Tech 2001 / The Truth Is Really Out There

1. The CEO as Voyeur
Two lesbians aren’t walking down the street – and they’re not walking into a bar either. Instead, “they’re just going at it in bed, with the shades up, and you can see everything,” says Tim Nye, founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Alltrue.com. Nye is in his second-floor corner office on Broadway near Astor Place, and he’s describing the view out his window on a recent night – there happen to be a couple of apartment buildings right across the street from Alltrue Networks headquarters. That night, the baby-faced, freckled 34-year-old Nye had the presence of mind to call some of his night-owl colleagues into his office to enjoy the show. But they didn’t get it on videotape, even though Alltrue is stocked with more than a dozen digital camcorders, not to mention state-of-the-art video-production and editing bays. The problem, you see, is that while two lesbians going at it would certainly qualify as sticky content – a real Internet traffic generator – there was no way to get signed release forms.

Still, the exhibitionist lesbians are useful as a metaphor for Tim Nye’s view of the world. In a Real World- Big Brother-Survivor universe – i.e., in the pop-cultural universe of the moment – everybody seems more or less willing to leave the shades up. “And in that building over there,” Nye continues, “there’s this guy who watches hard-core porn on his big-screen TV …”

2. Spielberg, Shpielberg
Depending on how you look at it, Tim Nye has either brilliant or abysmal timing. For roughly the past year, he’s been transforming his six-year-old, 42-person Silicon Alley company, Sunshine Amalgamedia (the onetime parent company of SonicNet, which is now part of the MTVi group), into a streaming-video “reality programming” company called Alltrue Networks. The cornerstone product of the company, the beautifully designed Alltrue.com Website – which will feature hundreds of “micromovies” of everything from extreme-sports clips and sidewalk pranks to celebrity interviews and bikini mud wrestling – launches this week not just in the midst of the continuing dot-com bear market but at an excruciatingly dark moment for streaming-video sites. The abrupt demise of downtown impresario Josh Harris’s six-year-old Pseudo.com late last month is, of course, only the latest in a string of high-profile streaming-video-site implosions: Pop.com, the L.A.-based start-up backed by DreamWorks SKG founders Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, hit the scrap heap in early September. And the dot-com jet set is still buzzing about the bacchanalian excesses of Santa Monica-based DEN.net, the online entertainment network that went belly-up last summer after burning through tens of millions.

Tim Nye insists he saw this all coming. Of Pseudo’s failure, he says, “Their heart was in the right place. They just didn’t understand what interactive content really meant.” Of DEN: “DEN pissed me off. It was run by a bunch of hustlers backed by people who were completely caught up in the glitz.” Of Pop: “There’s no way for streaming video to be profitable if your economic model, if your cost structure, involves going out and hiring Ron Howard to direct videos for you.”

The way Nye sees it, now that the lavishly funded Goliaths are down for the count, maybe a little Silicon Alley David has a chance? The market’s machete-like clearing of all that streaming-media tanglewood leaves more room for him to move. Besides, Nye’s got something a little different from Ron Howard videos in mind.

3. Short-Attention Span Theater, Part I
From the Alltrue.com on-site list of major video-content categories: Accident. Adrenaline. Blow It Up. Conspiracy. Crime. Fight. Freak. Manifesto. Pathology. Prank. Ritual. Scottish. Sex. Wild Kingdom.

4. Money Changes Everything
The first thing everybody automatically says about Tim Nye is, “His family has money.” The second thing is, “He’s all over the place.”

Nye owns up to both. Sort of. His maternal grandfather, legendary real-estate developer Harold Uris, “built a number of large office buildings in New York,” Nye says. Of the Urises he says, “They are very philanthropic and big art collectors.” Large. Very. Big. To put it another way, Forbes reported that “Nye’s family sold its real estate holdings in the 1970s for $400 million.” And when Nye attended Columbia (he got his M.B.A. in 1991), he regularly walked past buildings with the Uris family name engraved thereupon.

