Start-up Revver zooms in on Net video sharing

New company offers advertising potential for amateur video makers whose work is swapped online.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
3 min read
Forget Google. The Internet's real killer app has always been the strange little amateur videos, like the Star Wars Kid or the Numa Numa Dance, that find explosive popularity almost overnight.

A new company launching Monday in Los Angeles, co-founded by Freenet peer-to-peer developer Ian Clarke, aims to give the producers of those videos a way to make money from them at last.

Dubbed Revver, the company has set up a Web site that starts out as a kind of Flickr for videos, allowing anybody to post their videos online, and letting viewers organize them by adding their own descriptive keyword "tags." But Revver adds a new touch, inserting code into the video itself that adds a small advertisement every time it is viewed, even if the video is downloaded and distributed from another site.

"The thought is to make it possible for creators who are unpaid online to be able to benefit from their work," said Steven Starr, who co-founded Revver with Clarke.

The Revver model is on the early edge of a move to give digital video the same prominence audio and still photographs have online, a move driven in part by widely available digital video cameras, and in part by support from services like Apple Computer's iTunes.

A number of services have emerged over the past several months that aim to give amateurs and professionals a simple way to distribute their video online, whether the programming is commercial-quality work or home videos of cats.

Several of these are using peer-to-peer technology to speed downloads. A nonprofit network called the Open Media Network, run by Kontiki founder Mike Homer, is geared toward public broadcast content but also allows individuals to upload video. A service called DTV, created by the nonprofit Participatory Culture foundation, taps BitTorrent technology for its distribution platform.

Others, such as YouTube.com, focus on giving individual consumers a place to put their videos, just as Yahoo's popular Flickr does for photos. Search giant Google also lets people upload video to be cataloged in its video search engine.

The advertising component is a newer arrival, however.

Revver's technology attaches a tag to each video uploaded to its Web site, which calls back to the company every time the video is viewed, even if it has been downloaded and distributed elsewhere, such as through a file-swapping network or a different Web site.

That allows the company to update the ads in real time, and keep close track of how often the file is being used.

For now, the company is emulating Google's model of selling ads by keyword. Popular user-created keywords on the site include such broad topics as "funny" or "celebrity," as well as more specific tags such as "Korea" and "skateboarding."

"The video space is clearly exploding, and the opportunities are absolutely unlimited," said Heather Luttrell, president of IndieClick, a Web advertisement broker that's providing ads to Revver. She said her clients, which range from insurance giant Geico to Atlantic Records, have been buzzing about the potential for digital video advertising since the introduction of Apple's video iPod earlier this month.

Revver splits the revenue for each ad equally with the content creator, Starr said. The company has drawn venture funding from several firms, including Bessemer Venture Partners and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

A handful of other companies are looking at similar ideas for adding advertising to online video, particularly in the wake of Apple's new support for video podcasts.

Video provides more flexibility than audio, say companies that are developing digital advertising models. Audio ads are almost necessarily as simple as their radio counterparts, with the commercials sandwiched between elements of the audio file.

By contrast, advertising in video has more options, such as transparent buttons that float over a film like TV logos. Some companies are already experimenting with this and other ideas, in hopes of ensuring that advertisers' messages will be seen.

"Audio is one dimensional, so you hear one thing and then another," said Jonathan Cobb, chief executive officer of podcast-advertising company Kiptronic. "Video is by nature two-dimensional, so you have another dimension of things to work with."