Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introducing O Labs - A Very Different Kind of Incubator (& JV of ICM, Manatt Digital Media & Originate)

Today is a very big day for us here at Manatt Digital Media -- something that has been a long time in the making.  Today, we officially unveil “O Labs” -- a new joint venture by (i) Manatt/Manatt Digital Media (i.e., the entire firm), (ii) leading talent agency ICM Partners, and (iii) leading software development firm Originate -- launched to create, nourish, grow, and operate innovative companies.  Manatt contributes business consulting and legal services to portfolio companies; ICM contributes sales, marketing, and branding expertise; and Originate provides product and software development talent.  And, all three partners will open doors for portfolio companies via their vast networks of contacts and relationships.

O Labs functions kind of like an “incubator,” but don’t call us one -- because our model breaks the mold.  As far as we know, there is nothing else like it.  No incubator brings such deep development resources and diversity of partners, expertise, and services.  Manatt Digital Media’s Hale Bogg, ICM’s Keyvan Peymani, and Originate’s Jeff Scheinrock comprise O Labs’ investment committee.

All three partners are passionate about innovation -- and our partners ICM and Originate are absolutely at the top of their respective games.  So, together, we have decided to put our money where are mouths are -- directly into the most innovative companies (and the entrepreneurs who created them).  We have already funded and is growing our first company -- Versus -- a platform for legal, real-money video game tournaments.  Check it out.  It is very cool.

We are thrilled here at Manatt Digital Media.  Even before this announcement, we believed we offered a completely unique 4-part value proposition to our clients: (i) business consulting; (ii) legal; (iii) venture capital; and (iv) deep industry contacts and relationships.  We can now add an important new fifth ingredient -- company creator and operator.

But, don’t call us an “incubator”!

Full press release is here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Apple Buying Time Warner?

 As we all know, Rupert Murdoch is relentlessly pursuing Time Warner -- so far failing on his $80 billion bid.  But, he is not alone in his interest of this major content player in this multi-platform era where premium content is increasingly king as distributors increasingly fight (and are willing to pay top dollar) for it.  Following Murdoch’s lead -- and spurred into action precisely because of it -- other behemoths likely are either now in the hunt, or, soon ready to join it.  And, that list may very well include some unusual (seemingly unlikely) suspects -- mega-players from Silicon Valley (not just Hollywood).  After all, Google, Amazon, and Apple are now absolutely media companies in their own right -- and for their own reasons.  And, their assets dwarf those of Rupert’s.  While Fox’s market cap is about the same as Time Warner’s $70 billion, Amazon’s now is $150 billion, Google’s is $400 billion, and Apple’s is near $600 billion.

Ahh, yes, Apple.  Let’s take Apple.  Purchasing Time Warner would be a logical (or, at a minimum, certainly not illogical) move.

First, let’s not forget that Apple’s heritage via Steve Jobs includes Hollywood in a big way.  Pixar, a major content player, was his baby (and now is Disney’s).

Second, Apple, of course, just recently demonstrated its thirst for content by buying Beats and Beats Music for $3 billion.  Apple faces a similar dilemma -- a lack of on demand streaming content -- on the video side, which is widely seen as being the primary reason that Apple has not yet launched its long-anticipated “all-in-one” iTV.  Time Warner would give Apple a treasure trove of premium video programming, including HBO (perhaps the single most prestigious video channel in the world today) and live sports via Turner.  Lest we forget, live sports are the essential ingredient for linear TV and for Apple’s likely designs to compete directly with the cable companies -- and Google -- by offering a virtual OTT MSO service.  With Time Warner’s programming, Apple would finally have a critical mass of compelling content to effectively follow its tried-and-true playbook -- i.e., seamlessly marrying beautiful hardware (in this case, the iTV) with the compelling content that sits on top of it (i.e., in this case, the video programming).  It is precisely that content that drives Apple’s hardware sales.  THAT is its model.  Premium video television and movie programming would be the Trojan Horse to sell massive numbers of units for the living room.  

Third, on the flip-side, Apple’s ownership of that same critical content would make it highly challenging, to say the least, for competitors like those same cable companies, not to mention OTT service providers (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu), to negotiate for that same critical premium video content.  Apple would have some interesting cards to play.

Finally, Apple, more than anyone, has the means to make this happen.  Let’s not forget that Apple’s stockpile of cash is massive.

