Category: Other cool stuff

HTML5 DRM is Here

Netflix-logoBack in October I wrote a guest post on VentureBeat that argued in favor of an HTML5 DRM solution, something that will unlock premium video from the device and allow us to watch all the likes of Game of Thrones anytime, anyplace online. Well, that day may finally be upon us. Netflix has been working to make HTML5 DRM a reality and has today announced HTML5 playback support for Samsung ARM Chromebooks. This is big.

From the Netflix blog:

“Over the last year, we’ve been collaborating with other industry leaders on three W3C initiatives which are positioned to solve this problem of playing premium video content directly in the browser without the need for browser plugins such as Silverlight. We call these, collectively, the “HTML5 Premium Video Extensions”.

You can read the post for detailed descriptions of what these extensions are, but here is a summary:

Media Source Extensions (MSE): Enables Netflix to serve content from the best content delivery network at the time, include failover, and manipulate how content is streamed based on available bandwidth. In English it means serving a video stream the most optimal way to ensure its fast and consistent.

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME): Here’s where it gets interesting. This extension enables Netflix to “control playback of protected content”, enabling shows that studios were afraid to stream on the web with Flash or Silverlight (dead and dying respectively) to now be distributed on the web and not only in native apps. The most interesting aspect here is that the extensions specification specifies “how the DRM license challenge/response is handled, both in ways that are independent of any particular DRM” meaning support for a variety of DRM systems in the browser, not locked to any one provider.

Web Cryptography API (WebCrypto): This is the layer that makes sure data travelling back/forth between the browser and Netflix’s servers stays protected and secure. Netflix notes, “this is required to protect user data from inspection and tampering, and allows us to provide our subscription video service on the web.”.

Taken as the sum of their parts it means:  Serving video effectively, respecting digital rights required/enforced by studios, and maintaining security in transmission.

What it all comes down to: We can soon look forward to watching the shows we know and love; premium content like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and blockbuster movies through any web browser. No more being tied to a device that has downloaded plugins or apps. It’s ironic to say that the advent of a system that restricts playback based on rights is enabling content freedom but in my view that is the case. Only the truly delusional think that HBO, AMC, and Hollywood studios are going to hand over the content to be shared without any economic benefit (like requiring a subscription or download payment). If they did they’d go out of business fast.

To date, in order to distribute their content along with associated rules on playback, sharing, etc. networks and studios needed native mobile apps on phones and tablets. As TechCrunch correctly points out,

“Netflix was able to work with Google to get its videos working on those Chromebooks, thanks to a proprietary Netflix-developed PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API) plug-in which takes the place of the WebCrypto extension. But once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser, Netflix should be able to extend its support of HTML5 to Windows and Mac PCs without the need for Silverlight.”

Once WebCrypto is available through the Chrome browser…that’s the key. Once this API is baked into Chrome, which is in Google’s best interest, it will get baked into competing browsers and usher in the reality of premium content distributed on the web. We’re not there yet but its closer than ever and like I said in that VentureBeat post, it’s inevitable.

Silicon Country: Everything You Need to Know About Canada’s New Start-Up Visa

go-canadaToday is one of those days that I’m more proud than usual to be Canadian. We may one day look back at something that happened today as truly historic because of the impact it may have on Canada, the U.S., and the technology world in general. Today, Canada launched the Start-Up Visa program.

“Canada is open for business to the world’s start-up entrepreneurs. Innovation and entrepreneurship are essential drivers of the Canadian economy. That is why we are actively recruiting foreign entrepreneurs – those who can build companies here in Canada that will create new jobs, spur economic growth and compete on a global scale – with our new start-up visa.” – Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney

It’s a pilot program with an initial allotment of 2, 750 visas where the focus is on quality of applicants. Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) and Canadian National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) are initial partners in the program helping to vet investors, mentors, etc., overall helping Citizenship & Immigration Canada set on the goal to first establish a track record for success, and then likely broaden the number of visas over time. That’s exactly the right thing to do.

In a nutshell, the Start-Up Visa Program requires that:

1. You’re not Canadian and have a great idea or business

2. You have significant funding from a designated Canadian Angel Investor (min $75,000 investment) or Venture Capital organization (min $200,000 investment). List below.

3. You have Intermediate English or French language proficiency (Canadian Language Benchmark 5)

4. You have at least one year at a post-secondary institution

What do you get if selected?

How about something that people hope, pray, and wait for…Permanent Residence Status in one of the best places to live in the world…Canada! If you’re more familiar with the U.S. system that’s like getting a green card. We’re not talking a work visa here, we’re talking about permanent status and a fast track to citizenship. That shows some serious focus and recognition of how entrepreneurs are the bedrock of a strong economy. No, this is not an April Fool’s joke.

What should also be recognized is how material an impact this may have on the start-up ecosystem in the U.S. It’s well-known how difficult it is for tech companies to hire foreign nationals, the messy bickering about HB-1 visas and proposed reforms stuck in Congress. It’s great to see Canada acting on what is clearly a need and an opportunity. 2012 was by most accounts one of the most active years for venture capital in Canada in quite some time and co-investing has also picked up. Just think, if Canada is now to become the go-to place to start your tech dreams then it’s also a gateway to the start-up communities and investors in Silicon Valley, New York, and elsewhere south of the border. You can easily see a lot more co-vesting happening, plus partnerships, acquisitions, and generally even closer bonds than exist today. That’s a good thing for everyone, especially entrepreneurs.

