Mark Cuban is a hard man to catch. When Fast Company first spoke with the co-founder of Broadcast.com, Cuban was in the midst of what he called the “broadcast.com ‘sprint'” — a race to maintain the streaming media site’s position as the leading aggregator and broadcaster of programming on the Net. Nearly a year and a half later, Cuban’s Dallas-based online audio and video distribution channel is pulling ahead of the pack following a merger that created Yahoo! Broadcast Services, part of the portal’s comprehensive network of Web properties.
“Our vision was to create a new entertainment and information medium any way we could using the Internet as a base,” says Cuban of Broadcast.com’s 1995 launch. It wasn’t long ago the network was run from a spare bedroom in his apartment. “Today we are the leader, and our mission with Yahoo! is to combine our digital media leadership with their incredible network to create the dominant 21st Century media company.”
By using both high-speed broadband and dial-up connections, Yahoo! Broadcast Services digitally delivers audio and video content 24 hours a day to more than 100 million users worldwide via the Net. Since the August 1999 merger, Yahoo! Broadcast has brought upwards of 36,000 programs and live events to the desktops of daily Internet users including round-the-clock, streaming media content from 448 radio stations, and 65 television stations and cable networks across the country.
“We rarely if ever produce original content,” says Cuban. “We only use content that has some level of demand. This way we don’t have to pay to create demand, which is the hardest and most expensive asset to create.”
Yahoo! Broadcast’s strategy is simple, says Cuban: give people a reason to come back to the site by aggregating content.
“You might come to listen to a sporting event, but stay when you see that there are hundreds of thousands of other choices as well,” he says. “And, of course, we hope you come back again and again.”
Prior to the acquisition by Yahoo!, Broadcast.com established its hefty market lead by inking several exclusive distribution deals to stream a sure-fire programming schedule that appealed to America’s deepest passions and obsessions: sporting events. By securing partnerships with more than 450 college and professional sports teams to deliver game day content online, Broadcast.com has provided audio and video feeds for NCAA, NHL, NFL, and Major League Baseball games and playoffs. The network also digitally delivered several NFL Super Bowls, including Super Bowl XXXI, which made history by attracting 500,000 users to the site on game day. And when John Glenn returned to space in October 1998, Broadcast.com provided live video and audio coverage of the shuttle Discovery’s lift-off. Add to that list streaming video of President Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony, 24-hour news coverage by the BBC and CNN, and alliances with TV stations in top-ten markets, and Broadcast.com had a solid stronghold on the streaming media market.
Not much has changed since.
“When there’s breaking news, Yahoo! Broadcast has the unique ability to present local audio and video coverage from our 550- plus radio and TV stations,” says Cuban. “It doesn’t get anymore real-time than that. We’re also fortunate in that every single one of our radio and TV partners, including our sports partners, refresh their content continuously.”
In the race to retain and attract users, Yahoo! Broadcast boasts a plethora of ever-changing content including 1,500 classic, independent, Internet, and documentary films; 1,600 books-on-tape from Shakespeare to Kerouac; and more than 3,000 full-length CDs from the network’s online “CD Jukebox.” Yahoo! Broadcast also launched, in connection with Yahoo! Entertainment, an “Internet Concert Series” featuring real-time performances from obscure and popular artists like the Voodoo Glow Skulls, Doobie Brothers, and Elliott Smith. In the following months, Yahoo! will continue to integrate Broadcast.com’s programming in the news, sports, finance, and shopping areas of its portal, among others.
“I don’t think any competitor is close to us, or even beginning to make a dent,” says Cuban, of Broadcast.com’s scope and the Yahoo! merger. “We’ve accelerated our pace, and our lead. Yahoo’s numbers, paired with our content and ability to deliver the highest quality streaming on the Net, creates a powerful combination that has accelerated our growth. Yahoo! and Broadcast.com are selling machines focused on profitability. Together, we have been able to dominate every space of digital media.”
Cuban says the network plays to peoples’ passions and also allows them to log on from work and, therefore, view content not otherwise available on local programming schedules. “Content wants to be seen,” he adds. “Would you put your TV show on NBC or a tiny TV station in a small town?”
While some Web sites have difficulty supporting streaming video under high traffic situations, Broadcast.com’s partnership with Yahoo! has given the network a competitive advantage with “scalable multicasting.” Previous efforts to deliver digital audio and video content online have revolved around the concept of unicasting, a delivery method whereby individual streams are sent to each user separately. As the demand for online programming escalates, ISPs are adopting the technology of multicasting, which, like a radio or TV signal, sends audio and video to several users simultaneously with a single stream. In addition, the audio/video distribution channel is also moving into digital content delivery via broadband. “As people get connected at faster speeds, we’re able to deliver the biggest and best content in broadband mode,” says Cuban.
In upcoming months, Yahoo! Broadcast will continue to increase its broadband selections in several categories and maneuver digital content distribution to wireless devices. Cuban says the future of broadcasting is bright, and predicts even further integration between already-established broadcasting sources and emerging online technologies: “The PC morphs into a living room entertainment device, and we will be right there in peoples’ living rooms entertaining them.”
Previously featured in issue 16 page 158