi access nationwide, consider what that would mean to wireless (and land) phone carriers, or even cable providers down the road. (Especially if Google/Yahoo offer it for free much like everything else they do in exchange for ad revenue). Another angle: What if hardware manufacturers built access points to the Internet (PDAs and other perpetually connected devices) and used open source p2p networks and VOIP, with revenue based on low monthly service charges? Obviously the wireless carriers have seen the incoming storm and are responding aggressively, launching their 3G networks, even partnering with Google/Yahoo (I assume to tie their user bases to their own networks). What makes this fascinating is that so many companies are engaged in this pitched battle (some potentially without even knowing it). I expect as this all unfolds, some major acquisitions will occur, given the size of these companies, that will make the $3B rumored Skype acquisition literally immaterial.

So Heather Locklear not withstanding, Battle of the Network Stars 2005-2010 promises to be a whole lot more interesting than the 70's version, and a lot more rewarding/painful to the actors.


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