Broadband IPO Attack


We've all been assaulted this year by hordes of newcomers to the broadband space. In our case, that means being bombed with often suspect, half-baked e-mails and phone calls from the institutional-investor relations folks at these new, start-up companies who claim they have the soup-to-nuts solution for building and maintaining cable's broadband infrastructure.

Like many of you, we find ourselves spending countless man-hours exploring the merits of new technology and content applications. It's a heady but also frustrating time, as we tend to our core businesses while looking to the revenue streams of the future.

Some of those new companies have some real answers. But many of the hundreds of new companies that call on us, and you, turn out to be pure vaporware.

Here's what is really going on with many of the newcomers. I recently got the lay of the land, first hand, from an old pal who now works for a streaming-media company. This enterprise may or may not survive the inevitable shakeout in that area.

She told me that she too must issue inane-but-frequent statements of progress, so her company's investors stay the course and don't get spooked. She doesn't like what she's doing-pestering everyone with minutia-but that's her job.

We've seen many a NASDAQ-listed company fail or teeter, and it's likely that more will tank in this witching month of October. As a result, investor-relations executives at the new firms are trying to keep the hype alive, and keep investors'spirits up, by getting ink and buzz in any magazine that will write them up.

I don't blame them. But I wish they were more targeted and intelligent about their approaches. Maybe they would get interest from us if they were.

One particular e-mail really got my goat. The message had the header, "New company announces broadband infrastructure to the MTU," (which means, I guess, multimedia services to businesses in multi-tenant facilities)

The e-mail also came marked "high importance." I'm not going to embarrass this company by mentioning its name, but when I wrote back, the contact who had sent that detail-free

release said: "We actually don't have any customers yet, but the product will provide a lot of multimedia opportunities to the MTUs it services, and is something we think will be of real interest to your readers."

Well, I don't, and I'm not going to waste your time like mine just was. But I had to check it out.

So delete, move on. Others we take more seriously. Another e-mail came with the header, "IDT announces

creation of TV.TV."

It was another braggadocio's missive, which claimed TV.TV was a platform-neutral service that would deliver VHS-quality entertainment services to anyone. The usual blah, blah, blah, but with a twist.

It actually ended with the standard, mandatory lingo from the Securities Act of 1934, which reads that this statement refers to "our forward-looking plans, which are subject to risk."

Normally I would have deleted this one, too. But we checked it out, because at least the sender was listed on the NASDAQ.

Guess what? Not only did IDT neglect to mention what it really did in its e-mail, but it also left out its deal with AT & T Broadband and the fact that Liberty Media Group-a known player-is an investor. Not that that means much, given Liberty's dismal recent investment track record in the interactive space.

But why didn't IDT say all of that in the first place? Did they assume that we all were tracking their movements like the second coming?

And that's the point. They all assume that because they inform their investors, the story is out there. We do want to get to know these new companies, as much as they seem to want to get into our space. But it's going to take a heck of a lot more than investor hand-holding to get down to the real work of selling themselves to cable operators.

These new companies have got to do a better job of spelling our their products and benefits to you, the end-users, and that's simply not happening in this sea of investor-speak.

Fortunately, some of the newcomers are doing it right. In another e-mail titled, "Concurrent [Computer Corp.] to demonstrate industry leading end-to-end VOD solution at the Western Cable Show," an outfit actually explained its business proposition and track record. It named cable systems and markets where its products were in trial.

Personally, I don't know that company from Noah, but now I'm going to make it my business to learn more. And when the next wave of e-mail from pompous start-up companies arrives, the delete key will take care of them.