Sound crazy that a tech/hardware company like Apple could have real interest in swallowing up a traditional media company like Time Warner?

Perhaps not so much.  There is much precedent for technology hardware companies going Hollywood.  Sony did it long ago, buying Columbia Pictures in 1989 and operating one of the major studios ever since (with varying degrees of success).  Fellow Japanese conglomerate Matsushita also tried “back in the day” (1990), but failed -- selling to Edgar Bronfman and Seagram after a mere 5 years.  The clash of cultures was simply too great.

But, Apple’s heritage isn’t as extreme -- and, creativity (and story-telling) has always been at its core.  So, don’t be surprised if Apple marches to the Beats of its own drummer and takes on Mr. Murdoch.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Samsung Will Buy Slacker

Musical chairs.  That’s were we are in the digital music world right now.  Behemoths are either finding their “match” -- or launching other major initiatives themselves.  Mega-moves in the digital music world are happening now.  Transformative moves.  Apple buying Beats for $3 Billion.  Google buying Songza.  Amazon launching Amazon Prime Music.  Samsung partnering earlier this year with under-the-radar San Diego-based Slacker to power its innovative Milk Music service.

Ahh yes.  Samsung.  While key competitors (primarily Apple) have bought their way into offering expanded digital music services, Samsung has chosen to partner.  So far.  But, partnering is a form of dating.  And, dating ultimately has the potential to lead to marriage  (I have experienced that myself with former companies).  In this case, I’d be surprised -- very surprised -- if Samsung was not already fully dressed and prepared to walk down the aisle to seal the deal.  Ultimately, Samsung -- just like other behemoths -- want more in control of their own destinies.  And, of course, Samsung and Slacker have been courting and making beautiful music together for several months.  Slacker’s parents -- its Board of Directors -- will expect a life-long commitment at some point, especially since they have supported their child (Slacker) for 10 years.  That’s an awful long time for venture capitalists to stay patient, especially since it is reported that they have invested about $50 million over those years.

Not sure if they funded that via Slacker’s 529 plan ....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Disney Accelerator - A Day In The Life As a Mentor

Last Tuesday, I spent my first day as a Mentor at the new Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars.  My fellow Mentors and I spent 5 hours on-site getting to know all 11 companies in this inaugural class via a whirlwind round of individual meetings -- “speed-dating” style.  It is an impressive, and surprisingly diverse/eclectic, group of companies and entrepreneurs -- all of whom share the key ingredient of passion (the video above is powered by Japan-based Zombie app creator Tyffon, whose app has been downloaded a whopping 25 million times!).  Some companies have raised $0 to date, whereas one company is now in its Series E raise and generates tens of millions of dollars in revenues.  And, it is truly a badge of honor to be here, as only a tiny fraction of applicant companies made the cut.

Disney has given these entrepreneurs a great home in which to create the next great company (including a “who’s who” of Disney characters who share the space with them).  The Accelerator features a central airy and bright (natural light) open area is where the companies work side-by-side.

In a somewhat surprising homage to a simpler time, individual company progress and updates are flagged by old-world “post its” (the picture to the right) rather than by digital markers.  3M would be proud (and should be a sponsor).

The “break” room features standard Silicon Valley-inspired entrepreneurial faire -- foosball table, ping-pong table, and unlimited coffee and snacks.  I saw no keg -- this is Disney after all.  All of it, of course, is branded with Disney properties.

Back to Tyffon and the Zombies above (25 million of which are roaming around the globe).  Zombies sell.  “Walking Dead” and others should, er, eat that up. Imagine the engagement and sponsorship opportunities and dollars there.  The technology -- and the opportunities enabled by it -- are compelling.

And, that is just one story here at the Disney Accelerator.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fullscreen Plays With Otter? Must Be True Because They Ditched My Panel!

