Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 9:16 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
VuClip has an ambitious goal of making video search available to all video-enabled mobile handsets. Yesterday the company announced a $6 million Series B round, led by Jafco Ventures, with participation by prior investor NEA. The round brings to $14.2 million the total amount raised to date. I caught up with Craig Gatarz, VuClip's Chief Administrative Officer yesterday to learn more.
VuClip offers a direct-to-consumer search portal, which the company plans to have account for 60-70% of its business, and a white-label solution to power video search for content provider partners' WAP sites which will account for the remainder. VuClip brings a couple of differentiators to the market. First is an ability to detect the type of handset you're using and its specific multimedia capabilities. This allows VuClip to serve video in a format compatible with and optimized for 3,000 different handsets in 150 different countries.
VuClip does this by keeping a database of User Agent Profiles ("UAProf") which most handset manufacturers offer. But with this data scattered about, it isn't trivial to build a database like VuClip's (which it calls "Devicepedia"). Once the handset type is detected and the video selected from among the search results, VuClip then does an on-the-fly transcode to suit that phone's particular capabilities.
I did a little test and VuClip passed. I have a Blackberry Pearl, which does not support Flash, from Verizon Wireless. I did a search on VuClip on my BlackBerry for "David Pogue" and found a result at Metacafe. Separately I found the same result online at Metacafe.com and verified it was in Flash. I clicked play on the VuClip result, and sure enough, the same original Flash video played out. It took a few seconds for it to start and though it wasn't full-screen, it worked.
While VuClip appears to succeed on the technical side, its business approach is still confusing to me. For the portal, Craig said VuClip has indexed over 100 million videos. But an important caveat is that VuClip has not indexed any content from any premium providers unless it has a partnership deal with them. In India and China, where VuClip's main focus has been, it has signed a number of the major providers (plus wireless carriers for promotion). But in the U.S. where it is less used, Craig identified only CBS and Versaly Entertainment as current partners, with others in the hopper. This explains why when I searched for David Pogue I didn't get any results at NYTimes.com, which would have been most logical.
You might ask why a company positioning itself to be a search leader would proactively decide not to index all video content that's available, since doing so inevitably creates a highly incomplete search experience for users? As best I understood, it's because VuClip wants to be part of the ad revenue stream associated with the video view. It has developed something it calls "Dynamic ad stitching" which allows it to pull ads from different ad servers and properly transcode those as well. Absent this step, if the content provider has an existing pre-roll ad it has a hit-or-miss chance of being viewable on that particular handset. Dynamic ad stitching allows VuClip to approach content partners with the proposition that it can not only enhance viewership of their videos, but also help monetize them.
While it will take VuClip time to build its U.S. content partnerships, the company seems to address well the thorny problems of the highly heterogeneous mobile video market (different handset capabilities, browsers, operating systems, wireless networks, etc.) which have handicapped video's growth. Conversely, on the wired broadband side, these things have been largely non-issues, significantly contributing to the market's strong growth.
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