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BitGravity founder Perry Wu is as brash a CEO as I've encountered. Often, that's a good thing. Here, I'm not so sure. What's clear, though, is that Wu has some bragging rights. Last week, BitGravity announced that Sling Media founder Blake Krikorian has joined the company's board of directors and participated in its latest funding round. Numbers weren't provided.
Krikorian's company -- creator of the hyper-cool Slingbox -- was sold to EchoStar for $380 million last September. Now, he's betting on BitGravity for a big payday. "BitGravity is redefining the user experience around the quality and performance of content delivery on the Internet and has built an incredible team, a superior network, and an innovative service offering," Krikorian said in BitGravity's press release.
For BitGravity, the pitch -- or at least the pitch I received in speaking with Wu last week -- is that Krikorian brings experience that will prove invaluable in its quest to unseat incumbents Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM ) , Limelight Networks, Level 3 (Nasdaq: LVLT ) , and now AT&T (NYSE: T ) in delivering video over the Web.
What's not mentioned in the press release is that Krikorian and BitGravity are anything but strangers: Sling Media signed on as a BitGravity customer at its public launch in October 2007. Of course Krikorian is investing; his company, upon which EchoStar depends, now depends on BitGravity's services.
A distributed origin
Interestingly, how those services work is a mystery. "No one knows what it is," content-delivery industry watcher Dan Rayburn told me last week in an interview, referring to what BitGravity calls its "distributed origin" network in company documents.
Spokesperson Mari Mineta Clapp explained the process in an email to me by pointing to efficiency. "Where they [Akamai] have 36,000 servers, we have 100s of 'super' packet delivery engines that can deliver video files faster and with more reach," Clapp wrote.
She also refers to a partnership with Tata Communications (NYSE: TCL ) . Plugging into its network allows BitGravity to reach more than 200 countries and territories without the level of build-out Akamai has committed to.
The consequence, Wu says, is that BitGravity is a more comprehensive supplier of video content. (BitGravity specializes in video over other forms of Web content.) "What is a proxy? It's abdicating your vote to someone else," Wu says in referring to Akamai's proxy-and-cache network, where content is stored at the very edge of the Web and geographically close to users, ready for fast delivery.
The weakness of this approach, Wu says, is that it only allows for popular content to be stored. Need something obscure? Akamai's network may not host it -- a problem that Wu calls a "cache miss." BitGravity's network, by contrast, doesn't have this same exclusive-data-club feel.
The end of Akamai?
Wu doesn't accept the possibility that Akamai is the once and future content-delivery king, referring instead to the industry as "ogopolistic" and badly in need of rebellion. He also says that the video market has been growing so fast that, to date, it has masked Akamai's weaknesses in other areas, though he's unwilling to be specific.
A quick study of Akamai's recent earnings report appears to lend truth to Wu's assertions. Slower growth in media and entertainment led management to lower full-year 2008 guidance, one quarter after the company raised it.
But that's the quick study. Dig deeper and you'll learn that Akamai is still winning business from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , and other big clients. Average revenue per customer (ARPU) rose 19% in the second quarter. The implication: BitGravity and its peers, for all their claims of superior technology, don't appear to be damaging Akamai's core franchise.
"I've been in the game long enough to know that the best technology doesn't always get adopted," Rayburn says.
So Akamai is the Windows of content delivery to BitGravity's Mac OS? Even that may be giving BitGravity too much credit. Apple, you see, was an early Akamai investor and is still one of the largest consumers of its services. BitGravity, by contrast, is streaming Tom Green.
Brash, bold, and maybe even a Baby Breaker, BitGravity is no doubt a player. But until it wins a major account -- as Akamai, AT&T, and Limelight have in delivering the Beijing Olympics over the Web -- it probably lacks the stuff to be an Akamai killer.
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