Ken Rutkowski – the IBC Digital Lifestyles Interviews

The second in a series of eight articles with some of the people involved with the Digital Lifestyles conference day at IBC2004.

We interviewed Ken Rutkowski, the force behind Ken Radio, on the media platforms available to today’s consumers, and what’s exciting him.

Fraser Lovatt: It is possible that some of the visitors to Digital Lifestyles might not know about Ken Radio. Do you want to tell me a bit about yourself and what you are up to at the moment?
Ken Rutkowski: Well, Ken Radio is the largest piece of listened to content on the web with over 186,000 listeners every single day. What we do is we look at technology on a global level. Where most shows on TV or on Radio are generally very localised, we try to do away the whole US-centric concept and say “Hey, technology is global” and see how it impacts people. So we are trying to really see what is happening – like we say: other sites might break the news – we’re here to fix it.

By really bringing together a team of global observers that can dissect what is happening and then interpret it properly. So we are probably the only place where people can go to really find out what is going on at a global level. We are pretty proud of that.

What are you up to at the moment? What is your current project?
My broadcast business is radically different to what my personal business is. My personal business is a company called What we do is we help technology companies have better interface with media companies. So we basically bring technology to Hollywood and Hollywood to technology. We allow companies like Microsoft to have better relationships with the Studios. We help companies like Nokia have better relationship with media companies.

Microsoft have recently set up their own internal group for this, haven’t?
Absolutely and that’s kind of a contradiction. Think about this – I don’t know – when you go to war you generally have to be on the ground where war is waged. For example World War II was waged in Europe initially – you went to Europe to fight the war. Well the war right now is in Hollywood and when you set up a shop in Redmond you are mixing with words.

The contradiction is they are playing war but they are not playing in the right place. We are here to help them actually understand the strategy and place their troops in the right place.

Recent social and technological developments are creating the concept of a digital lifestyle and we’ve seen an explosion in the number of media platforms that are out in the wild. How many media platforms do you think that people have space for in their lives? The reason I ask this question is because I was looking in my bag earlier on and I had more media platforms in that bag than my entire household had up until about 1995.
Let’s be realistic – what is the dream? The dream is to have one. That’s really the goal.

You know, I picked a brand new Nokia 7610, I think, and I’m finally seeing a convergence happening. Where I have my standard phone, it holds 18,000 of my contacts, shows me video, it’s a 1 mega pixel camera, it will have software to allow me to play MP3s – and now with some of the technology coming up, like Nokia’s visual radio, it can allow me to actually get some data from radio that’s fine.

Obviously it is not a high-quality camera, it is not a high-end MP3 player, it is a good phone and it’s got some decent video – and it’s moving in the right direction.

One device is sufficient and if the phone can be it – and I think it is going to move in that direction dominate that market.

I would like to see one device. Now you are asking the question – how many devices can people tolerate? Well I think that toleration is something that is based upon the actual time parameter. What do I mean by that? We uses to tolerate in XT or AT computer which weighed about 65 pounds with a monochrome screen that would go out every once in a while that had a fan that sounded like an aircraft carrier and it processed real slow. We tolerated it because that was accepted during that time.

Now we have flat screen monitors, we have three gigahertz processors. Right now people can’t accept having a wallet, a phone and a third device – being an MP3 player or a digital camera. The minute we start going over four, to a PDA or going to a GPS, I think we have gone too far.

We use the tolerance limit anything over – you are overboard. Now again let’s talk about that Utopian world that I want to be living in and have one – and I’m happy.

We have seen that today’s platforms mean that there is some exciting content appearing. For example the quiz came called “Come and Have a Go”. It’s live broadcast and it uses the Java mobile phone application tool for the people at home so they can get involved. What other content are you excited about?
Well I think the location based technology stuff that we see proliferating right now throughout Japan is so damned exciting, you know we are able to locate my children and we see this even coming in the States and I know the UK has is too.

Using RFIDS? WiFi child tracking at Lego Billund?
No – let’s take it in another direction. What I find is heinous is that with cheating spouses, their husbands or wives can go out and buy a cheap phone and they put it in their spouses car. They put it in the car and turn it on and they are able to track to see where their spouse is. You know it is getting to a point where it is so inexpensive to do forms of surveillance.