Leading MCN Fullscreen, long rumored to be in M&A “play” following the Disney/Maker Studios mega-deal, now apparently really is -- this time with AT&T and Chernin Group’s joint venture Otter Media.  The Otter/Fullscreen deal, if it happens, is reported to value the company between $200-$300 million, which is significantly less than the rumored $750 million-ish price-tag a few months back when Relativity Media was reported to be close to paying Maker-like mega-bucks.  If the now-rumored $200-$300 million number holds, perhaps earlier reports were way off.  Or, perhaps, Fullscreen overplayed its hand the first time?  You see, the passage of time is not a friend in M&A for the company that hopes to be bought.  Passing time almost always benefits the buyer, not the buy-ee.  Or, another possibility -- which was voiced to me by a trusted source -- is that maybe, just maybe, Fullscreen really believes that today’s MCN valuations will be considered to be “lows” one to two years from now -- and perhaps this deal (if it happens) would give them the opportunity to let at least a significant amount of their equity ride (while taking some cash off the table).  You see, apparently, this will not be an outright sale; rather, Otter Media is reported to be taking a majority stake in Fullscreen.

In any event, the timing here is funny to me, in a very personal way.  Last week I moderated a high visibility panel at the Siemer Summit that focused on the premium digital video ecosystem.  And, originally, Fullscreen’s COO -- Ezra Cooperstein -- was scheduled to participate.  But, lo and behold -- a few days before, he mysteriously bowed out -- with no real reason given.  Hmm ... deja vu?  The very same thing happened to me a few months back when I moderated an MCN-focused panel at UCLA -- literally just a couple days prior to reports that Disney was in the midst of buying Maker Studios.  Guess who was scheduled to be on that panel -- but also mysteriously bowed out in the days before?  That’s right.  Kevin Mayer -- Head of Strategy for Disney.

Coincidence?  I think not!  I even quipped about this last week when I kicked off my Seimer Summit panel.  One of my first questions naturally focused on the long-rumored sale of Fullscreen -- and why no deal had yet been consummated after all these months.  And, in the process, I joked that some kind of sale must be imminent because Fullscreen was following Disney’s “missing panelist” M.O.  (either that, or my panel moderating skills leave much to be desired).

So, here’s a tip.  If an industry exec is scheduled to participate on a panel, give a speech, or do some other kind of public PR -- and if that person mysteriously bows out the days preceding that event as a result of some undefined last-minute conflict or other ambiguous explanation -- then that person and his/her company are about to be transformed either the good way (M&A, major new gig) or the bad way (termination).

You see, when that seat is empty, the behind-the-scenes PR shenanigans are full.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Power of GoPro -- Exhibit A: My Family’s Costa Rica Trip

I just wrote about our family’s 10 day Costa Rica vacation.  Yes, of course I wanted to capture a journal of our holiday -- but my primary purpose was NOT to make you slog through my personal memories.  Rather, my hope is that our trip -- and my detailed journal (including Top 10 “Must Do’s and relevant resorts, tour guides, adventures, websites and phone numbers) will inspire and help others build their own Costa Rican memories.

Similarly, this compilation GoPro video of our Costa Rica vacation -- which was whipped together in about one hour by our 11 year old son, Luca -- is not intended to chain you down to make you watch my home movies.  Sure, I love the video -- think it is classic!  But, my primary goal here is to underscore the power of GoPro video capture on these kinds of adventures.

Here’s the deal.  We all know that GoPro best captures those adventures and experiences.  But, GoPro does much more.  It actually transforms and amplifies those experiences -- both during and after.  Our GoPro essentially became our fifth family member on our trip, joining us everywhere we went.  It was a play-thing for us all -- it enhanced the fun for our kids -- and enhanced the sense of adventure to us  all.  And, now, we can re-live them again and again (I am not asking you to do that!).

GoPro.  Standard equipment for any holiday.  Your holiday!

Costa Rica In 10 Days & Top 10 HIGHLIGHTS (What to Do From A to Z -- Andaz Hotel Papagayo to Zip-Lining in the Arenal)


My family and I (wife Luisa, 14 year old girl Hunter, and 11 year old boy Luca) just finished one amazing whirlwind 10 days in Costa Rica -- punctuated by extreme beauty and unforgettable experiences (and with only an occasional slip-up) (the video above is my son’s compilation of GoPro videos of the trip; more about GoPro being an absolute necessity on a trip like this below).  We split our time between Papagayo (the beach communities to the West along the Pacific Coast) and the Arenal (the inland rain-forests near the Arenal Volcano), primarily focusing our time in the Arenal and adventure travel (waterfall rappelling, zip-lining, white-water rafting, horseback riding).  After multiple family trips to Europe and Mexico, it was time for us to get outdoors, dirty and get our hearts pumping in an entirely new and natural environment.  Mission accomplished on all fronts.  It was time to shake it up -- and we did.  "PURA VIDA!"  (a Costa Rican phrase you will hear constantly by everyone you meet -- which means, Pure Life, with no worries, no hurries, and living in the moment -- a much cooler version of “Hakuna Matata”).

