IPTV Continues to Unfold

Last week I spent some time at DealMaker Media’s latest “Under the Radar” parade of tech startups. It’s sort of an “American Idol” for entrepreneurs where a selected group of startups pitch their products to an audience of investors, industry giants, and, of course, press. The theme of last week’s event was Entertainment and Media.

In the midst of all the talk about monetization, metrics and the ever-present long tail, one company caught my attention, Fora.tv. Not because of the company’s technology, which is pleasantly unobtrusive and requires no plug-ins.

It’s Fora’s content that sets the company apart from the rest of the IPTV herd.

You see, Fora’s founder Brian Gruber thinks there just might be an audience out there for serious insight and information on demand. You could call it the thinking person’s YouTube, with offerings like New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt’s recent talk at the Commonwealth Club, “Iraq & Afghanistan: A Reporter’s Perspective” or Web 2.0 critic Andrew Keen speaking at Stacey’s Books on his book “The Cult of the Amateur.” All Fora’s content is professionally produced, further distinguishing Fora from YouTube and ktye.tv style offerings.

“We think there’s a deep frustration around the world with television news,” says Brian Gruber, Fora.tv CEO. “World leaders, cultural leaders, scholars, now they’re being aggregated in one place in a neighborhood they want to be in.”

Gruber is an expert on non-mainstream media. He launched C-SPAN II, led the marketing divisions of several cable TV companies, and is also the founder of the media consulting firm G/Media.

However, as enthusiastic as I was about Fora, the gurus and financiers on the evaluation panel — guys (and they were all guys, without exception) who might be expected to think ever-so-slightly outside the box — were dubious about the prospects of an IPTV channel without any Paris Hilton footage or skateboarding clips. It was clear that the mindset was no different from that of broadcast TV execs: aim for the lowest common denominator.

So enjoy it while you can. With guys like this writing the checks, it’s only a matter of time before IPTV is just like…TV.

Another offering that also focuses on professional content is Zattoo, which brings broadcast TV to your desktop or laptop through its peer-to-peer network. Zattoo lets you watch in a window — it doesn’t take over the computer — and no extra equipment is needed.

But you’re not going to be watching “Hardball” on the computer just yet. Right now Zattoo TV is available only in Europe. A mashup between Fora and Zattoo would make a lot of sense.

Back to the Internet video that everyone understands, Ustream.tv wants to usher in the age of live interactive video so you “take things beyond the watching experience to engaging the viewer,” according to investor Chris Yeh. You can watch the Pentagon Channel Live here. Or “I Saw Your Mom on the Internet.” Or patypegorin sitting in front of her computer for 25 minutes.

If you’re looking for another use for your game console after you tire of playing Grand Theft Auto, moowee.tv lets you watch Internet video (yes, those Paris videos) on your TV set via any browser-equipped game console like the Nintendo Wii.

Founded by former Netscapers, Multiverse aims to be the Netscape of virtual worlds with a platform that will drive down development cost and effort. The intended market isn’t just gaming, but also real-world applications like training and education. Driver training comes to my mind, perhaps because I have a 16- year old who just got a learner’s permit.

Postscript: DealMaker’s Under the Radar blogprovides informative overviews and insights about new technology and companies.