UTOPIA Sued: Is there really a story here?

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Chris Hogan, one of UTOPIA’s former execs, has filed a suit against the agency over violations of his employment contract. The suit alleges that consulting firm TetraTech was awarded an improper contract for network construction because Executive Director Todd Marriott’s brother is a manger there. The suit also alleges that Hogan’s replacement, Gary Jones, is Marriott’s neighbor.┬áNow I’ve got friends on both sides of this, so this is where I tread very, very lightly.

I can’t speak to Mr. Jones’ qualifications, but I do know that UTOPIA has done plenty of business with TetraTech in the past. They are also a very large multi-national corporation with offices across the world, including two here in Salt Lake County. Even with the blood relationship between the Marriotts, I don’t see that this would necessarily disqualify TetraTech from being a candidate, especially if the work they did in the past was up-to-par.

UTOPIA has also told me that Hogan’s contract was up for renewal and they opted to not renew it. Obviously, I don’t have any details beyond that, but the timing does seem to coincide with my recollection of when he was brought on. Assuming an annual contract, the timing would likely fit.

The Tribune, however, doesn’t dive into any of this background to provide essential context here. I also noticed that they did not include any statements from UTOPIA to provide balance to the story, though I imagine with pending litigation, they can’t really say too much anyway. This is the far too common behavior I’ve come to expect from Utah’s major media outlets when it comes to UTOPIA. They present very one-sided stories and practically cheerlead for UTOPIA’s failure from the editorial pages. There are two sides to every story, but outlets like the Tribune and Deseret “News” are only concerned with the doom-and-gloom side that moves papers.

Connected Lyfe, Hangman, and the UTOPIA Headend

There’s been a whirlwind of speculation since last night when a press release came out announcing that Connected Lyfe, one of UTOPIA’s newer providers, was being acquired by a then-unknown company called Hangman Productions. This wasn’t helped when an 8-K filing with the SEC came to light that showed Connected Lyfe as the purchaser of UTOPIA’s new video headend. It was pretty easy to assume the worst that the white-label video product would end and it might be a small step towards selling the network. After doing some digging and talking to both Todd Marriott and Chris Hogan at UTOPIA, it looks like that’s not the case at all. In fact, this is probably a really good thing all around.

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Headend Brawl: UTOPIA and Provo at Odds on Shared Assets

As the clock ticks down on a contract between UTOPIA and Provo for a shared video headend, the fight over who owes who money is starting to heat up. I’ve had a lot of anonymous tipsters relating details and rumors over some strong disagreements regarding compensating UTOPIA for their portion of the headend, a subject that appears to be strongly muddied by unclear contracts with Broadweave.

I’m no lawyer, but from looking at the headend agreement, it appears that Provo sold UTOPIA’s interest in both the VOD and Wildvine servers to Broadweave as a part of the sale of iProvo and used UTOPIA’s unused exercise of the right of first refusal as consent to do so. If that is the case, UTOPIA would naturally like to be paid for their share of that asset; it just isn’t clear who should cut the check, City of Provo or Broadweave. Given that the total is rumored to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range, I can imagine that all parties involved are taking a strong stance on their respective positions.

The Daily Herald reported that both Kevin Garlick of Provo and Todd Marriott of UTOPIA are confident they can work something out, though I’ve heard that the problem in all of this is Broadweave CEO Steve Christensen who refuses to reach any kind of agreement. It looks like the headend agreement with Broadweave was signed in August of 2007 and I don’t think UTOPIA was involved in that discussion. This is coming back to bite Provo since they decided to make a lot of assumptions instead of talking it through with their partner.

Given the price tag and the tight financial situations with Provo, UTOPIA and Broadweave, I’m anticipating that this disagreement will get ugly if none of the sides plans to budge. Here’s to hoping they work out some kind of equitable solution instead of ended up in an “all sides lose” expensive legal action.