Posts for 'Critical Media'

  • Grab Networks, Syndicaster, Others Offering Local TV Stations Opportunity to Reinvent Themselves

    Last Friday, in "Broadcasters in Transition at NAB Show. But to What?" I painted a pretty downbeat picture of local broadcast TV stations' prospects in the broadband era. Coincidentally this week I had briefings with Syndicaster and Grab Networks, two companies offering technology solutions that could set local stations on the path to reinventing themselves and capitalizing on the Syndicated Video Economy.

    Though quite different in the scale and scope of their product offerings, Syndicaster and Grab share a common starting point: local stations need to learn how to better leverage and distribute their video content into the broadband ecosystem. Doing so means local stations must have the right tools to ingest, prepare, distribute, track and monetize their content - all steps that go far beyond their traditional and well-understood broadcast work flows.

    For its part, Syndicaster capitalizes on its parent company's (Critical Media) position of capturing and digitizing hundreds of local stations' broadcast signals. Syndicaster providers a web interface to transcripts of each on-air segment, which an editor is then able to easily edit into clips, generate metadata and distribute online. The process is very straightforward, and in the demo I saw, clips from various stations already using Syndicaster were being added in real-time.

    More recently Syndicaster has added the ability to upload video directly from the field to further compress the time required to get video up online. It has also integrated with Brightcove, YouTube, Yahoo and others for one click 3rd party syndication. It plans for user-captured video to be incorporated into the video catalog and a widget distribution model. Yesterday the company announced Journal Interactive is using the platform, along with other customers Bloomberg Television, LIN TV and Bonneville.

    Separately, Grab Networks, a company that was formed from the merger of Anystream and Voxant last Fall has in the last 60 days begun taking the wraps off its integrated solution, with plans for a formal announcement later this quarter.

    Grab too, begins with multiple ingestion options. But a key difference is that Grab auto-generates clips from the video feeds, assigning metadata to them and indexing them for editorial review or straight publication. This process, which Anystream has been working on for a long while, uses its own algorithms to analyze 40 different "tracks" of information about the video (e.g. speech-to-text, scene detection, facial recognition, close captioning, etc.). It then statistically distills the information gathered to generate the clips, metadata and index.

    Grab believes this core proprietary process is the heart of its value proposition and persuading broadcasters of its efficacy has been a key part of its early sales efforts. Grab executives explained that many customers are initially skeptical that all of this can be done by without human intervention, but upon seeing the results have become believers. (I only saw a limited demo, but it looked pretty darn good). Recognizing that some producers will want to refine clips further, Grab offers an editing module. It's important to understand this process doesn't just make publishing clips more efficient, it also creates more inherent value in each clip as the greater intelligence each clip now has enhances its discovery and monetization potential.

    Beyond clip generation, Grab's solution encompasses capabilities that many other companies offer as their primary business (transcoding, video CMS and player, ad insertion, DRM and rights control, pre-integrated syndication to multiple 3rd party distributors, etc.) And via the Voxant deal, Grab also offers a large (Feb comScore rank #26, 6M uniques) built-in syndication network for broadcasters to distribute into and obtain rights-cleared content from. Grab's executives said its comprehensive approach is a response to customers' requests for all-in-one solutions.

    Grab is in trials with 5 large station groups and anticipates announcing its first deal for the solution in the next 30 days (remember though that Anystream is building off a core transcoding business that has 700+ customers). Beyond local broadcasters, Grab thinks it will be appealing to other media segments like newspapers, cable networks, magazines, etc. - basically anyone that needs a full solution to power their video efforts ("an operating system for the syndicated video economy" as Grab CEO Fred Singer puts it)

    A bold vision indeed. But for local stations ready to acknowledge the urgency of their situations, quite possibly a technology lifeline.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

  • 1Cast: A Legit Redlasso Successor Has Tall Mountain to Climb

    Personalized online news is as old as the web itself. But personalized online video news is a nut that has yet to be fully cracked - although by all rights it should be. This was Redlasso's goal, until broadcasters, which hadn't given permission for their content to be ingested and shared, put an end to the young company last month.

    Now comes 1Cast, a company seeking to be a legitimate Redlasso successor. Today it is announcing first round funding from wireless king Craig McCaw's Eagle River Holdings. Yesterday I got more details from 1Cast CEO Anthony Bontrager.

    Anthony has correctly realized that gaining deals with video news partners is an absolute prerequisite to success. To that end he says the company will have "no shortage" of content, and also has a particular focus on "repatriating international content." Though for now he's not disclosing any details, based on conversations I've had with broadcasters, my sense is that credible companies, even when early stage, can get deals done.

    Yet there are other key success factors for a personalized news aggregator like 1Cast to succeed. Three that are high on my list are user experience, audience growth and revenue generation. Miss on any of these three and I think the model fails.

    From a user experience standpoint, Anthony says creating a new personalized "micro-cast" is a simple three step process. That sounds promising, though since the beta won't open till later month (with full launch late in '08), I can't judge the specifics yet. And the wildcard is how content providers will ultimately react to having their videos mashed together with competitors' videos in a single micro-cast.

    Growing an audience is a more daunting. As we all know, the web is incredibly noisy, and users have well-entrenched news-gathering habits. Yet there is white space in personalized video news. Anthony said that while 1Cast will be a central hub, he's focused on "channel partners" as well, and portals in particular, to grow traffic. Deals with majors like Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and others would be a huge win, but are notoriously hard to clinch for startups.

    Last, but not least is revenue. Even assuming an audience can be built, optimally monetizing it is a challenge. Anthony said they're working with an undisclosed ad network and will also build their own sales team. Direct sales are important as living primarily off an ad network's splits will not produce sufficient revenue for 1Cast.

    Yet even a direct sales team isn't a panacea; Anthony mentioned that some content providers want to sell any new impressions 1Cast generates. That's consistent with how I understand other Syndicated Video Economy deals like these work as well. But like other aggregators, that leaves 1Cast with a swiss cheese inventory situation that is complex to sell. Then factor in that some inventory will be essentially local in nature (i.e. generated from local video news) - which really requires a local sales orientation to fully monetize - and complexity grows still further.

    Add it all up and 1Cast has a tall mountain to climb to succeed. Not insurmountable, but definitely challenging. From a consumer standpoint, personalized video news is very compelling; I just wonder whether a 6-person startup has the necessary mojo or if it requires a larger player with deep resources and content relationships. Meanwhile broadcasters are pursuing their own video initiatives and others like Voxant, WorldNow and Critical Media have been circling these waters for a while. 1Cast has an ambitious story; how it unfolds will be worth watching.

    What do you think? Post a comment!

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