The Net pusher


Jai Singh Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jai Singh is the founding editor and editor in chief of CNET News.com.
Jai Singh
8 min read
CNET News.com Newsmakers
December 24, 1996, Chris Hassett
The Net pusher
By Jai Singh and Nick Wingfield
Staff Writers, CNET NEWS.COM

Mention the name Chris Hassett and the odds of getting a blank look are pretty high.

The uninitiated can be forgiven, though. A search in HotBot for the low-profile Chairman and CEO--of what could arguably be one of the hottest companies of the year--turns up only 98 results. Contrast this with 10,184 references to Netscape VP Marc Andreessen.

But utter the word PointCast and faces light up with recognition. People not only have heard of it, but over 1.5 million have signed up to use the PointCast SmartScreen software and information service--the PointCast Network--since its launch in February.

Now Web publishers and developers alike are rushing to embrace the "push" paradigm. Love it or hate it, PointCast has made it fashionable in some circles to compare the Web to the dreaded boob tube. And it's all because of Hassett.

That PointCast is grabbing more headlines than he is personally is just fine with the 34-year-old Hassett. The self-possessed engineer (and interestingly, licensed ham radio operator) knows the impact his vision and product have had.

The number of people and companies who suddenly want to be Hassett's "friend" is a testament to his industry clout. Virtually everyone wants a piece of PointCast: from Bill Gates himself to the hundreds of small content providers who dream of their own PointCast channel.

If Marc Andressen made the difference in 1995, then it's Chris Hassett?and his vision of broadcasting as a way to deliver information--that made the difference in 1996. For this we name him our Newsmaker of the Year.

NEWS.COM caught up with Hassett at PointCast's Santa Clara, California, offices.

When you were coming up with the notion of Internet broadcasting was there a real distinction in your mind between delivering ads and delivering editorial content?
Hassett: I think a publisher looks at us as a very effective way of deploying his content and his brand. It's fundamentally different than deploying through the Web, which is much more like print where you deploy the entire context of a news story.

But the problem you have now is how do you get somebody to know that A news story is there? PointCast summaries of articles or breaking news comes out on the screen, and to get the full text of what's going on there--once it's got your attention--you click on it and it goes back to the Web in a browser mode. So PointCast is integrating side-by-side with World Wide Web browsing. I think publishers look at it differently and they absolutely value it as a way of deploying their content; selling advertising, because we're all in business to make money here; and augmenting and driving traffic back to their World Wide Web sites. It's very complimentary.

NEXT: PointCast vs. the Web


Age: 34

Broadcasting experience: Licensed ham radio operator

To wind down: Races cars

To get around: Rides Triumph motorcycle

CNET News.com Newsmakers
December 24, 1996, Chris Hassett
PointCast vs. the Web

Does the TV metaphor really apply to PointCast since, with TV programming, one just sits passively and watches the show, but with PointCast one has to go out on his own to visit Web sites?
Anytime a new medium evolves you try and map it back to as many of the tangibles you can identify in traditional media. PointCast, as a new medium, is definitely not exactly like television. People rarely watch their computer screen for 30 minutes. But the computer screen is in front of you in your office for at least two hours a day when you're not using it. So it can turn into something that's running and delivering you content for two hours. And even if your attention isn't 100 percent on it, your brain and your eyes are picking up bits and pieces. At some point you'll find out something critical, your subconscious just draws to it, and you click on it. That's fundamentally different than TV. I don't think that PointCast and the World Wide Web is going to replace TV.

If one of PointCast's chief roles is to aggregate content, do you ever see the company backing away from creating software?
I think technology companies like Microsoft and to some extent Netscape are seeing it as a huge opportunity, and are developing technologies that are pieces of our system. A great example is Microsoft is now developing the Active Desktop, which is their next generation of the front end to Windows.

Our position is not to try to compete with Microsoft's technology group, nor is it to compete with Netscape's technology group. I think they've got great technologists. Our position is, when a leader like a Netscape or a Microsoft builds a standardized component, we take that in and begin to use it. And our engineering then begins to invest in what the next leading-edge needed component is to make the broadcast network even more compelling for its viewers.

