Streaming television on demand hardly seems like a novel idea now that America has experienced the popularity of services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as the On Demand services offered by most major cable companies. However, in 2009, media start up ZillionTV intended to do things differently. Their idea was to partner with several major media companies in order to bring streaming media into American homes for a one time setup and equipment fee, but no monthly subscription cost. Considering the fact that the company managed to secure partnerships with such major networks as Disney/ABC, Fox, NBC, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros., it seemed like they were set up to have a fairly lucrative business model on their hands. After all, the cost of a monthly cable subscription is a high one.
Another part of the business model of ZillionTV that seemed like a surefire winner was the fact that users could choose to watch any of the available ad-driven programming at their discretion- not only that, but the advertising was designed to be highly intuitive and interactive, relying on the user to input their opinion of the media as well as what they liked and did not like in order for ZillionTV to get a good read on exactly what they should be trying to market to each consumer. The streaming service was also designed to come from dedicated servers which would ensure an extremely high and reliable quality of service, something that was much more difficult to come by in streaming media at the time.
Many companies placed a great deal of faith in the business model that ZillionTV set forth to produce. Their top name investors included multi billion dollar credit card conglomerate Visa, Sigma Designs, Concept Ventures, Sierra Ventures, Qwest and others. They aimed to provide their service through aggregated broadband service traveling through VOD servers provided by local ISPs. This worked in tandem for the broadband companies offering this service, as it allowed them to entice customers to upgrade to speedier internet packages in order to attain their maximum enjoyment of the features ZillionTV had to offer.
Unfortunately, the business plan that seemed so flawless to the creators of and investors in ZillionTV did not work out according to plan. Repeated release delays, the firing of approximately the third of the Sunnyvale, CA staff at ZillionTV and the replacement of the company CEO all lead to the release of the purported life changing technology being a complete and total dud. An investor at Qwest who threw 10 million dollars at ZillionTV was pushed out of the company, the company itself went bankrupt and a lot of people were left infuriated and disappointed. An obvious question remains- where did the folks at ZillionTV go wrong? They had a business plan that was novel for the time and place, the support of broadband internet companies, were backed by some of the most major networks in the world and even had multimillion dollar investors. Unfortunately, that is not always enough to save a company from going horribly awry.
The problem that truly plagued ZillionTV was not so much a failure of service as it was a failure to ever really get started. They were a company that had big dreams, but those dreams petered out as their struggle to release their exact business model failed repeatedly and resulted in multiple release date push backs. By the time the product actually made it into use and availability, some people had chalked it up to an inevitable failure, some were too annoyed with the seeming incompetence of the company to even attempt to use the service and others had seemingly forgotten about ZillionTV all together. When the company engaged in some massive layoffs toward the end of 2009, they told the American public all they really needed to know about what was going on over at ZillionTV- the company was floundering and on the brink of failure.
The major media sources that had signed on with the company to begin with had begun to feel skeptical about exactly what kind of revenue might be stripped from their company should they wind up actively participating in the service that ZillionTV wanted to offer. Major media companies generate a great deal of revenue through the sales of DVD and Blu-Ray products as well as the royalties that come from syndication. When media is being streamed on demand in a volume as great as ZillionTV had intended to produce, major networks came to realize that those huge sources of revenue would go from active moneymakers to dwindling memories of the past. Fortunately for those networks, before anything so drastic was able to happen, ZillionTV found themselves forced to file for bankruptcy.
ZillionTV made the mistake of making huge promises on which it could not deliver and making poor choices regarding management, employee layoffs and business practices. These decisions found the company embroiled in a variety of legal troubles that made it impossible for them to go on as they had initially intended to, and as such, the bankruptcy filing was made and the company was no more. Many consumers felt extremely dissatisfied and disenfranchised, some going as far as to say that they felt that they were victims of fraudulent business practices. Not only had ZillionTV completely run their idea and their company into the ground, but they had tarnished their name so much that it would be nearly impossible for them to ever be taken seriously as a company or a media provider ever again, the worst nightmare of any company whose main agenda is to provide a very specific service such as this one.
A great idea is, unfortunately, not enough to make a business succeed. The right kind of leadership and the right leadership abilities are an absolute must to take a business plan from a boardroom table to successful fruition. When ZillionTV started out, CEO Mitch Berman was in the pilot seat. Unfortunately, it was under his reign that the layoffs which made the cracks in the ZillionTV plan evident to both the company investors and the American public happened. He was responsible for the managerial and corporate missteps that lead the company down the road to ruin with no hope of return. In October of 2009, Mitch Berman was replaced with hew CEO Jack Lawrence, but in the eyes of the company, the public and the investors, the change was too little too late. The company was refusing to disclose important information both about themselves as an entity and about their services and products, leaving the public skeptical at best and dismissive at worst. By the end of that fateful year, the nails were already in the coffin for the once promising ideas and products that ZillionTV had hoped to market.
By 2011, when ZillionTV officially engaged in their bankruptcy filing and liquidated all of their assets, the name of both the product and former CEO Mitch Berman had been dragged through the mud quite thoroughly. The brilliant product idea that had caught the idea of so many had gone nearly completely to waste as the inexperienced CEO drove his way through over 40 million dollars worth of investor money in a matter of just 24 months. This extremely poor execution serves as a prime example of the necessity for competent, reliable, honest, responsible and functional leadership when a business plan with great potential, investor interest and corporate support is being brought to fruition. The major missteps of higher ups when it comes to involvement in major product plans such as these can completely destroy any hope of actually fulfilling the dream that was once had for a product that could have made billions of dollars and been incredibly successful.
There is no way to know how the face of streaming media and television would have changed had ZillionTV taken the world by storm and lived up to the potential that it had. There is a chance that it would be in every home, a household name on which Americans came to rely, but there is an equal chance that a similar but better service would have come along and bought it out or pulled the rug out from under it. The world of business is an extremely mercurial one and it requires that businesspeople, investors and corporations all be willing to do whatever is necessary to guarantee the success of a product. Unfortunately, this did not happen with ZillionTV, and we are left only with questions about what might have been.