I hope this post inspires you to create your own unforgettable itinerary to Costa Rica -- definitely a trip worth taking, even when you are pummeled with rain (which we frequently were since July, of course, is during the rainiest of seasons).  After all, we spent most of our time in rain-forests, so we got what we asked for (and, for the most part, loved it and found it to be absolutely beautiful).  But, make no mistake, take your expectations of rain, and double them.  That is the reality.  So plan accordingly.  Pack many pairs of water-friendly hiking/running shoes, socks, and ponchos (and bring adventurous attitudes to match them).  And, perhaps most importantly, bring your GoPro to capture and actually transform all of your adventures (i.e., heighten their overall impact) (which will be the subject of a separate stand-alone blog post).  You won’t (or shouldn’t) be able to bring your smart phone on many of your water-logged adventures.  And, standard images (of the kind highlighted in this post) just don’t come close to capturing the real experience.  Our GoPro videos, on the other hand, are breath-taking.


We had previously never planned a trip through a tour company -- being control freaks, we always schedule our trips, our hotels, everything.  But, this time we did it differently.  Because we knew little about Costa Rica (except for hearing that it is beautiful), we worked through Kensington Tours (a company recommended by American Express’s travel service).  Kensington (phone number is 1-888-903-2001 and arranged everything after listening to what we wanted to do -- and the type of accommodations we wanted to experience -- booking our hotels, arranging our drivers and our individual adventures like white-water rafting (more on those below).  They worked via their local partner in Costa Rica -- Wave Expeditions (011-506-2479-7262 and -- ask for Vanessa at Wave).  Based on our incredible experience, my wife and I highly recommend both Kensington and Wave -- and we are discerning.  Apart from a few hiccups which they graciously and expeditiously ameliorated (i.e., fixed! -- thanks Vanessa!), we felt their depth of Costa Rican knowledge, our lack of headaches, and the money were worth it.  Yes it cost us more (a meaningful amount of “more”, by the way), but saving aggravation and knowing precisely what to do (and with whom) made it worth it to us.  They also did what we couldn’t do by ourselves -- getting us into the Nayara Hotel & Spa in the Arenal Volcano region (which Conde Nast ranked as the #1 resort in Central & South America for 2013).  And, that alone made Kensington worthwhile -- because the Nayara is that magical (more on that below).

THE TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS (and some low-lights) for those of you who have ADD

Costa Rica is an incredible trip that YOU must take as well.  A trip for the ages (and that is no “Pura Paja” -- which means “no B.S.” -- use that one with the locals, and they will get a good kick out of you).  A trip deserving of anecdotes.  But, I understand many of you don’t have the time to soak all of ours up.  For that reason, I start here first with my Top 10 “hits” of the trip (as well as some “misses”) in Cliff Notes format.  For those of you interested in more depth -- to capture more of the feeling and experiences we had (so that you can plan your own) -- read on below in my day-by-day account.

10 MUST DO’s/Recommendations (all of which are fleshed out with more detail below - and in pics):


(1) Nayara Hotel & Spa -- a “must stay” in the Arenal Volcano region right outside of the city of Fortuna (the website pictures do not do it justice).  Simply magical.  And, shockingly affordable for the luxury.  Request Suite 50 -- you will be glad you did -- direct view of the volcano (once the fog lifts) (the picture to the right is our suite’s private wrap-around deck).  Be sure to spend virtually all of your time in the new upper spa and restaurant area that just opened a few months back (picture below is a view of “Amor Loco”, the upper spa restaurant; the separate picture below and to the right is the bridge that connects the suites to the new upper spa and restaurant area.).  Breathtaking with a river below.  Do not -- I repeat, do not! -- spend much time in the lower main restaurant.  Wasted opportunity.  But DO check out the separate sushi restaurant on-site -- surprisingly good -- and we eat a lot of sushi in Socal.  One more thing -- get to know on-site customer experience coordinator Lindsay Harris -- she is warm, wonderful and adventurous -- just like virtually everyone else at the Nayara (including Luis at the front desk).  Lindsay can help you know precisely what to do -- and with whom.  That is great knowledge to have.  And, she is just plain wonderful.

