Saturday, February 17, 2007

Before there was YouTube, Sony's Screenblast.com

Right about when I started working for Sony, I found an intriguing website called screenblast.com. Sony had just purchased a music and video software tool company called Sonic Foundry, creators of a program dear to my heart, ACID. I remember when an office building (called "Smith" for some reason) next to us over at Sony Pictures Imageworks was being cleared out (around 2004) to make room for more of us, but it had formerly housed folks at Sony Pictures Digital including screenblast.com. Indeed, all that's left is a Screenblast poster hanging inconspicuously as one enters the building past the security guard.

The vision (back when Sony had such a thing) was just slightly ahead of its time: sell near-professional level tools at a cheap price for making videos and then encourage creators to upload them for free to a website for distribution. Sounds like a great idea, no?

Unfortunately, it didn't take off. The software business aspect already had stiff competition. Apple acquired Final Cut Pro and Logic, and with its great brand was able to make these de-facto standards in content creation tools. (They in turn helped sell Macintosh computers because they were exclusively available on them, not Windows PCs). In contrast, ACID and Vegas, while great, are still not nearly as popular.

I never used the Screenblast site itself, but I don't recall it having a particularly easy to use interface. If anyone out there tried it, I'd love to know how it compares to YouTube. (Their interface beat out even Google's own service, enough to where Google decided just to purchase the whole company.)

Meanwhile, right around that time was Sony's mind transplant. Sony acquired BMG Music, and found itself confused -- are we a hardware/software company enabling people to become creators in their own right? Or are we concerned about piracy and locking down our Intellectual Property? Much of the original brilliance at the top left in a huff as Sir Howard Stringer (the hired Axe-man) took over. Screenblast was one of the casualties, perceived as a waste of money, presumably.

But whether or not screenblast's web interface was good, there was no "killer app." No content went viral from it, as did the Saturday Night Live sketch "Lazy Sunday" in 2005 which made YouTube a household word. Somehow I doubt it offered the ability to show videos in blogs, like YouTube.

Poor Sony. It's a bit late in the game, but they bought up Grouper last year. Ever heard of them? Hmm, not so much.

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posted by Brian at 6:05 PM 0 comments links to this post