Published Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM
It's dawn in Denmark — and you're watching KTLA's local news on your laptop. Or it's dusk in Calcutta — and you're catching WPIX on your cell phone. It's not magic; it's Slingbox, a TV streaming device that allows anyone with a broadband connection and Internet-enabled computer or mobile device to remotely view whatever's on their cable box, satellite receiver or digital video recorder anywhere in the world, in real time. Welcome to the "place-shifting" vision of Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian '90.
Q: As a student, what were your nonacademic pursuits?
A: I played four years of water polo at UCLA. And, actually, my youngest brother [Adam Krikorian '97] is the head coach at UCLA for men's and women's water polo. He's won a ton [of titles]. We never won one.
Q: Did you expect to have a big impact in technology?
A: I always wanted to be a veterinarian or a marine biologist. But UC Davis, which is where you go if you want to be a vet, had a crappy water polo program. It was one of the things that swayed me to go to UCLA. It was as much the athletic program as it was the school. But it also set me off in a direction I am grateful for.
Q: Sports also played a role in the creation of the Slingbox, correct?
A: Yeah. Absolutely. Born and raised up here in the Bay Area, I loved the Giants, and [my brother, Jason, and I] were working together, summer 2002, and we wanted to watch our team play and we were just frustrated there wasn't any way to watch when we were on the road or sitting in the office. We went online and found some services that promised offers, but there were numerous blackouts. Stuff is coming in on our TV back home, and now we are spending time in front of other displays like our laptop and our phones; everything is connected via the Internet. There's got to be a way that we can connect back to our satellite receiver back home. Why do we have to be sitting on our couch? Why can't we be in the backyard on our laptop or watching on our cell phone? It shouldn't matter. Everything is connected.
Q: Why is "place-shifting" a logical evolution from the time-shifting of TiVo and DVRs?
A: People love television programming, which has never gone away, but they are spending more time in front of all these other displays and they're spending more time outside of the home. So the notion of place-shifting, the ability to watch and control your familiar family room TV experience but do so on any display that I have or walk up to, and do it in any location I have an Internet connection, is a very logical evolution. It is marrying people's familiar experiences with their digital lifestyle.
Q: How does it work?
A: You take this little box and you put it in your home and plug your TV signal into it — that could be basic cable, it could be TiVo, it could be DirecTV. It doesn't matter. And once you've done that, you leave the device — you never touch it again — and you load a piece of software onto your phone or your PC called the SlingPlayer and "Voila!," you are watching and controlling your familiar experience, right down to on the screen on a Mac or PC you will see a rendering of your remote control.
Q: Why did you give the code name "Lebowski" to the SlingStreaming technology?
A: One of the sayings in [the cult film] The Big Lebowski is "The Dude abides." So what really happens with the Slingbox stream is we are constantly detecting what type of device you are streaming to because a phone has different rendering capabilities than a PC, for example. We are also constantly looking — on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis — at what performance in terms of network connectivity and bandwidth it is seeing. As the tubes are expanding and contracting, we don't want them wreaking havoc on the video. But when you are talking about streaming over wireless, you have all these other dimensions — you might be in good coverage or not good coverage — and the capacity changes. What SlingStreamer Lebowski does is constantly detect that and adapt in real time. So just like The Dude abides, Lebowski SlingStream will abide by the connection and actually change the format of the stream all in real time, so quality level is going to go up and go down, basically abiding by what is possible at the time. The critical thing is it doesn't stop. It is smooth.
Q: How has your education benefited you in Silicon Valley?
A: It gave me some structure upon which to solve problems. One of the classes I really enjoyed was a mechanical engineering class, and we had to identify a problem we wanted to solve and go build a prototype. I wish I actually had "productized" this. The product I created was the SBG 5000 toilet seat — which stood for "smell be gone." What was the problem I was solving? The problem is that sh*t stinks. A colleague and I made a toilet seat that had an automatic sensor and when you sat on it, the seat had a vacuum with a motor running and an air filter, and it would suck out the air as you go.
A: Yeah. It was genius.
Q: Before starting Sling, you spent 15 years working in Silicon Valley. What have you learned about our relationships and habits regarding technology?
A: First off, if I could see technology just completely go away, I would probably root for that.
Q: Why would you root to get rid of technology?
A: At the end of the day, a lot of technology is abused. People start to lose sight of what is really important and spend more time in virtual worlds. Everyone always has said, 'Oh, computers or e-mail or whatever are going to make your life easier. It's going to give you more time to spend in leisure.' Who are we kidding? There is nothing farther from the truth. It just means you can work harder, harder and faster, faster.