(2) Andaz Hotel -- on the Papagayo Peninsula -- beautiful entirely new hotel (picture of the main pool area below).  Worth staying over the adjacent Four Seasons (among other things, it is significantly less expensive).  But, expect significant service snafus.  It is new -- and, as a result, the staff’s training likewise frequently feels new (the service certainly is not “dialed in” yet, despite mostly sincere efforts to please).  You may be frustrated (drinks were slow to come, our bills contained several mistakes over and over again).  But, at least you will be frustrated amidst beauty and surprising affordability (and by the time you go, many of those kinks likely will be worked out).  Ask for a room on the top floor of Building 3 for the best views.


(3) Waterfall Rappelling in the Arenal -- an absolute “must”!  (via Pure Trek, the guides we used for this) (more on this and all of these other adventures below in my day-by-day account).

(4) Whitewater Rafting in the Arenal -- of course!  Especially during the rainy season (via Wave Expeditions).

(5) Zip-lining in the Arenal -- are you kidding?  This place was made for zip-lining! (via Sky Trek Adventures).

(6) Horseback Riding to the La Fortuna Waterfall in the Arenal -- yet another magical moment (via Wave Expeditions again).

(7) Private Boat Tour and Snorkeling in Papagayo -- amazing, especially venturing into the caves and being out in the water at sunset behind the rocks (via Wave Expeditions and Captain Mark -- see his direct info below).

(8) Massages at the Nayara Hotel & Spa -- yes, they are that good!  And, to get a massage outside in the midst of a rain-forest (and when it is actually raining hard, very hard) is, dare I say yet again, magical?

(9) Yoga at the Nayara Hotel & Spa -- look, I am not exactly a yoga guy (although I should be).  I am a runner.  But, the yoga temple is that beautiful -- and, again, outside, so yoga amidst pouring rain in the rainforest is a heightened spiritual experience.  Just do it -- and then grab a green juice at the adjacent spa.

(10) Beverages at the Andaz -- the Coffee, the Green Drink, and the White Wine Spritzer at the Andaz -- trust me on this one.  After all, Costa Rica is famous for its coffee.

(11) BONUS -- MASSIVE BONUS -- have the patience to await the clouds clearing from the top of the Arenal Volcano.  Many who come, never see it.  We were amongst the fortunate ones who did.  And, it is breathtaking ... you can clearly see the lava flows of long ago (reflected in the picture at the top of this post).  We were fortunate to observe the peak for a few fleeting moments only before the clouds once again rolled in ... so do NOT waste that opportunity if you have it.  Run, don’t walk!  If you blink, you will miss it (on the right is a picture of us when the clouds cleared for those precious moments -- notice the steam still rising from the right side of the double crater).

AND SOME “MISSES” (but there weren’t many ...)

(1) Didn’t bring enough water shoes -- my bad, no one else’s -- bring multiple pairs.  You WILL be soaked in the Arenal (even more than you think, but that’s part of the adventure).

(2) Didn’t wear jeans horseback riding -- just plain stupid!  Yes, it may have seemed logical to wear only a swimsuit because we took our horses to a waterfall for a swimming experience you won’t forget.  But, chafing only takes you so far!

(3) Long hikes in torrential rains -- if you choose to hike near the volcanos or on the famed hanging bridges to experience wild-life (slots, toucans, monkeys) -- which you should do -- don’t do it during torrential downpours.  Animals take cover too!  You will see lovely greenery ... but you won’t see anything else.

(4) Hot springs in tourist areas -- if you want to experience the famed Volcano Arenal hot springs, I understand the urge to go to the most famous hot springs of them all (the Tabacon).  And it is beautiful.  BUT, it is also Disneyland -- very touristy.  That took the magic away from me.  And, the included meal should just be, well, excluded.  I couldn’t get past all of that (although my wife, Luisa, believes I am being too harsh).  Certainly, if you don’t mind tourists (and really feeling like one yourself), then this is THE place to go.


So much to see in Costa Rica -- but we had only 10 days (including travel).  So, we had to make some tough choices.  We chose the Papagayo Peninsula for a few days of beaches and sun (that’s why we flew into Liberia rather than San Jose, which is the largest city in Costa Rica) -- and we chose to spend most of our time in the Arenal Volcano rain-forest region.  Here is our journey.

