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Web video pioneer returns with checkbook in hand

Tom McInerney, co-founder of video-sharing site Guba, invests in Shopflick, a site with aspirations of becoming the Web's version of the Home Shopping Network.

Tom McInerney, the Web video-sharing pioneer who left the sector 18 months ago, is making a comeback.

Guba co-founder Tom McInerney Greg Sandoval/CNET

This time, however, the co-founder of video site Guba is an investor. He's one of the backers of Shopflick, a company trying to become the Web equivalent of the Home Shopping Network. The site enables apparel merchants to showcase the clothing they offer by uploading video clips. Many sellers use the opportunity to channel their inner Francis Ford Coppola.

For example, the style mavens at designer Ric Rac shot a scene of two women wearing nearly identical versions of the company's $145 Kangaroo Dress meeting on the street. The audience hears the trash talking going on in each woman's head.

McInerney, who spoke at the OnHollywood conference on Wednesday, said Shopflick's founders got the idea for the site by meeting a woman who had made jewelry and had appeared on the cable show the Home Shopping Network.

The three-minute appearance brought the woman more sales than in the prior seven years, according to McInerney. Shopflick's executives want to bring that same magic to the Web.

Helping merchants sell clothes online is a practical use for Web video, McInerney said. He added that enabling people to share homemade videos online may not be as practical--unless, of course, you're YouTube.

McInerney stepped down as Guba's CEO in December 2006. By then YouTube had already amassed a huge audience and lead in video sharing. Three months earlier, Google had acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion.

"I think we can all acknowledge that YouTube has won the big prize," McInerney said then. "The billion-dollar opportunity has kind of passed."

Before that, Guba was among the first video-sharing companies to sign licensing deals with Hollywood studios. McInerney said that Guba was too small to compete against some of the bigger players that entered not long after, such as and Apple. Guba no longer offers feature films for download.

"We pretty much lined up every studio," McInerney said. "Later, we couldn't justify paying the guarantees that all the studios asked for...frankly, movie downloads on the Web haven't really taken off."

McInerney predicted that consumers will one day soon watch movies downloaded from the Web and that a handful of distributors will prevail over the sector. But he doesn't plan to give it another try.

"I like being an investor," he said. "You can still be involved by just writing a check, but you don't have to work 22 hours a day."

Shopflick: Get this! | Get your own Store!