Nye’s father and mother are no slouches, either. Richard Nye is one half of Baker Nye Advisers, the Wall Street arbitrage boutique. Jane Bayard is in residential real estate at Ashforth Warburg. A child of privilege – Trinity, Middlesex, Cornell, Columbia – Nye describes his youthful self as “hugely cocky.” At the reception for his 1999 marriage to Sasha Cutter, an art-book-acquisitions editor for Monacelli Press, Bayard produced one of Tim’s summer-camp report cards. “According to this report card,” says Nye, “I would ask the reason for things, and when I would be told the reason, I would say, ‘That is stupid.’

“I wasn’t a naturally cool kid. Certainly as a teenager I wasn’t completely comfortable in social settings,” Nye recalls, adding that he was “definitely someone who wanted to fit in and was willing to go to rather elaborate lengths to do it” – like that bash in his parents’ apartment in seventh grade, for instance. The damage: “Broken heirloom chairs, a door off its hinges, a $100 bottle of wine had been drunk,” he says, laughing. “And I’d been building a scale model of the Acropolis – someone set that on fire.”

5. Short-Attention Span Theater, Part II
Titles and descriptions of some of the 500-plus 30-second-to-three-minute videos available for viewing at Alltrue:

“Fukkin’ Mudskippers”: “There’s something so erotic, so sexy about mud.”

“Slap & Tickle”: “How can you know pleasure without a little pain?”

“Porno With Pikachu”: “When in their natural habitat, Pokémon exhibit all sorts of lewd and antisocial behavior.”

6. Empire Builder Jr.
“My family had some connections,” Nye says, “and so I got into Cornell probably not based on my academics but more just because of my getting a nice push there. But that made me only more self-conscious.” Suddenly realizing he had to get his shit together, Nye says he thought to himself, “Okay, I’ve gotten in by using connections; I had better fucking deliver. Like, really take advantage of this.”

At Cornell, he figured out that the cool crowd – and his bliss – had something to do with artists and art, and he ended up majoring in art history, fully intending to embark on a career as a gallery owner. After college, in 1989, at the same time he was enrolled in the blue-chip Independent Curatorial Study Program at the Whitney Museum, he founded Thread Waxing Space on lower Broadway, an alternative gallery and performance venue he’s still involved with. The frenetic energy of the not-for-profit venture was undeniable: Sonic Youth and John Cale performed; Leonardo Drew and Paul Pagk exhibited.

In 1994, when he co-founded SonicNet – a site for alternative-music fanatics – the plot started to get really convoluted. In addition to SonicNet, Sunshine Interactive Networks (a.k.a. sin, the then- parent company of Nye’s rapidly expanding portfolio of content-generating properties) soon included Sunshine Filmworks, which produced low-budget independent films and music videos; Sunshine Digital, which famously snagged a seven-figure gaming-development deal with Microsoft; even Sunshine Theater: Nye had grand plans for opening a performance space-nightclub-recording studio in a dilapidated concert hall on East Houston Street. (After years in development hell, Nye ended up entering into a co-venture with the Landmark Theatres movie-theater chain, which is set to open an Angelika-like multiplex in the space early in 2001.)

By the mid-nineties, the barely 30 Nye – the eager-to-please junior-high misfit and scion of the Uris real-estate fortune – had successfully recast himself as a virtual empire builder.

7. The Really Big Picture
Accessing the content at Alltrue.com is waaaay sloooow unless you’re using your T1 at work or have DSL or Road Runner at home. Alltrue’s actually positioned for the broadband near future, for the audience of 50 million who will have high-speed connections within the next four years. “We want to go down in history,” says Tim Nye, “as the first Internet entertainment company that cracked the broadband code. We want to be the company that finally develops a mass audience around video content. And then we’ll position ourselves to become a cable channel analogous to Fox. Or maybe it’s sort of an edgier version of Discovery.”

8. The Republican
“I am, to my knowledge,” says John Morisano, Alltrue Networks co-CEO, “the only Republican in the company – and the only Republican, possibly, in Silicon Alley.” Morisano is in his spartan office right next door to Nye’s, in front of an eerily tidy steel-top desk watched over by two framed portraits of Ronald Reagan. (The first one he already had; the second was from Democratic colleagues intending to mock his devotion to the Gipper.) The Republican, says Nye, keeps this little multimedia-content company from coming unhinged. “It’s taken discipline, and John just slaps me back into it.”