Days 1-2 -- Papagayo Peninsula

We chose to stay at the recently-opened luxury Andaz Resort Costa Rica -- an eco-friendly, contemporary, and entirely new resort in Papagayo not far from the much more established Four Seasons Hotel (and about a 30 minute car ride from the Liberia airport).  Bottom line -- we recommend the Andaz highly, but with some meaningful reservations that I discuss above.

From the time our driver dropped us off, we knew we were at the right place for us.  The architecture is contemporary, simple, clean, natural -- straight lines, except for the rooftops of the main resort buildings which are curved in the shape of an armadillo (very cool).  The resort blends into the tree-filled hillside -- it does not overwhelm it.  From our hotel room (absolute contemporary luxury in every respect, including the most comfortable beds you will find anywhere), we felt as if we were in a tree house (a luxurious one, but still a tree house).  And, monkeys were everywhere flinging themselves amidst the trees.  These were no resort monkeys mind you -- these were au naturale in their natural environment.  My kids and I were transfixed.  Best view of their antics could be seen near the high point of the resort in the area of the spa.  We actually saw many more monkeys here than we did in the rain-forests of the Arenal.

Highlights?  In our 1 full day and 2 half-days our highlight by far was an experience that almost didn’t happen (and only happened out of fortuity) -- i.e., a private 36 foot zodiac boat tour by Captain Mark and his first mate Hector (pictured here to the right with my wife Luisa).  What was a near disaster, turned into one of the most memorable parts of our trip.  We had been scheduled for a catamaran trip with others, but our driver never showed.  So, our tour company fell on their sword (as they should) and stepped up to the plate with Captain Mark -- and we have no doubt that our private tour to the caves and coves of the Costa Rican shores far surpassed any group tour.  It truly was a magical experience.  This sunset pic below tells it all.  This is a “must do.”  If you can arrange a private boat, then do it.  Worth the money.  You’ve come a long way to get here.  Make it count!  (Captain Mark -- don’t know his last name -- can be reached directly from the U.S. at 011-506-8707-1837 -- call him -- you will be glad you did -- he knows where to take you).

Other highlights?  Breakfast at the Andaz Hotel.  Excellent food.  Excellent service.  And a barista who rules the world.  Check out the customized coffee drinks that master barista Luis Carlos Herrera makes just for you (my favorite is pictured here above to the right).  Another highlight -- as “inconsequential” as it may seem -- is the welcome fresh green concoction they give you when you arrive (and which we requested over and over again) -- made of cucumber, pineapple and mint.  Trust me, it’s that good ... over and over again (and feel free to add some vodka when you are so inclined, which may be frequently on a trip like this).  Then, of course, there is poolside at the Andaz.  3 different pools -- we chose to escape the heat and humidity in the main pool -- and then venture down to the private, but all natural, beach and into the beautiful aqua of the ocean bay.  There, we laid back and enjoyed the ride of the buoyant water.  But, before we knew it, it was time to stop relaxing -- and head off to the Arenal, the rain-forest surrounding the famed Arenal Volcano (a 3.5 hour car ride from the Andaz to reach our hotel -- the Nayara).  It was time for our adventures to begin.

Days 3-8 -- Arenal

The Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens -- right in the heart of the Arenal and within close proximity and direct line of sight to the famed Arenal Volcano itself (which I discuss in more detail above).  Arrived our third night -- but didn’t really “get” it (all the beauty, the majesty, that has earned it Conde Naste’s #1 Resort award) until the 4th day here when we chilled out from all of our adventures and spent most of our time in the new upper spa area (including great meals amidst the beauty of the Amor Loco restaurant -- and separate spa treatments at their world class spa).  And now, onto the adventures.