According to TechVibes, the designated VCs and Angel groups selected to take part in the program include the top of the investment food chain in Canada:

  • OMERS Ventures
  • BDC Venture Capital
  • iNovia Capital
  • Rho Canada Ventures
  • Version One Ventures and others.
  • Angel One Network, Inc.
  • First Angel Network Association
  • Golden Triangle Angel Network

There’s a limited number of visas and competition will be fierce for such a grand prize. If you meet the criteria, talk to your investor and get your applications in today!

Facebook’s Re-Design: 10,000 Hours in Action

guerilla1I’ve never been much of a Facebooker and have, at times, been critical of past moves but today Facebook did something to be respected and applauded. Zuck & Co. just announced a brand new re-design of the heart of the platform, the news feed and also the next major area of the service, photos. The change will be rolling out the changes in a slow and controlled manner in order to measure response and effectiveness and whether these changes succeed or fail, time will tell but the cultural aspect of this move is what we need to understand. Facebook has over a Billion users  and it is re-vamping everything that matters. Why? Stay relevant, stay ahead, don’t get left behind.

How many companies can you think of that have the guts to reinvent themselves? Not the sugar-coating, lip service type re-invention but truly shake things up? Of that list, how many do it when they’re flying high not when they’re sliding or looking up from the gutter? I can’t think of one.

Necessity is a subjective term. Is it necessary for Facebook to change things up in order to make more money from advertising or keep users that are flocking to more visual products like Pinterest? Yes, definitely. At the other end of the spectrum, was it a necessity for Jack Welsh to bring Chrysler back from the gutter with the K-car. No one can argue otherwise. The difference it the amount of choice at the given time. Zuck and company could have waited until things were absolutely necessary but decided to do what winners do, keep battling even at the top of their game. That’s something to be admired and learned from.

In his amazing book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell notes that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to achieve mastery. Also, those that are masters achieved the status by continuing to practice and pursue even after reaching success. Michael Jordan was constantly the first one at the gym and the last one to leave. Michael Jordan!

Never forget that together with passion and belief, what makes you successful is hard work, intelligence, and risk no matter if you’re a start-up or an 800-pound gorilla. If you’re a company that has lost its ability to make real change then the change around you will spell your end. Don’t hold on to what used to work in the past. It’s in the past.

We need to applaud those that keep that start-up culture and fortitude even when they’re now the 800-pounder. The Great Gretzky once said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Congrats to Facebook for still taking shots.

Start-Ups, Hockey, and What We Can Learn from Kadri

kadri-tampaThis past week I escaped the cold and took a trip with some friends to Florida; we followed the Toronto Maple Leafs on their swing to Miami  then Tampa and cheered on our hometown boy Nazem Kadri. I’ve known Naz since he was two years old and his family is like my own so I know all that he’s been through to get where he’s at now. It got me thinking, his road is not that different from the journey of our star tech companies. Promise, adversity, success. It doesn’t come easy.

Naz was selected 7th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, a highly touted “offensive playmaker with hands of silk” is who the Leafs landed with their pick. Since he first put on skates he was a stand-out, the consummate all-star, and now a massive picture of him was hung at the Air Canada Centre even before training camp began. All the pressure was on. He was 19 and supposed to take on the world in the hotbed of hockey (for non-Hockey fans, the scrutiny and pressure playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like playing for the NY Yankees).  Success didn’t happen right away. Many believed he should have been playing in the NHL day one (myself included) but instead he spent 2009-2012 mostly with the Toronto Marlies, the Leaf’s development team, with only limited NHL time. He got stronger, got smarter, matured, and dealt with a massive amount of adversity.

In our industry we read, hear, and see young founders and companies touted as the next big thing all the time. They capture our attention and become mainstream seemingly overnight. How many aspiring entrepreneurs, who work to emulate that success take the time to understand and appreciate the back story of the companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Apple? None of these companies hit it big day one, their success was years in the making and born of hard work. What we should put more emphasis on is the road to prosperity so that aspiring entrepreneurs can get a realistic picture of what to expect and how even the mighty were once the wanting. Twitter was born as a project inside a struggling company named Odeo. LinkedIn was founded in 1999 and took ten years to hit it big. Apple’s near bankruptcy is well documented and it was only until the iPod then the iPhone that the success story was born.

In Nazem’s case he kept his head down, stayed respectful, and worked hard to keep developing. Just like a start-up staying focused on the goal and working to make it happen. He changed some aspects of his game and got better; like when companies need to make a pivot. He heard all the pump and all the dump from the media in a hotbed of his industry (Toronto sports radio = Silicon Valley blogosphere).

Now, it’s all paying off. He’s not only playing for the Leafs, he’s leading the team in points. He has earned his success and he’s just getting started. He’s still only 22 years old.

To succeed you need to believe, work hard, and fight like hell. It doesn’t matter what you do, success doesn’t come easy. It all comes down to understanding that it’s not easy and having the fight in you to keep going to make it happen. Then, if/when things are going your way, to understand that you need to keep fighting to stay on top.

Naz has fight. He knows what it takes to succeed and he’s willing to take on anyone no matter how crazy it seems. Below is a video from the Tampa game we watched. Naz is the playmaker on the team not the fighter (6′ 0″ feet, 180 lbs) but check out the nasty cross check he takes to the back (at 0:03) from the biggest player on the other team (6′ 6″ and 230 lbs).

Naz, I’d rather see you using those hands to put pucks in the back of the net (see second video) and let the big boys throw the punches but like you said “you had to do what you had to do”. Proud of you buddy. Keep swinging.



Hands of silk…