From January 29 to 31, the AlwaysOn OnMedia NYC conference filled up the luxe Mandarin Oriental Hotel in midtown Manhattan with "disruptors," but not the kind that would be running around trashing the penthouse suite (at least that wasn't my impression of the crowd). These were, rather, the companies that "blogazine" AlwaysOn chose as its "AO Media 100," the year's featured start-ups that are shaking things up along the fault line between traditional media and the Internet. Most of the panels and presentation series, as well as the AO Media award winners themselves, were primarily for enterprise or advertising clients. But a handful, which we'll be showcasing here on Webware over the next two days, could potentially be quite relevant to your everyday lives--if they aren't already. For example, one set of presentations took a look at consumer-generated content--you know, the stuff everyone's been talking about as the centerpiece of this whole "2.0" thing.
The lineup was a bit incongruous, as three of the presentations were consumer-oriented video start-ups, and the other two were services geared toward the advertising community. Consequently, it was difficult at first to gauge a "feel" for the series other than the fact that it's clear that much of the advertising community is curious about the potential for user-generated content to help them rack up more profits. But in retrospect, things actually did fall together a bit more coherently. The consumer services--Pando, ClipSync, and MotionBox--share a common theme in that they're all start-ups with an eye on making online video fit more cleanly into peoples' offline lives. Essentially, they're companies that emphasize that user-generated video on the Internet is not a fad, but rather something that's become deeply etched into 21st-century culture. And the two advertisers--Vidavee and PayPerPost--are trying to capitalize on amateur video's ubiquity by using it as a route to advertising revenue.
Pando. Launched in 2006, Pando is a downloadable application that, according to CEO Robert Levitan, was designed to "help people share media directly with other people." In other words, this free downloadable application facilitates "super high quality, really really large file transfer" in a way that's faster and more efficient than the file-transfer features in e-mail and instant-messaging clients. Levitan especially marketed it as a tool for the hot web-video market: send your home videos to your family, for example. The revenue model is based on in-application banners, embedded video ads, and a set of premium packages that were recently launched.
ClipSync. Founder Itzik Cohen traces the idea for ClipSync back to his days as a professional basketball player in Israel, where he learned about the value of sharing an experience, whether it be from the bleachers of a sporting event or in an online discussion group. Like Pando, ClipSync is all about sharing videos, but ClipSync's model makes it possible for you to watch online video from a number of sharing sites in synch with friends around the world, and talk about it with an accompanying chat feature. "Entertainment is a social phenomenon," Cohen explained. "It's all about sharing moving experiences." So now, um, I guess you can watch that YouTube clip of the scuba-diving cat while simultaneously laughing at it with your friends across the globe.
MotionBox. Out of all the start-ups in this presentation series, this was the one that was most clearly a product of the meme that user-generated online video isn't just for amateur filmmakers or bored kids trying to get famous. It's an online editing and sharing service that founder Chris O'Brien says is "focused on personal video?the video that all of us shoot in our daily lives." So, MotionBox is for the casual users who want to make their home videos something more coherent, but don't know if they want to tackle FinalCut Express or even iMovie. And it's a real reminder that new technology has made home-video gurus out of all of us.
Vidavee. This was the first of the two media-industry-oriented companies, and certainly the better-received of the pair. CEO Mark Brenner was off to an ambitious start in his presentation, citing that Google had enabled the organization of the Web, Microsoft had enabled the organization of the desktop, and Vidavee was out to enable and organize video. Vidavee is a company that utilizes a combination of "consumer-friendly" ad placement and deep-tagging to help content providers figure out exactly what their consumers want, video-wise. One of Vidavee's dozen clients is liberal blog The Huffington Post, which uses the deep-tagging features to see exactly what parts of the videos viewers were choosing to share. So, while Vidavee doesn't specialize in user-generated ads, the consumer force is certainly integral to its model. And the whole Time "Person of the Year" thing could make that appealing to content distributors.
PayPerPost. Suffice it to say that this is a controversial company. CEO Ted Murphy assured that his company's strategy of matching bloggers up with companies that wanted people to rave about their products was "better for advertisers and better for bloggers," but it's raised some major ethical questions. (You know, payola.) To demonstrate, Murphy showed a video that had been created for a Hewlett-Packard digital camera through PayPerPost: a grainy, YouTube-ish clip of two mischievous-looking kids smashing a (non-HP) digital camera with a hammer. It was cute, and funny, and would probably make a more than decent TV commercial. And it's too bad, because PayPerPost's high-profile "blogger bribery" model is likely making it difficult for the potentially lucrative market of user-generated advertisements to get off the ground.