Revver puts money where its talent is

The video-sharing site has landed YouTube stars through revenue sharing. Is this the future for online clips? Photos: Video, profit sharing Video: Mentos and Revver

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
SANTA MONICA, Calif.--When it comes to profits, there's no sharing in the video-sharing sector.

Not enough, anyway, fumes Steven Starr, a former talent agent, Bob Marley devotee and now the impresario of ="http: one.revver.com="" browse="" editor%27s+picks"="">Revver.com, the video-sharing site he co-founded in 2005.

The perfect example of how artists are exploited came earlier this month, according to Starr. YouTube was sold for $1.65 billion, and not a dime went to the content creators who helped make the site famous. While the founders of YouTube pocket perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, Starr cuts checks to performers.

By sharing advertising revenue with makers of popular clips, Revver has begun shaking things up in the burgeoning sector. The industry, where amateurs post homemade movies to the Web, is looking for the next rising star now that YouTube has gone corporate. An heir apparent has yet to emerge, but Josh Martin, an analyst with the Yankee Group, said that paying top video makers is "where the sector is headed."

Indeed, Revver's investment in video makers appears to be paying off. Only a month since the Web site moved out of beta, the company has begun to attract some of YouTube's top clip producers, including the makers of "Lonelygirl15."

"It's exciting to see people who posted on YouTube are now cross-posting on both YouTube and Revver," said Miles Beckett, one of the cofounders of Lonelygirl15.

The series of videos featuring a pretty 16-year-old girl living with fervently religious parents drew millions of YouTube fans last spring. Then the whole thing was discovered to be a hoax. The uproar was covered by such mainstream media outlets as The New York Times and CNN.


Since then, Lonelygirl15, played by 19-year-old actress Jessica Rose, is bigger than ever. The videos are among YouTube and Revver's most watched clips nearly every day. The move to Revver has meant that the small troupe of actors and producers has started to earn some cash.

"Most of the top user-generated sites are finding that if they don't compensate their content creators then they're going to lose them," Beckett said.

Beckett declined to say how much his group has earned from Revver. But the duo that made the humorous and wildly popular video known as "The Diet Coke & Mentos Experiment," received $35,000 from Revver last July. (Look for a sequel video launching on Monday.)

Starr, 49, has heard grumblings from some of his competitors and critics that somehow he's going to sully the communal nature of video sharing, or that the mostly profitless sites can't afford to pay.

"Anybody who tells you that we can't make money by sharing revenue with the creator is either naive or interested in keeping all of the gravy," Starr said. "What was proved by the YouTube sale is that creativity can be aggregated and sold for very large sums of money."

YouTube representatives declined to comment for this story.

Starr is no labor organizer. He just sounds like one. He says his passion comes out of nurturing budding talent for three decades. As a talent agent at the William Morris Agency, he worked with such actors, directors and writers as Ben Stiller, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ang Lee and Tim Robbins. One of the first movies Brad Pitt starred in was a 1991 film called "Johnny Suede," a movie produced by Starr.

But it was while working as a rock promoter that Starr met the artist who he said "changed my life."

During the late 1970s, Starr booked Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wis. There followed two conversations between the men.

"I went there looking for this great musician, but his global consciousness inspired me," said Starr, who is still friends with and an occasional adviser to Rita Marley, Bob's widow.

Working with larger-than-life talents convinced Starr that performers deserve to be compensated. He insists that in today's world, the next Bob Marley or Elvis Presley will most likely be discovered on the Internet. Starr dismisses arguments that the Web is a place for the free exchange of art, and says that anyone wanting entertainers to perform for free is out to exploit them.

"We haven't built (Revver) to satisfy the needs of the free culture people or the corporate media business," Starr said. "We developed this technology to solve the challenges of being the creator in new media."

Revver works like this: A video maker uploads a clip to the site and Revver employees screen the content for any objectionable material, such as pornography or copyright violations. Lacking those, an advertisement is embedded into the video file. Wherever the video appears, it communicates with Revver's servers and the company tracks each time someone clicks on an ad.

According to Martin, the Yankee Group analyst, because each video clip is reviewed by a human, plenty of metadata, or information about the video, can be recorded. This allows advertisers to pinpoint suitable videos for their ads, Martin said. For example, executives from a soft drink company can go to Revver and say they want to attach ads to every clip with twenty-somethings riding skateboards.

They can also specify that they don't want videos that include a rival's product.

Martin likes the technology, but says the problem is that there isn't enough branding to help Revver build a following. The company is nowhere near the top 10 video-sharing sites.

"The positives are that they are syndicating their content so it can be seen tons of places," Martin said. "But if people don't know it's Revver, then they don't know to go there to upload their content."

When it comes to paying for content, Martin expects that other companies will soon follow Revver. Atom Entertainment has paid for content for years, but that was before video sharing mushroomed. Now that Revver has opened the door, it could be hard for competitors to say no.

"I am relatively convinced," Starr said, "that because we started this conversation, we are going to force people to play it our way."