Not that Morisano was exactly eager to sign up for the job of slapping discipline into Silicon Alley’s arty boy wonder. When he met Nye through a headhunter in 1995, “Tim greeted me in leather pants and had a roaring fire in his office. It was too like a scene – and I am not a scene guy. But Tim is a charismatic guy. We started talking, and, you know, the way I always tell why Tim and I have hit it off and done fairly well together over the last few years is that guys like me do much better in the world with guys like Tim, and vice versa. I am a creative guy, but I am not the idea guy. Tim very much likes to be the idea guy and would rather have somebody else figure out if (a) is it executable?, and (b) how to execute it.”

9. Is It Executable?
Press release: alltrue networks, inc., closes $8 million in first round of financing

July 25, 2000. Alltrue Networks, Inc., creator of the premier reality-based online video network, Alltrue.com, today announced that the company has secured $8 million in a first round of financing from Atlas Venture… . “The ingenuity of Alltrue’s platform and its management’s long-standing success in Silicon Alley captured our attention and secured our backing,” said David Perez of Atlas, which, since 1990, has invested in more than 200 companies and currently manages $1.6 billion in committed capital.

10. Slap & Tickle, Brought to You By Rolling Rock
Tim Nye on Alltrue.com sponsorship opportunities: “One of the things that we could do is we could create, like, a Rolling Rock channel with Rolling Rock selecting the videos that are associated with this brand. It could be our content stamped at the end with Rolling Rock.”

“Tim doesn’t really have everything worked out before he starts something,” says a colleague. “He just jumps in.”

11. Writing Business Plans Is Very, Very Tedious
Here’s the stark reality: After six years as an all-over-the-map cyber mogul, Nye has decided to bet his horse – indeed, his entire stable of horses – on the reality-based online-video business model. No more music videos, no more games for Microsoft, no more theaters, no more indie movies – even though, Nye and Morisano say, the sundry Sunshine divisions taken altogether finally had a bunch of break-even quarters over the past couple of years.

“I had been writing a tactical business plan since March 1999,” Morisano says. “It started out as an interactive television play, and then as we reevaluated the market, that didn’t really make sense, and the business plan kept evolving. And then one day, Tim just talked about the business plan as this – oh! – reality-based online broadcast platform. And I lost it. I said, ‘Tim, if you want to rewrite the business plan, feel free, but I am not rewriting it again.’

“This was probably August of last year, so we had four months’ or five months’ work put into the business plan – and I don’t know if you have ever written a business plan, but it is very, very tedious. It took him probably a week to convince me to rewrite the business plan. And then all of a sudden, all the meetings were about Alltrue.com.”

For Nye, Morisano’s arrival in 1995 was another Oh, shit, time to get serious moment – just like Cornell. “I have to be respectful that I’m not just becoming a dilettante to John,” says Nye. “He’s not going to come here till nine o’clock at night to just basically tread water. He wants his career path to be continuously moving forward, too. I have this vivid imagination and a diverse plane of interests, and I think Alltrue – well, let’s look at it as sort of nonfiction and fiction. We’re cutting out half of the creative direction that we can move in, but the other 50 percent is still pretty big.”

12. Cheap Bastard
Yeah, Tim Nye, art guy, can get worked up about the information architecture, the technological underpinnings, and the cybercommunity aspects of Alltrue. “We’ve got an amazing back end,” he says – and in fact, the site’s mission statement is big on that sort of thing: “Alltrue-exclusive features allow users to collect, save, and share compilations of their favorite videos, invent a community identity based on personal viewing preferences, and connect with like-minded users.”

And really, the tools at Alltrue that enable those kinds of connections – the built-in, on-site instant messaging, the drag-and-drop video palettes that let you create your own personal online library of favorite clips – are really impressive, and totally state-of-the-art. Alltrue’s digital team, lead by Chris Torella, has definitely kicked ass.

What it comes down to in the end, though: Alltrue is all about star power – a different kind of star power from what, say, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon bring to their new multi-platform broadband-ready video company, LivePlanet – but star power nonetheless. Seriously cool technological back end aside, Tim Nye is counting on having a few good old-fashioned breakout hits. Ones that can blow up big without costing him a lot of money.

