The last time the reseller channel heard from Nathan Schulhof was the early 1990s. That's when the California entrepreneur promised to revolutionize software distribution by packing titles onto encrypted CDs and sending them out to anyone interested in taking a Test Drive. Though a novel idea, the Test Drive never changed software reselling as expected. Eventually, Schulhof sold the company to R.R. Donnelley and looked around for something else to do. Like many, he focused on the Internet, where he found a fiancee and a new business, too.
Schulhof's latest venture has promise for the reseller channel, though much like the previous gambit, it's anything but a sure thing. While just four years old, his new company, audiohighway.com, is not yet a household word or a company known by many resellers. It develops software that enables users to take audio content from the Web and play it back on any number of audio devices.
A number of companies are already in the audio game, including broadcast.com. Those companies have created useful sites that bring together all sorts of audio content including news, entertainment and information. Truth be told, broadcast.com has a better-looking site with more content than audiohighway.com, but it lacks the portability element that may very well appeal to VARs and integrators. Here's why.
Today, sites such as broadcast.com provide content, mostly for free, to anyone with a standard audio player that can handle streaming media. These include RealNetworks Inc.'s RealAudio and Microsoft Corp.'s MediaPlayer. Audiohighway.com also plays content stored in those formats, but it goes one better. Thanks to the company's proprietary technology, audiohighway.com allows users to play not only streaming audio clips but also downloaded audio files. That could provide the channel with a platform for all sorts of new applications.
CMP Media Inc., the company that publishes VARBusiness, is one of the companies collaborating with audiohighway.com to make its content available to consumers who use audiohighway.com's technology. Audiohighway.com has already established similar relationships with a number of media organizations, including National Public Radio and even news.com, a CMP competitor.
The portability that audiohighway.com provides may indeed provide VARs a platform for building new applications. For example, imagine the possibilities for VARs that sell sales automation packages to companies with outbound sales forces. With audiohighway.com's proprietary AudioCast System, VARs could show their customers how to provide daily updates to salespeople in the field. Those individuals could download content to their PCs or audiohighway.com-compatible players for playback en route to sales meetings and customer visits.
Schulhof says that's only the tip of the iceberg. Already, professors at the University of Texas in Austin are using the technology to enable students to listen to lectures offline when they have a free moment.
Audiohighway.com's magic, Schulhof says, is that it liberates people from having to be connected to the Internet in order to hear updated content.
To help make his dream a reality, Schulhof is entering partnerships with as many third parties as he can find. Recently, for example, he struck a deal with Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc. to put audiohighway.com content onto Diamond Multimedia's MP3-compatible Rio PMP300 players. He has also struck deals with LiquidAudio and others. What his small company really needs, however, is a shot in the arm from Sony, Philips or some other electronics giant. That could ensure a brighter future, something Schulhof would obviously relish.
"It's always been my dream to be the chief executive of a NASDAQ-traded company that I helped create," he says. As of late December, he got his wish when his company completed its initial public offering. But like many things in his life, even the audiohighway.com IPO didn't go quite the way Schulhof planned. Instead of going out at $15 per share, his company's stock (AHW) went out at $6.50 per share.
It's a modest disappointment. But he's dealt with it before-and survived.++
-T.C. Doyle is a senior industry analyst with CMP Media Inc.'s Channel Information Services research and consulting business. He welcomes e-mail-friendly or otherwise-at email@example.com.