Swatch, the watch making company has a watch that uses location-based GPS, so the parents can easily identify where their children are on a computer screen. You know technology is coming up right now where there is location based technology for cattle. In Montana they are using this – even in Mongolia they are using it for horses right now, where they can track where horses are. That’s cool stuff. It is so inexpensive.

We have RFIDS – sure the technology has been around for 20 years – giant retailers are starting to see how these ideas make sense. We are not going to have to go around and take everything out of our carts have it scanned, put it into a bag and walk out – we can just drag the cart out and be told exactly what we owe and we are done.

That is cool. Now a Java application at a phone – that is mundane.

But we have a Java application which ties together a broadcast programme and provides a new type of content.
Let’s take it this way. My TV is my TV.

My television might have more additions to it being for interactivity – polling, voting, e-commerce and all that – that’s my TV – don’t give me television on my phone. My radio is my radio. Now if I want to use my phone as a radio – I can tolerate that because it is a device that I need to have portable with me because I am conditioned to have a portable with me. If I can get information like Nokia’s Visual Radio is doing, that’s cool, because I’m conditioned to take radio on the go. I’m not conditioned to take television on the go. I don’t want people to be watching TV on the go. We have a society that is suffering from the inability to collaborate right now. Add another one?

What about creating types of content that could never exist before?
I had the opportunity to see this really cool web cam technology that allows me to use my GPS – GSM phone and my camera on my phone to be a live streaming web cam. I could call my son and I could say “Look what daddy’s looking at right now? I’m looking at the Statue of Liberty”. He is able to go to a web page and see what his Dad is looking at right now. That’s cool.

Also, I think Microsoft’s Media Centre really is going to be exciting. It finally takes your pictures, your CDs, your DVDs, your music, your television and aggregates it into one platform and you finally get to use the TV as a true collaborative tool.

What is exciting is taking existing models like television. I hate to use these 1990 terms but time shifting is becoming to reality. The word “TiVo” is becoming part of the English language – you don’t tape TV shows any more you “TiVo”.

It is coming out to where even in Movies “I TiVo’d that”. We have seen it in Sex in the City. There was whole episode around her TiVo was better than her boyfriend because it was consistent and reliable. It is so amazing to start seeing this technology become part of our lives. We are becoming dependent upon it.

For example – I’m in Washington DC, I live in Los Angeles, and I am able to go to my own special web page to make sure I have taped my favourite shows because when I get back to Los Angeles I get excited to watch my shows on my time without commercials. That is so damned exciting. I get home – technology has transformed my life.

So we have TV – we have location based technology devices that are coming out. I actually think where portable media players are going is really hot.

We can take all of our media with us in any environment – I am sitting in a hotel room right now and I am able to link to my server at home which is actually quite easy. I call it KIDMA. If it’s kidma, meaning my kids or my grandmother can do it, that right there just passed the test. These new devices are kidma – they are easy and simple – so I could sit down and listen to all my music sitting in Los Angeles right now right here in Washington DC. I don’t feel like I am away from home now.

The last thing which I get really excited about is the unified messaging technology that is coming out. Are you familiar with this?

Email, SMS etc together in one place?
Let’s take it a little further than that. I now can have the universal phone number – one phone number – and I can travel throughout the world and I can always be reached by that phone number in multiple ways.

There was a company about ten years ago called Wildfire, and there are better ones that allow me to have my own number and it follows me. So right now if somebody calls my number and I’m in Sydney, Australia it will find me and ring me on whatever mobile device I’m on or hotel phone in Sydney. If I’m not there, I am sleeping or I’m taking a shower when someone leaves that voicemail it will be emailed to me.

Unified messaging is so hot and we are starting to see some of the voice over IP companies bring services out.

So tell a little bit about your IBC session that’s coming up.
We’re going to really explore the idea of the platforms that are going to enable these devices.

This is important because anyone can paint a great picture – but tell me about the paint, the canvas and even the talent to make the picture. We are going to show how everything is put together so the technology on the consumer end will work. Interactive television is extremely dynamic and powerful, it is worth billions of dollars in the ad market. An interesting report came out recently from Jupiter Media Metric showing that the stereo-typical 18 – 34 male who everyone thought was playing video games would rather watch Survivor or rather watch television than play video games.

