A Whole New Lexicon: David Caruso Launches Online Video Company
The history of streaming media—indeed, the history of technology since the industrial revolution—is littered with innovators who never found the right business model for their technologies and skilled publicity manipulators who didn’t have the goods to deliver on their promises. So when a new company shows up on the scene promising to change not only online video but the entire entertainment industry as we know it, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order, especially when its founders say unabashedly that they’re hoping to achieve not just television-sized audience numbers but CSI-sized audience numbers.
Then again, when those founders include not only an original member of the Windows Media team but the lead actor from CSI: Miami and a 15-year veteran of both the streaming and telco industries, well, you also have to figure they just might be able to pull it off.
Meet Lexicon Digital Communications, a startup put together by Nils Lahr, co-founder of iBEAM and VXtreme (whose original codec specs would later become part of the MPEG-4 standard) and one of the architects of Microsoft’s Windows Media platform; David Caruso, who plays Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami and formerly starred in NYPD Blue; and Frank Nein, whose resume includes a long-term consulting stint with Bell Atlantic/Verizon and webcasting events with everyone from Titanic director James Cameron to Arnold Schwarzenegger, back when he was still best-known as a bodybuilder.
Caruso is no mere figurehead or celebrity spokesperson for the company; he’s the founder, chairman, and CEO, while Lahr is co-founder and CTO and Nein is SVP of business development and marketing communications for the trio, which Caruso calls "the Dreamworks of digital media."
And if you think that’s hubris, brace yourself. "David said to me, ‘MySpace has 230 million members. If CSI: Miami had only 230 million viewers over the course of a year, I’d be out of a job,’" says Lahr. "Our goal is a billion people per week in a truly new medium. Anything short of that is going to end up as a YouTube wannabe."
If that statement came from Nein or Caruso—marketer and actor, respectively—it’d be easy to dismiss. But when it comes from Lahr, whose achievements are as impressive as he is soft-spoken, it’s worth paying attention.
"My gut instinct has been incredibly accurate," says Lahr, who was senior engineer at CNNfn, one of the first broadcast organizations to deliver its content online on a regular basis. He is also the co-founder of Synergy Sports Technology, which offers a solution that quickly captures, edits, and logs video for several NBA teams. "I do have some trouble articulating the consumer perspective, though, and David is that mouthpiece. He’s not speculating; he knows his fan base. I’ve met a lot of high-powered Hollywood people who don’t really know why they’re popular and are just happy to collect their checks. But David knows, and he can articulate it."
"When we walked into NAB [the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas] this year, Nils turned to me and said, ‘Streaming is back,’" says Nein. But Lexicon Digital hopes to use streaming to enable levels of interactivity unseen in online video’s current form.
Interactivity as the Foundation
With all the emphasis on computers in the CSI shows—creator and executive producer Anthony Zuiker makes regular visits to Microsoft and in turn gets to show off gadgets long before they come to the consumer market—it might seem like a natural for one of its biggest stars to take an interest in technology. But it’s not the technology itself that interests Caruso; it’s the desire to reach more people, which of course hopefully translates into more revenue.
Caruso said he was doing some promotional work in Japan and realized that people there were watching season 3, while the show was gearing up for its 7th season in the U.S. People in Pakistan might be watching season 2, while people in Australia might be watching season 4, he said, so why not look at ways to bridge the gaps among those different markets? "If we could organize the world of content and shrink it, imagine the monetization on all the different variations of content that we could pursue," he says. He began to think of ways to break up individual pieces of the CSI franchise, all the way down to the level of individual shots, and to give viewers across the globe access to that material to not just watch but interact with.