Interactive TV by the sea

Jun 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Jim Stroud has traveled an improbable journey to stardom.
The former literature major at West Texas State University who once dreamed of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter is now living a story that no author could have scripted.
Mr. Stroud, an analyst at The Carmel Group, a television research and consulting boutique, has been anointed the interactive television industry’s talking head. Since joining The Carmel Group a couple of years ago, the soft-spoken 31-year-old has been quoted in more than 40 publications.
After completing a couple of prosaic stints as a technology marketing manager, Mr. Stroud allowed his passion for entertainment to be rekindled by immersing himself in his research on the convergence of technology and show business.
From The Carmel Group’s headquarters in the tranquil Northern California outpost of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Mr. Stroud is able to ponder the interactive television industry’s future at a site far removed from the California beach towns farther down the coast that fuel Hollywood’s fire. A Renaissance man who reads up on topics as disparate as quantum physics and baseball history, he enjoys hiking around the majestic Big Sur coastal cliffs. During his climbs, he is often struck by new business ideas that can produce revenue for Carmel Group clients.
“When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you think, `I’d love to check my e-mail,”’ Mr. Stroud said, recalling how he first grew aware of the need to study wireless communications technologies.
Despite the growing pains the interactive entertainment industry has experienced, he remains confident the market is primed to blossom. “The convergence of entertainment and technology is happening,” he said. “There have been bumps in the road. But at the end of the day, convergence is coming. The biggest challenge the industry faces is educating the consumer and figuring out, does the consumer pay for it or do you subsidize it?”
Mr. Stroud sees cable and satellite operators as the leaders of the convergence revolution. “The cable and DBS guys are ahead of the traditional broadcasters,” he said, “because [cable and satellite] are the vehicles to get interactivity into the home.”
Still, Mr. Stroud believes more interactive forays by broadcast networks will soon materialize. “Every one of the major networks has an eye on how technology can change their business,” he said.
At a time when the economy appears to be cooling down, Mr. Stroud believes The Carmel Group is poised to capitalize on market uncertainties. “I think the need for good information and good research in a downturn is more critical than it is in the good times,” he noted.
Indeed, the television think tank put its money where its mouth is in January when it launched Satellite Radio Investor, a new publication that will supplement the company’s two other journals of emerging media-Convergence Investor and DBS Investor.
Mr. Stroud’s fellow technology analysts have come under fire in recent months as Merrill Lynch’s Henry Blodget and Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker overestimated the financial growth of numerous Internet companies. Some industry participants have cited the bullish projections issued by these analysts as proof that the pundits act as puppets of the investment banking firms, which both employ the researchers and profit from the initial public offerings of companies whose stock prices can be impacted by their analysts’ reports.
Potential conflicts of interest can be a stumbling block for industry analysts, Mr. Stroud acknowledged. The Carmel Group, like the Wall Street financial institutions, advises clients while often delivering information about those same clients or their competitors in published research reports. “We do run into a little bit of conflict of interest,” Mr. Stroud conceded. However, the consultancy discloses its client relationships when such companies are mentioned in its research reports, he said.