The Implosion of Webcaster Knox ivi Leaves Behind a Wake of Accusations

The streaming is over, but not the screaming—at least figuratively speaking—as the remnants of local Web programming outfit Knox ivi are hashed over in the wake of accusations of bad business practices alleged by its former clients, creditors, and employees—as well as questions about the ownership of some of the intellectual property left behind.

Knox ivi was founded on Market Square in 2009 by Joe Dickey, a former TVA chief operating officer with a controversial past. In the 1990s, Dickey was tried, though ultimately acquitted, for allegedly scamming TVA for $3.6 million in no-bid contracts in collusion with Florida consultant Roberta Burish.

Knox ivi's business concept was sort of like a Web-based community TV. With a staff of local promotion and production professionals on hand, the company produced a tiny handful of online "shows," such as its staple 11 O' Clock Rock, an hour-long late-morning program hosted by Brent Thompson and Lauren Lazarus, featuring interviews and performances by local bands. Knox ivi also had a working relationship with WBIR, which would make remote live broadcasts from its studios.

But the majority of its programming, available for streaming on demand, was intended to come from local content producers who would receive technical and other assistance from the Knox ivi staff. The business model was such that individual content creators could sell advertising themselves to pay for production costs, or get such help from the staff in return for a fee or for a slice of any profits earned.

For a while, Knox ivi seemed to be on solid footing, building a growing bank of local content in areas such as sports, children's shows, and even a program featuring Metro Pulse's own Jack Neely.

But in March, Dickey and his wife, Knox ivi Executive Vice President Susan Ridgell, suddenly moved all of the business' production and office resources out of the Market Square location into a space on Henley Street, announcing a "restructuring" of the company.

The move surprised Knox ivi employees almost as much as it did outside observers, as most of them learned of the change via a note on the door when they came in for work one morning.

When questioned at the time, Dickey was evasive; he said details would be released in an upcoming press release, a press release that, if it existed, Metro Pulse never received.

At the time, employees shared with Metro Pulse several interdepartmental e-mails, which revealed longstanding issues at Knox ivi, resulting in poor company morale. Among the most serious charges was the claim that the employees had not been paid in several weeks at the time of the sudden "restructuring." Most of Knox ivi's principal employees—business and production talent who were present at the end—will not speak on the record because they say they are taking legal action against Dickey.

One of those left holding the bag after the company's sudden move is local developer and property owner David Dewhirst, who leased Knox ivi its space on Market Square. Asked if there were lease issues with Knox ivi, Dewhirst says: "They kind of just quit paying rent five or six months ago. I'd call that a lease issue. Has there been any remuneration? The best answer I can give is no. They called and told me they just couldn't continue."

The pieces of Knox ivi, in the meantime, have apparently reverted to Danny Harb and an unnamed group of former Knox ivi investors. Harb, manager of HP Video, a producer of video-assist equipment for the motion-picture industry, was reluctant to talk about the disposition of Knox ivi resources.

Harb did say that he and the other new owners, whom he would not name, have a lien on the Knox ivi equipment and that it may be used to do Web streaming of some kind, though it would have nothing to do with Knox ivi. "We haven't determined a model yet," he says. At one point there was a website in place, he says, though he would not give its URL.

Harb says that some of the former Knox ivi holdings, included recordings and other materials from outside content creators, he now considers property of himself and the other new owners. But this may raise questions, since the original idea behind Knox ivi's programming was that content creators would hold the rights to their own intellectual property.

One former show host—who chose to have her name withheld—told of producing a program that ran on Knox ivi for several months, paying all of the show's bills, then allegedly receiving a notice from Dickey.

"It was ‘Oh, we forgot to bill you for something five months ago," she says. "It's like KUB saying we forgot to bill you for some of your electricity the last five months. We couldn't get copies of our show. Crews were told they weren't supposed to give any vendors copies of their shows."

She says her attorney was "very clear; we own the shows. We kept the invoices." She says she's since had another party express interest in leasing the material, and was surprised to learn it still existed.

Another producer, show host Taz Cable of the local celebrity gossip webcast Bowl of Oh, says Knox ivi was supposed to handle the ad sales for his program. When no advertising was being credited to his account, Cable brought in promotional dollars to Knox ivi to offset any debt. He says that was not credited to him either. (Former Knox ivi executive Jessie Greene affirms Cable's version of events.)

"My understanding was that it was the show host's property, and then they started putting their copyright on it," he says. "I said I disagreed, and they said it's just a formality. I said I want my copyright on it. They agreed, then sold it."

They also sued him for the money he allegedly owed from the advertising; the lawsuit is now the "property" of the new ownership, and Cable fears the suit is pressing forward. "How can you sue me when you have my videos, and I have no access?" he says.

The lone bright spot in the whole Knox ivi mess is the fate of its former space on Market Square, adjacent to the Knoxville Chamber. The city is leasing it now, converting it to an entrepreneurial center conceived by Mayor Madeleine Rogero.

According to Knoxville's chief operating officer, Eddie Mannis, the center will provide an opportunity for collaboration between organizations that serve entrepreneurs, institutions like Tech 20/20, libraries, schools, etc.

He calls it "a sanctuary of dreams, an after-hours gathering place with desks, program space, and lots of brainstorming. The objective is to grow business by drawing entrepreneurs to Knoxville and help small business grow."

Mannis says the city would like to have the center open and functioning by late fall.