Rocketboom: Sony signs rent-to-own deal

Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron has been dropping hints for some time now about a big deal involving his occasionally troubled video-blogging startup, and now the news has finally broken: Rocketboom has signed a seven-figure distribution and marketing deal with Sony. As described by Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch, the arrangement is structured in such a way that the entertainment giant could either acquire Rocketboom if things go well, or relinquish control to Baron if they don’t.

Andrew gives his rationale for the deal in a post on his blog. Among other things, he notes in passing that the legal battle for control of Rocketboom with former host (and disputed co-founder) Amanda Congdon made it virtually impossible for the video blog to sign any partnerships or financing deals as other startups have.

“Having been completely and utterly stuck for almost two years by the courts without being able to accept any investment offers or other equitable partnerships to grow Rocketboom at all, we have since been frozen like ice… and without any additional resources to grow.”

Meanwhile, other video blogs have gone on to success, including Wallstrip, which was financed by my friend Howard Lindzon and acquired by CBS for $5-million, as well as the Digg gang’s Revision 3. Others have experienced somewhat less success: Podtech stumbled badly and began to hemorrhage talent (including Robert Scoble, whom Andrew calls “Robert Sociable,” and cites as a major influence) before being sold for a song. Baron says that with the Sony deal, Rocketboom benefits because:

“Instead of gaining capital to burn while continuing to build or seek an advertising solution, we now have one of the most prominent advertising solutions out there, along with increased distribution, a road map for expansion and a guarantee that I believe is an unprecedented deal.”

This deal definitely makes sense for Rocketboom, especially since the legal issues over control make it difficult to enter into any other kind of arrangement. Rafat Ali at PaidContent says that it illustrates Sony’s knack for “picking up things well past their prime,” and there is some truth to that — even Andrew notes in his blog post that video on the Web has evolved considerably since Rocketboom was seen as something fresh and new. As a commenter on FriendFeed noted: “I had written them off. They had a one note sound and a tin ear for news, and their humor was falling flat. But they were the pioneers.”

Whatever you think of Rocketboom and/or Sony’s online media strategy (such as it is), I think Andrew deserves a lot of credit not just for being one of the pioneers, but for sticking with his vision through what has to have been a very difficult couple of years, and for coming out with what looks like a pretty good deal under the circumstances.

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