Dot-tv gets a second chance at life
Back in 2000, the video-specific domain name didn't catch on, but now the time is right for a Web explosion, says Fortune's Adam Lashinsky.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- What makes new media so damn entertaining is that yesterday's heroes all too often become today's goats. Yahoo (Charts) and eBay (Charts) could do no wrong two years ago. Today, not so much.
The flip-side is true as well. Social networking sites were the height of stupidity in the last blink of an eye. Today, if you don't get MySpace, LinkedIn and the like, well, you just don't get it.
The Web industry's latest topsy-turvy move revolves around dot-tv, a beaten down idea that's about to get a shot at rebirth.
Dot-tv last appeared on Webby radar screens as the domain name standard that the indefatigable idea man, Bill Gross, purchased at the height of the bubble from the island nation of Tuvalu. (Countries get their own suffixes, like .az and .il, and so on. Tuvalu's several thousand residents fared better by selling .tv to Gross's Idealab than by setting up their own email addresses.)
As was the case several times in his career, Gross was ahead of his time. A domain name devoted to videos wasn't that useful in 2000, and even less so when the music stopped. So he dished dot-tv to Verisign (Charts), which, among other things, runs the domain-parceling business Network Solutions.
Fast forward to 2006, the year of the online video generally and YouTube specifically, and suddenly dot-tv just might be worth something. Beginning Wednesday, Verisign will launch a new marketing program with a startup called Demand Media to leverage its dormant dot-tv property. (It actually runs the company it bought from Gross, .tv Corp.)
If you don't act fast, your opportunity to own "yournamehere.tv" might be gone in a flash. (That was just an illustrative example, by the way. Yournamehere.tv isn't available. Check www.tv to find out which names are.)
Turning on the bright lights of dot-tv is the brainchild of one of the Internet industry's fastest-rising hypesters, Richard Rosenblatt, the CEO of Demand, based in Santa Monica, Calif. Rosenblatt's the guy who ran Intermix, the previously - and currently - unknown company that housed a meteoric property called MySpace.com. Rosenblatt sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (Charts). in 2005 for hundreds of millions of dollars and promptly started looking for his next gig.
The dot-tv marketing agreement with Verisign is Rosenblatt's biggest splash to date. That is, if you don't count the $220 million he's raised from venture capitalists to buy a motley collection of Web sites and mold them into an insta-media company. (He's already spent $150 million of the loot on nine acquisitions.)
Why would anyone want a Web site ending in the .tv suffix? Allow Rosenblatt to explain. "It's analogous to the way people used Geocities before individual domain names became popular," he says. In other words, back in the day, folks would create pages at Geocities, a site Yahoo bought for gobs of money and has become largely irrelevant. Geocities was cool, though, before people and companies realized they could have their own sites.
That's what Rosenblatt sees happening to dot-tv domain names, which he hopes people will refer to instead as "channels." Demand plans not only to drop the price of most dot-tv suffixes to $20 per year from their current rate of $50, but also to forge a giveaway promotion with big consumer Web sites to stoke the dot-tv fire.
Verisign's plan with Demand is much bigger than encouraging common folk to start their own video channels. By promoting dot-tv, it hopes to draw attention to the tens of thousands of premium dot-tv addresses, er, channels that are available for purchase. If the concept takes off, there's real money to be had there. (Hard to believe, but cars.tv can be yours for just $100,000 per year! Want books.tv? Fork over $30,000 a year and you can have it.)
The dot-tv gimmick makes a lot of sense. Even the most popular videos at YouTube have an arbitrary and confusing Web address that no self-respecting bedroom filmmaker wants to tell her posse about. With one's very own dot-tv address, someone expressing himself at YouTube can tell his new fans how to find his entire collection of videos.
The good people of Tuvalu just might end up regretting their long-ago decision to sell.