13. Alltrue’s Killer App
Meet Frankie Tartaglia, Alltrue’s star-in-the-making. A few months ago – acting on a tip from a friend of a friend – this tousled-haired, stocky 23-year-old veteran of Manhattan and Philadelphia cable-access television walked into Alltrue’s offices and offered his services. Which, it turned out, happened to be hilarious, Allen Funt-ish Candid Camera-style sidewalk improv involving oblivious passers-by. When Nye and Alltrue editor-in-chief Dewey Thompson saw what Frankie could do – like his deadpan sidewalk shtick wherein he fearlessly runs up to people and says, “Oh, shit, I can’t believe it’s you! Oh, man, how have you been?!” (prompting wary, befuddled hugs from total strangers) – they put him on Alltrue’s payroll.

Today, just a couple of weeks before Alltrue’s launch, Frankie’s outside the Starbucks at Astor Place, posing as a security guard. Never mind Pop.com’s yearlong stillborn approach to producing video content. This is Internet Time, baby. Clips gleaned from this afternoon’s improv will be edited and posted at Alltrue within days. Frankie’s wearing jeans, a black security T-shirt, and a wireless headset that’s secretly broadcasting to a hidden digital video camera that Alltrue producer Adam Steinman is manning while senior producer Jennifer Cohen supervises the proceedings. Frankie approaches and stops a fat guy in a blue Yankees T-shirt who’s walking by.

Frankie firmly: You holding?

Fat guy: Holding?

Frankie: You packing?

Fat guy bewildered: Packing?

Frankie looking away, touching his earpiece, and speaking into the mouthpiece of his headset, ostensibly to some unseen security-command center: Okay, this ain’t the guy.

Pause.

Fat guy laughing: I’m carrying a piece of cheesecake.

Frankie: You’re carrying a piece of cheesecake?

Pause.

Fat guy: Can I ask you a question? Who would tell you they’re packing?

Frankie: Well, we hope people would be honest.

Pause.

Fat guy launching into an extended discourse on what he thinks is the proper way to scan a crowd for gun-toting troublemakers: You know what? I think you’re going about it all wrong . . .

When it’s edited down and combined with other man-in-the-street segments, Frankie and the Fat Guy’s little street-theater piece comes off as a thoroughly winning 60-second treatise on the odd, hilarious sweetness of real people. If Tim Nye can’t slap together a cable distribution deal for his Alltrue programming anytime soon, you can count on MTV to give Frankie his own show.

14. The Perfect Picasso
“Some of the clips we’ve acquired,” says Nye, “like ‘Donkey Ass,’” – wherein a panicked, half-naked guy in a field is chased, then mounted, by a donkey with romantic intentions – “have almost become branded. You mention the ‘Donkey Ass’ clip and people know what you’re talking about at this point. It has become such an intense underground culture that I look at part of the site’s mission to almost be a museum for these clips. There’s a whole series called ‘Lovers Caught on Tape’ that you never really quite know if they’re fake. Well, they probably are fake. Like, a couple is in a garage and they have clearly sort of parked themselves in front of the surveillance camera and then they pretend to go through, sort of, ‘Should we have sex?’ ‘No, we’re going to get caught.’ Then, next thing you know, they are having sex in crazy positions. And then there’s one ‘Lovers Caught on Tape’ clip in particular that’s guys having sex with a piñata. That, out of the whole series, is the crucial one. It’s kind of like getting the perfect Picasso. It’s like moma, you know, where maybe you don’t have a deep collection of every artist, but you do have one seminal piece from every artist.”

15. The Little Picture
“When I describe the knife-in-the-head clip to somebody,” says Tim Nye, the original Silicon Alley poster boy for Attention Deficit Disorder in this most ADD-addled of industries, “I’m like, ‘And the most amazing thing is, he totally recovers.’ There’s the sensationalistic hook – there’s this guy in an emergency room with a knife in his head – and then there’s the heartwarming ending to the story. To me, that’s the quintessential perfect clip – it’s got that narrative arc. It’s got that total payoff. All in 30 seconds.”

Tech 2001 / The Truth Is Really Out There