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Tech 2001 /
The Truth Is Really Out There

Guys who set their hair on fire! Confused old ladies! Lovers caught on tape! Can SonicNet founder Tim Nye's latest start-up, Alltrue.com, save broadband with its bite-size streaming morsels of depravity? A reality check in fifteen acts.

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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."


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