Technology takes time

The development of new media seems to be driven by a faster-is-better mentality, but Caroline Beck, CEO of Mixed Signals Technology, makes clear that technology can go only so fast. More important, she believes, is that a little patience may not be a bad thing.

"The speed with which the financial markets responded was faster than any technology could develop over that same period of time," says Beck.

"Look at what happened to valuations of companies in the public market in the past three to four years," she adds. "They had wild growth that could never be sustained by any technology path because it can't go that fast."

Beck, who, as an account executive at Chiat/Day, was involved with Apple's launch of the Macintosh in 1984, believes in market-development time lines that seem to be realistic, as opposed to investors' demands on new companies.

"I joined Mixed Signals because I felt it was important to see this interactive television technology through to completion," she explains. "Any technology paradigm takes about 15 years to come to fruition. And if I consider that this started in 1990, it's about another five years before this really hits."

Beck's patient approach may seem a bit outdated. It also might be a buzz killer for the execs, venture capitalists and analysts who only a year ago were proclaiming that those who didn't move fast should get out of the way because money was going to be made.

"Launching the Macintosh was a very heady and exciting experience," she recalls. "We were breaking new ground, and we really believed that we were a part of a significant change to how people would do things on a daily basis and that we were going to change the world. And frankly, I think that was true.

"I wanted to work in technologies that were going to make people's lives better," she adds, "and I wanted to do it on a mass scale. I believed that going through the category of entertainment was going to do that."

In 1991, Beck went to Starsight Telecast, where she worked on an interactive program guide that was later purchased by Gemstar and became part of the company's core patent portfolio.

She also was able to reach the consumer through a device nearly every household today holds dear: the remote control.

"That was the first time that interactivity and television were said in the same breath," she explains.

The interactive programming guide led to another important realization: "For the most part, I don't think consumers want to know there is a PC inside their TV or any computational functions. They just want to pick up the remote and make it work."

Beck then went to Paris for a year, contemplating early retirement, but realized that, if she left the industry before interactive television happened, it would be like leaving the table in the middle of dinner.

So she returned to the U.S. and joined Sony's Game Show Network as COO. "It was the first and only network in the U.S. that had any amount of interactive programming," she notes. "It was crude interactive programming in that the only way for a return path was through a telephone. But it was the first place you could do that."

She left the Game Show Network to join Intertainer, a company looking to leverage broadband capacity for the delivery of on-demand entertainment. At the Game Show Network, she learned the value of interactivity for game shows, and, with Mixed Signals providing the interactive elements to programs such as Jeopardy
and Wheel of Fortune
, her next move, to Mixed Signals, was a natural one.

"I think we're fully two-thirds of the way there," she says about developing interactive television into a truly viable business. "All of the partners and companies Mixed Signals has done work with have proved that the technology works, and now focus turns to how to make money on it."