NEXT: Lunch-meat for Microsoft?


CNET News.com Newsmakers
December 24, 1996, Chris Hassett
Lunch-meat for Microsoft?

So if you don't expect to compete with Microsoft on the technology front, do you think they will end up competing with you on the content aggregation front? MSN is just an aggregation of content.
Today, Microsoft is very consumer-focused and we have two-thirds of our [customers] in corporate America. You'll see that a lot of our content is focused on delivering on the needs of companies, employees of companies. So in that sense I think we're not. Do I think it will always be that way? I think Microsoft is an aggressive company and a fiercely competitive company and they want to expand their business. So I'm sure the MSN side of their business will probably begin to overlap with what we do.

Do you really welcome Microsoft to come and compete against you?
We welcome them because they're going to anyway! So you might as well welcome them.

Are you worried that we'll end up needing too many different TV sets in order to run all of the different Net broadcast systems like the Active Desktop, Constellation, and Marimba?
Our job at PointCast is to manage that problem directly. Users want the same thing on their desktops as their friends in a different company. They want consistency. But if you think about it NBC broadcasts over the airwaves and they also broadcast over cable. They don't broadcast over two cups connected by a string. But if a new technology does emerge, they might broadcast over it. So they are the network and they don't care about the specifics of the underlying infrastructure as long as it works and meets the needs of both themselves and the consumers that watch the network.

[Netscape and Microsoft] are going to dictate the platforms from which we start. That's like Sony with Beta vs. VHS. I'm not sure that Blockbuster cared much about who won. They just wished that one would so they didn't have to publish them both and bear the costs. As VHS won, they just used that standard. Blockbuster never took the position of "We're going to be the standard-setter for videotape formats." That's where PointCast is.

What if Microsoft makes you an offer for PointCast?
We have no intention of selling the company. Our mission is to build a huge broadcast network. Our company is doing great. We've got a lot of capital in the bank. We've got great partners. We've got a great team and a great set of employees, and we're growing. I think that's what you'll see throughout 1997.

NEXT: Channel police


CNET News.com Newsmakers
December 24, 1996, Chris Hassett
Channel police

If we have a thousand PointCast channels are you going to have to find some other solution to cut through the din of information?
I don't think PointCast will ever have a thousand channels. I remember a few years back when they said cable was going to have 500 channels. We'll never have that. There's no need for us to get content that is meaningful to only .5 percent of the demographic that views the network.

If PointCast is like TV, how are you going to reconcile the fact that employers don't let their employees bring personal TV sets in?
I think you have to segment the markets. Different content goes home, different content goes to the office. You have to remember something: that people who work in the office go home. You are addressing the same person, but you want to address them differently based on the venue. I think you need to be sensitive to the fact that you can't take the corporate space and make it so dry that people aren't interested in the programming. Just like you can't take the consumer space and make it so flamboyant that the person who was at work who wants to track some industries at home can't. In the corporate space you'll find that throughout the first and second quarter of '97 PointCast is bringing content that is enormously valuable to you as an employee. Your company can broadcast 401K benefits right to your screen, company messages, those kinds of things. We'll make sure that the programming is appropriate for the demographic, just like broadcast television did.

Looking down the road, it appears a user is going to be constantly bombarded with information in the push world. How?s that going to pan out?
I think that's the concept of networks. The network is really trying to make meaningful the enormous amount of content that's out there and deciding what the best programming is, bringing it to the viewer, so that when you tune into NBC you pretty much know that there's going to be something there that's meaningful to you. I think there's a role for the same kind of concept in broadcast or push on the Web--there's going to be companies-- (and PointCast intends to be one of the dominant ones) that are operating a network that goes out and partners and establishes relationships with the best content in the industry.

So when there's thousands of different choices available next year or the year after, people will be drawn to PointCast because they know it has got the aggregated, consistent representation of content that's meaningful. So I agree, there has to be some order, otherwise it becomes daunting and the whole foundation of our company doesn't exist. You have to save people time, you have to deliver value. And the more confusing it gets I think the less people will be drawn to the new medium.