Blake Krikorian, the co-founder of Sling Media and a longtime fixture in Silicon Valley, died Wednesday at age 48.
His brother, Jason confirmed Krikorian's sudden passing on Facebook. According to Recode's Kara Swisher, he was "apparently struck by a heart attack while surfing in the San Francisco area."
Krikorian had recently served as the corporate vice president for Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, following the acquisition of his company, id8 Group R2 Studios, by Redmond in 2013.
But he was best known (to me and many others) as one of the visionary founders of Sling Media, which he co-founded with his brother Jason and Bhupen Shah. That company's Slingbox, first released in 2005, was the among the first handful of products to offer video "placeshifting" technology -- the ability to digitize the signal from your cable box and stream it to a PC or mobile device elsewhere in the home, or around the world.
Brian Jaquet, who served as Sling's director of corporate communications, recounted how the Krikorian brothers' desire to watch their beloved San Francisco Giants while they were traveling was the big idea behind the box. "They just wanted to watch the games from the road, and couldn't believe there wasn't a way to do that," said Jaquet.
Streaming video is now a ubiquitous service that has upended the entertainment industry as we know it. But Krikorian's hardware-based solution -- which did not require a monthly fee -- was arguably the major trailblazer in the field, offering live TV when and where you wanted it and besting corporate competitors like Sony's similar Location-Free TV. This was, after all, just a year after YouTube had launched, and two years before the first iPhone was released. Netflix was still mailing DVDs, its streaming service and the first Roku box still years away.
"That product, and the Sling company in general, laid the groundwork for everything [in the streaming world] that has come since. You really knew you were doing things that were pushing the needle," Jaquet said. "It was also probably the most fun work experience I've ever had."
Jeremy Toeman, Sling Media's original vice president of product management (and current VP of Product for CNET.com), called Krikorian's death an "unbelievable loss." Toeman remembers him as "one of the most impressive people I've ever worked with or for. His ability to see the forest, the trees, and everything in between was uncanny."
Krikorian went on to sell Sling to Dish Network in 2007 for $380 million, where the brand has gone on to form the basis of the company's streaming video service, Sling TV.
In addition to his experience at Sling and Microsoft, Krikorian was the very definition of a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and investor, serving on a variety of corporate and advisory boards, and directorships at companies including BitGravity, Andreessen Horowitz and Amazon. He was also the director of Clicker Media, which CBS (the parent company of CNET) acquired in 2011 and now forms the basis for TVGuide.com.
Blake Krikorian is survived by his wife, Cathy, and his two daughters.
Updated 3:43 p.m. PT with additional information.