Our first -- horseback riding to the La Fortuna waterfall amidst the rain and lushest green you will ever see.  Another unforgettable activity -- and our guide Eric (arranged via Wave Expeditions) was gracious, fun and just plain good (ask for him -- he aims to please).  He punctuated every other sentence with the Costa Rican anthem -- PURA VIDA!  Was a classic Costa Rica experience -- no need to sign waivers.  Not here.  Just mount your horse and off you go (and these weren’t little state fair ponies).  We traversed steep hills, across small rivers, and galloped whenever we wanted.  Only one problem (for me).  I wore shorts!  Thought that was smart (you know, heat, humidity, waterfalls and all) -- but, we were riding horses!  So, my legs burned from the friction (not a pleasant feeling as you bump up and down on your horse).  Note to self -- always wear long pants when riding horses (which may seem obvious to you, but certainly wasn’t to me).  And, at the end of the trail -- we hit the big pay-off with the La Fortuna Waterfall.  Spectacular.  Plain and simple.  One for the ages.  As I write above, bring your GoPro -- Costa Rica screams GoPro for every move you make.  Make no mistake -- these are memories of a lifetime.

That was just our first morning in the Arenal.  In the afternoon we traveled to the famed Hanging Bridges in the midst of the rainforest (there are many such places, so Wave Expeditions can help you pick the right one) -- beautiful, but somewhat of a bust due to the monsoon-like conditions in the afternoon (hey, just keeping it real -- no animals or birds revealed themselves amidst torrential downpours).  The 2.5 mile hike was beautiful -- without a doubt -- but the rain truly was torrential and our feet utterly soaked (I think they became webbed at some point) (the pic to the left is my daughter, Hunter, running across one of them).   Candidly -- and perhaps I shouldn’t admit this (but, why not?) -- we were happy to race through the monsoon and end up at the local bar/restaurant where we watched the end of Argentina beating the Netherlands in the World Cup).

Following our first day of adventures, we experienced a continuing series of extraordinary events.  Zip-lining?  Check.  Did that.  You must too.  We chose Sky Trek -- a series of 8 separate zip-lines, one of which is 750 meters long and very very fast, cutting through the trees themselves at one point -- creating a tunnel of sorts.  Another “must do” -- and must GoPro moment (that is my family and I to the right on one of the platforms).

Rappelling down a waterfall?  Yup, did that too, despite the fact that my daughter and I are not at all good with heights.  We just sucked it up.  And, this was THE experience of the trip for me -- and of a lifetime.  This was real rappelling -- four separate rappels, the first of which is 180 feet tall and literally straight down and into a coursing waterfall that follows you down and meets you (dousing you) all along the way (book directly through Pure Trek right outside the city of Fortuna in the Arenal).  Wish I had more pictures here (the picture to the left is one taken by Pure Trek of my daughter rappelling down the last of the 4 cliffs -- about half the height of the longest one -- and directly into the waterfall), but Pure Trek’s website (link above) will give you a great idea of what you will experience via pictures.  We did, however, bring our GoPro once again -- and the moments are captured vividly for a lifetime.  Pure Trek bills itself as “The Ultimate Waterfall Rappelling in Costa Rica -- and I believe them.  We followed that adventure with an afternoon hike along the base of the Arenal Volcano, which we still couldn’t see due to the heavy rains.  These did not lift during our afternoon hike so, yet again, we saw no wildlife -- got soaked -- but at least had umbrellas this time (which is, admittedly, somewhat non-adventurous, but we were glad we did).  We ended the hike at the famed Tobacon Resort hot springs (discussed briefly above) which, yes, were kind of cool (they are natural hot springs after all).  But, in the end, I would pass on this experience, which felt a bit like Disneyland (although my wife, Luisa, wouldn’t).  Definitely too touristy for my taste.  If you want to visit the hot springs near the volcano, then find a spot where the locals go.

On a later day, we also chose to experience a leisurely 2 hour rafting trip down the lower Penas Blancas River, which was beautiful but relatively uneventful -- although we did see a crocodile along the way (as well as iguanas and rare birds).  That was fun for the kids.  (Separate and personal related funny family anecdote.  During our entire Costa Rica trip, we listened to the music of Lana Del Rey -- who morphed into Iguana Del Rey at some point on the trip, which at least I think is kind of funny; at one point on our return drive, we also saw a restaurant called Ceviche Del Rey, which led to more chuckles amongst my family and I; just one of those the little moments that also make these family trips memorable).  Later that same day, we met with a family at their private home to learn more about the local culture -- and to give an opportunity for my kids to have their own hand in making tortillas (the picture to the right is with Danny [on the far left]-- our somewhat wacky, but extremely knowledgable guide -- who is happy to give his very candid and interesting personal assessment of Costa Rican and U.S. politics; and on the right is the affable son of the family who owns the private property).  I know this particular experience may sound uneventful.  But, it wasn’t.  It was surprisingly refreshing.  My kids really enjoyed it -- and our authentic lunch was amongst the best food we experienced on the trip.  If you have the time, do it.  Wave Expeditions will know how and where to do it.

