Mike Homer, a man not short on ambition, may believe his new company has crafted the next biggest Internet application since the Web browser. But to make it fly, the former Netscape Communications executive will have the monstrously difficult task of getting a critical mass of content producers and end users to buy into his proprietary scheme.
Kontiki, the 9-month-old startup Homer formed with other AOL and Netscape veterans, hopes to do for multimedia content what Netscapes graphical browser did for text and images. Kontiki promises to give content owners a way to securely and cheaply deliver high-quality audio and video over the Internet — at a cost, the company claims, of roughly one-third the cost of todays content delivery networks.
"We believe weve devised some clever software that can route around bottlenecks and at the same time position content closer to end users," said Homer, Kontikis CEO.
In a nutshell, Kontiki can be described as a content-owner-friendly version of Napster: Kontiki takes advantage of the efficiencies of peer-to-peer content distribution among users PCs at the edge of the network, while leaving content owners in complete control over what gets downloaded. The Kontiki Delivery Network includes a 1-megabyte piece of client software that manages file transfers and provides a user interface that can play multiple media formats.
Homer said Kontiki will charge customers a $10,000 activation fee, and a minimum fee of $6,000 per month to manage and deliver 500,000 megabytes of data. Target customers include media companies such as AOL Time Warner and Sony, as well as enterprise customers that want to distribute high-bandwidth content to employees or partners.
But a pack of other startups, including OpenCola and the Intel-backed Uprizer, are also attempting to sell content companies on their own "legal Napster" technologies. What makes Kontiki different? "We have a very, very experienced team thats done it many times before," Homer said.
Meanwhile, Kontiki will also face competition from established content delivery networks, such as Akamai Technologies and Digital Island. Akamai has direct control over its 11,200 content distribution servers — something the Kontiki network, which is largely comprised of users PCs, will never have, said Kieran Taylor, Akamais director of product management. "Our network isnt dependent on teen-agers desktops," he said.
Kontiki plans to launch its software in a public beta test in September. To date, the company has raised $18 million in funding from investors that include The Barksdale Group, headed by Jim Barksdale, former president and CEO of Netscape.
Kontikis founders named the company after the raft that anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to French Polynesia in 1947. While Heyerdahl survived his journey, there is no guarantee Homers crew will stay afloat.