Had a nice chat with Michael Sprague, president of Wavexpress, about their TVTonic and TechTonic brands. If you scratch beneath the covers here a bit and consider the implications for subscriber-purchased Internet content, you'll see a model quite different from Google's and Apple's.
Indeed, this may become the Microsoft-preferred method for monetizing content via the Web. Thanks to the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip now common on business PCs, more than just a security subsystem is in play. Sure, the TPM adds hardware-based security for use of the disk, etc. But it also sets the stage for a content subscriber management platform, as Sprague explains.
So just like when you order from your cable TV provider, you could order from the web using the TPM and subscription management approach that Wavexpress is investing in. So, just like I may say, "I want my HBO," and the set-top box gets a signal to open that channel up to me on my TV, I may soon be able to do the equivalent on a PC connected to wide open web. Pay-per-View for the web. Yes. And no iTunes or AdWords.
Would this model work for consumers and for businesses? Yes. Let's say you're a content creator, and you make training or regulatory compliance educational content. Video or audio, let's say. Companies could order this up via the web and pay per seat to have this delivered to certain workers. Workers themselves could order training and educational -- or even news analysis -- content and pay for it from petty cash, or their subscriptions allowance that they no longer use for print trade publications.
So how does Microsoft fit in? These TPM chips will ship on consumer PCs (not just business ones) that have Vista. Vista also has within it the newest Windows Media Center. If you combine the Media Center function -- linking web content to the home television with a great interface for managing web content as if it were TV Guide on steroids -- with the subscriber management capabilities in the TPM chip, well, then you have paid, managed content over the web.
The content providers can go direct, and sell their actual content, while still making money on advertising, perhaps, in some way. Or maybe the content providers get paid upfront, and Microsoft and the Wavexpresses out there take the advertising. There are lots of mash-ups for the business model on this.
It may work well enough that the producers of high-end content will completely sidestep the cable, broadcast, and traditional media companies, and federate their content just through web subscriptions, directly alone, or through the big pipe that is Microsoft's Vista. As usual, volume talks. As a B2B content producer, it sure caught my attention.
Indeed, another interesting angle on this is for the business commerce side. As the controlled circulation trade publication business implodes (you saw that InformationWeek laid off some 15 editorial staffers?), what will be the equivalent on the web?
Controlled circulation means you define a qualified audience of likely buyers and sell the audience to advertisers. You get really high cost per thousand for these audiences, which have massive targeted collective buying power. On the web, however, you shoot for massive numbers of viewers, and hope for some click-throughs, or a really low cost per thousand.
But what if you employed a TPM-enabled content subscriber management platform? And you told the prospective audience that you'll get them really good content for free if they tell about themselves, and the chip enables management of that ID-to-subsciption relationship? You get controlled circulation for the web. That's an even better model than Google matching ads based on search criteria. By golly, it's an even better attention-to-intention model.
So the question is: Will this content subscriber management platform approach described here catch fire in the consumer space first, or the business space? Is it a B2C play or a B2B play? Will content providers emerge for high-volumes of consumers, or will B2B content providers go for highly targeted audiences and get paid a lot to define and reach them?