Then, our final major adventure -- white-water rafting via our guides at Wave Expeditions (a 1.5-2 hour drive from downtown Fortuna, the city near the Nayara resort).  Again, this was not your basic white-water rafting tour.  This was a true class 3/4 experience, especially due to the heavy rains, high water levels and coursing river.  In fact, the tour was cancelled the day before for others, due to concerns about those high water levels and potential dangers.  For some reason, our day happily proceeded.  And, yet another amazing (and at moments, somewhat scary) experience (the pic on the left is at the start of our trek -- and the one below to the right gives some idea of the trek itself -- yes, that is the 4 of us, with only the guide’s head showing).  Once again, we captured the experiences on our GoPro, complete with our somewhat annoying 1-2 paddling chant, “Rice, Beans, Rice, Beans” (which is the local favorite dish).  Our 2.5 hour journey down the river was one never-ending rapid (literally) -- some hairier than others, but definitely real rapids, real dangers.  Our highly qualified guide got us through it, but not completely unscathed.  I fell out of the raft near the very end -- and my daughter joined me after she tried to save me (you gotta love a family literally pulling for each other!).  But, all was good -- and, in the end, that added to the overall experience.  For my son, Luca, this was his favorite experience.  It ranked in the top 2-3 for the rest of us.  So, don’t let fear get in the way -- just do it.  You gotta live!  And, trust me, you will.  Our guides (arranged through Wave Expeditions) were great.  Costa Rican guides are notoriously real professionals -- highly trained on all of these adventures.

As I mention above, the magical Arenal Volcano accompanied us every step of the way on the Arenal portion of our trip, shrouded in the mystery of mist throughout our soggy stay.  But, perhaps that led to the overall mystique of this Arenal region?  Perhaps nature did not want to fully reveal itself except for a few shining moments on our first visit to Costa Rica.  Perhaps nature simply wanted to pique our interest even more.  My wife and I, after all, vowed to return again -- to experience the beauty of Arenal via the Nayara.

Day 9-10 Back to the Papagayo Peninsula and Travel Back Home

We ended our trip the way we began -- at the Andaz Hotel (after our 3.5 hour return road-trip from the Nayara).  We left early enough in the day to enjoy virtually a full day of relaxation after all of our adventures -- highlighted by jet-skiing in the bay.  Then, back to reality -- which isn’t so bad here in SoCal.

One word to describe our Costa Rican experience -- “Magical.”  It likely will be yours as well.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

See You at the Siemer Summit Later Today & Tomorrow

Back from my Costa Rican family vacation -- which was epic, with rappelling down waterfall cliffs, whitewater rafting, zip-lining through the rain forest, snorkeling, hanging bridges, horseback riding -- you get the point.  Was time to get dirty.  Mission accomplished.  More on that later -- including the way these adventures were transformed and forever captured in the ONLY way to go -- with a GoPro.

So, back in the saddle -- kicking off my return with my company, Manatt Digital Media’s, biggest sponsored event of the year -- the annual Siemer Summit, a digital media and technology conference at Shutters Hotel in the heart of Silicon Beach -- i.e., Santa Monica, California.  Will be a great and high-profile event, featuring both captains of the digital media and tech industries, as well as some of the most impressive entrepreneurs and venture-backed companies that fuel the innovation we see all around us.

Tomorrow, at noon, I will moderate a panel focused on multi-platform digital media creation and distribution.  My panel will feature an A-list of players who cover different segments of the overall digital media eco-system, including Jessica Schell (EVP, New Media & Digital Entertainment for Universal Pictures); Albert Cheng (EVP & Chief Product Officer, Digital Media for the Disney/ABC Television Group); Allen DeBevoise (Chairman & Co-Founder of leading MCN Machinima, as well as active angel investor); Dennis Goh (Director, International Digital Media Operations for leading Asian-focused communications group SingTel); and Andrew Wallenstein (Editor-in-Chief, Digital, of leading media and entertainment-focused publication Variety magazine and  Should be a good one -- and I will keep it lively.

See many of you there.