The title is paraphrased from a beautiful article written by Greg Satell for Forbes and re-posted below for your convenience as was another great piece posted just before this, written by Dick Taylor that I encourage you to also read. Two influencers writing about subjects close to our heart. I hope this means that the world view on digital media is catching up with our plan which was formulated way back in 1992!
Our plan has been slightly tweaked and modernized and the business summary rewritten over 70 times in two decades (to personalize and update it) but it is the same plan we envisioned in 1992 as to how we saw the future of broadcast media and advertising going into the digital future.
After inventing and launching the very first in the world national, digital delivery network for radio commercials called Digital Generation Systems (1990), we were forced into “selling it off” to the VC and their partners (who sold it to Scott Ginsberg-he, btw, did an outstanding job of running the company as it was). We took that opportunity for a long six month vacation to rest and come up with our next step to take broadcast programming into the digital future. Mind you, this was before the Internet was a public resource.
Using AOL and Compuserve along with all the local bulletin boards and The Well was all there was back then. Clumsy, slow to load and user unfriendly, I set out to make the Internet as easy to use as television. That’s literally the goal that SpotMagic, Inc. started with in 1993.
In 1993, hubs and I sold some of our DG founder stock to AT&T ventures and moved into 1700 California Street in SF and set up house with the business downstairs. I never liked commuting to 100 Spear St. and then paying for parking…and wearing a suit!
We hired a couple people then raised capital and took on investors until we had 40 employees! Before we reorganized and downsized in 1996, we first made an early prototype product and sold it online. Just a couple of the best people stayed on with us as we made the jump to remote working. In 1997, out of lockup from DG’s IPO, I sold some stock and bought a nice house in Santa Barbara. We moved there while also keeping a cheaper office overlooking the cable car turnaround. It’s with these few people that we kept on working to finish a full up software solution by 1998. We searched around until we found a niche and ended up employing our software solution in 1999 as a graphical, Interactive, play along TV application (not just text the way GE had tried to launch in 1996 with a product called Wink). It was working in perfect sync with over the air TV broadcasts and had Sony Television actually paying us to participate in real time gaming for viewers of the Game Show Network.
After the tech bubble burst in late 1999 and the fallout reaching into 2000, then we all know when 911 happened that it put the ad business as well as an enormous amount of startups into the toilet. Sony had already pulled out and sold off their ITV division by then so next, we built hardware and installed a few interactive digital signage projects putting kiosks into places like SF MOMA, Military buildings, and the brand new Williams Sonoma store in New York and in SF.
This time, it was a rough financial drought that caused me to sell my million dollar home and go scrounging at the lowest levels in my life just trying to stay alive for a few years. Time marched on and very few projects trickled in until a big ray of hope plopped on our active doorstep in 2010. We answered the call, built an elegant working prototype solution only to have it politically blocked for no good reason except that they could stop a smaller company from upstaging their own, failed prototype that did not work. They are one of the world’s biggest companys and they killed our chance to put our beautifully designed, digitally controlled, automated pay, tracking rack solution (fixing a pain in the ass problem) for five gallon water bottles in all of the Home Depot stores.
Before that though, we had again begun knocking on radio’s door without much success until in 2011 when we had a finished and approved contract sitting waiting to be signed on a desk at Citadel. A short- lived dream as it was promptly tossed in the round file when within 2 weeks in August of 2011, Cumulus bought Citadel, effectively putting a stop to our first contractual radio job.
Moving on, we kept calling everyone we knew in the industry just trying to get attention to show radio how we could now deliver long-form programming and as we could also carry the spots, we effectively were in direct competition with our previous company, DG Systems. Asking for an investment/partnership, we told DG what we were doing and after showing them how our system worked, they promptly decided to really get out of the business this time. I had already sold all my shares in DG but it was still a weirdly nice feeling to think we may have intimidated them a little.
Before finishing this history I want to state that our media business goal is to let the computer do what it’s good for; doing all the redundant tasks we can find in sales, production, delivery, playout, tracking and accounting in order to free up the time for broadcasters to do the creative work and local selling that only they can do. There are more helpful features coming so stay tuned.
After getting a foothold in 2012 with our very first client – the late, great Charlie Tuna – it was by sheer determination that we continued bootstrapping by any means possible to have continued on with just one client for our first official year in business. Five short years later we have quite a number of clients using our automated delivery system taking shows from producer to air with a single button click. As it stands today, we deliver 75k hours of programming and over 850,000 spots per month and looking at breaking the one million per month mark in about 45 days. We’ve built a very powerful system and yet, it’s extremely easy to use. A few clients have nearly been brought to tears when they realized that high tech doesn’t always have to be expensive, hard or confusing to use.
We continue to build and bring out new features including our newest and a most important feature of LIVE, Live broadcast which we needed to be able to deliver sports and talk shows.
I encourage you to take the guided, online tour of the system to see for yourself how elegant and easy a truly useful software can be. We’ll have our private suite at the NAB again next month for a limited few interested parties to meet and greet, but if you leave your contact info, we’ll get back to set up an online tour of our system for all of your radio group at one time.
Now please enjoy the wisdom of the smartest futurist guy I know, Mr. Greg Satell.