This is exciting – this is what the networks have been saying is true – well the numbers came out yesterday proving it. So that means television has the opportunity not just to become compelling but even generate more revenue. We are going to talk about how television, mobile devices and whatever the next generation media platform is, portable music player, or how they are going to empower the consumer to spend more money and be utilised even more.

How are established content businesses going to make money out of all these platforms then? Where is the business model? We have got lots of media companies out there like the BBC with huge media libraries and lots of resources to be able to create compelling media, but it can be argued that but there is no proven way to get the cash out of the consumer at the other end.
Well I would disagree with that – let’s look at a couple of ways.

One, we know that companies like Apple’s iTunes, Rhapsody or Harmony by real networks – even Microsoft MSN music – they’re generating money. iTunes is reporting some really decent sales not just on the music side that works.
Now let’s take music to the next level and look at fan based sites. Sites that you subscribe to you’re like David Bowie you now are part of David Bowie’s community which will include music, video, emails, chat – people will pay money for that.

Those advanced services that we were talking about earlier like location based technology and phones that might cost two or three dollars a month extra. People are not just willing, they are paying it. We don’t want to use Japan as a good example because their culture is radically different than in the West, but they prove that advanced technology services are worth paying for.

The next is the simple idea of advanced tools for television. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime. HBO has more Emmys than any one single Network right now. We are seeing people paying for premium content on television, which means that the trickle down concept always applies. If they pay for it on television once true broadband – we are not talking about a megabit, we are talking about 5/10 megabits – people will pay for premium content because it will feel like it’s television, coming through a TV.

So when you say it’s not there, it is there, it is in unique situations, but it is going to build and I see the money opportunities.

I think this is probably one of the most exciting times – and I didn’t even say that through the dot com times – one of the most exciting times to be part of this brand new industry.

What about the little media start-ups who are going to be faster moving, more technologically savvy – how are they going to capitalise on convergence?
Think about this idea – News Corporation’s Lucy Hood, who is running it on the technology side, creating content in one minute. Mini series for mobile phones – you are creating content with a cast, with screen writers to create one minute episodics on the phone. They’re going in a direction saying “Let’s look at the money and seize this opportunity”.

Again, you know my position regarding taking television to a phone, I don’t think it is going to work but we are seeing News Corp trying it out, we are seeing companies playing an HD. HD is going to be explosive.

HD is a brand new environment for consumers once HD televisions drops down in price, which they will soon.

So these studios can use tools like Final Cut Pro, even some of the cheap Avid systems to produce HD at a fraction of the cost of two years ago. That’s compelling.

What do you think of iTunes/Motorola deal?
They’re making a slimmed down version of its iTunes jukebox software that cell phone makers like Motorola will install in its wireless devices, to be rolled out in 2005.

That is the right direction. You know, again, back to your second question – how many devices will people be able to tolerate – if you could make my phone do everything – including being a functional music player, because I am conditioned to take music on the go, cool. It sounds like a good start. It’s a good catalyst. I don’t think it is going to be the win-all but it is the tweak to allow it to happen.

We have got content running on different hardware and software platforms and quite often consumers can’t move content from one platform to another because of incompatible DRM systems. How long do you think that is going to last?
Well you know the irony is most consumers don’t know about the limitations of that content.

They are going to find out pretty soon.
They are absolutely going to find out and once they find out they are going to start questioning the ideas – a 99 cent track that I could only have at 128k, only on four different devices, and not at the same time but individually? They are going to say “Well, wait a second a CD is a better value. I got the content at 320k, I can rip it and I can move it to any device”.

I have a feeling the labels will start questioning the value or the cost for certain DRM content. For example, if you want a 328k piece of content with unlimited DRM it is going to cost you three bucks, or maybe making it 99 cents with DRM. The labels have talked about this. I think the labels are going to have to change once the consumers are more educated.

I relish that day because what is going on is horrible, especially when you know the true value of that piece of media that you downloaded. It is extremely limited in its mobility because of its DRM. It pisses me off.

Ken Radio

Ken is chairing ‘Understanding the Range of Platforms – A Multitude of Destinations’ session between 14:00 and 15:30 at the IBC conference on Sunday, 12th September in Amsterdam. Register for IBC here

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?