The online video player of tomorrow looks nothing like YouTube. Startups are seeking to create a new kind of experience for video viewers, incorporating advanced features that go beyond the centralized play button, both increasing the number of videos consumed and the overall time spent on the site. Israel-based TVinci is one of the pioneers in the space. I’ve talked to Ido Wiesenberg, TVinci’s 26 year old founder, to shed some light about TVinci’s technology, challenges and vision. See TVinci’s exclusive interview with VC Cafe below.
VC Cafe: TVinci has been called a video management platform. In a few words, how would you describe TVinci?
TVinci offers video content owners, such as broadcasters, publishers and network operators, an innovative media management platform that includes an interactive video player, aimed at maximizing monetization of that content.
Our platform enables our clients to upload, easily manage, syndicate and monitor the performance of video content, and what makes it unique is the conceptual shift we lead: the common belief used to be that “Content is the king”, we advocate that Content Experience is the new king. We believe in placing the user in the center, which means not only providing them with the right content, but also creating an interactive, personalized and social experience while watching it, without downloading software or changing their surfing habits. As a result, the videos are more accessible, and the users watch much more videos, much more often, as seen by the content owners who have already implemented our platform.
VC Cafe:TVinci launched without raising capital. How did you initially fund TVinci?
We followed some very clear guidelines from day one, aiming at staying (at least) balanced. I think we were confident enough with our platform to insist on charging, and were lucky enough to find clients who believed in us from the beginning.
VC Cafe:Are you looking to raise funding these days? If so, how big of a round and what type(s) of investors are you pursuing?
Currently we are a privately funded company. Indeed we have been working for two years without funding. We are pleased to have finished 2007 with substantial profits and a positive cash flow. Lately we have completed the first funding round in order to expand our activities in the international market. We are now at the verge of signing with two of the major global media giants, and I can already reveal that we will soon launch several large-scale projects with MTV Networks International, which naturally results in hiring and expanding. Obviously that gets us planning our next fund raising.
VC Cafe: What’s the technology behind the player and how much of it was developed in house?
The platform is based on a .net infrastructure and the players were designed using Flash 9 (AS3). We are currently developing additional players using other technologies as well. The platform and players were all developed in house over the past two years.
VC Cafe: How is your technology different than that of your competitors?
In my opinion what makes TVinci so special is our ability to link very strong technologic abilities with a pioneering view toward both content experience and content management, and I would like to elaborate on that:
- On the user end, our technology creates players that provide the fullest, most interactive and most elegant viewing experience that can be found over the web. The platform & the players are designed to meet web2.0 requirements – the user can already contribute their own content, easily share it with friends via social networks, and perform any content related action while on full screen mode.<
- On the content owner’s end, the media management platform: our clients are surprised with how efficient and easy the platform is for management on their end , as it was designed after an endless reviewing process that included various content owners. During this development and reviewing process, the platform’s scalability has been an essential requirement we’ve stressed and fulfilled.
- Our technology allows a very high level of flexibility: we’ve developed several quite different versions of our players, all tailor-suited for various kinds of end users, therefore suitable for various content owners and operators, which can use it for different niche audiences, varying from young MTV users, health-care clients (Clalit Israel project), Indians leaving abroad ( Watch-India project) and any Israeli who watches a video on Israel’s largest broadcaster web-site (Reshet project). Nonetheless all of those versions follow our viewing experience philosophy.
VC Cafe: What capabilities or features are the major video platforms (YouTube, Joost, Hulu etc) lacking?
The video platforms you’ve mentioned have made an incredible step in favor of revolutionizing the video world, but I’d like to emphasize the fact that we do not compete with them, but rather aim at different way of reaching the users.
Those platforms aggregate content, making the user visit their site in order to watch it. We are not content aggregators, we provide the media management platform for content owners. We believe the content should be more accessible to the users, meaning they won’t have to change their destination site in order to reach the video content, but have it served right were they regularly visit. Once they reach the content they will be able, thanks to our platform, to enjoy a much broader viewing experience, without downloading any software.
VC Cafe: TVinci keeps users engaged for a long time; longer than other video players are able to. What is driving this behavior?
That’s true. Our platform generated an incredible increase in content consumption in our clients’ sites. For example, in MTV Israel and MSN Israel, powered by our platform, people now watch an average of 7 videos each visit! This behavior is driven by our “holistic approach” towards content consumption: the video section is an integral part of the site in the sense that video and text contents are intuitively linked. This conception dramatically extends the life of a piece of video content, as it becomes a part of a personalized, social experience. We enhance it using our Interactive Video Dashboard, which allows users to watch a video in full-screen mode, and to be presented with widgets above or beside the video. The widgets are applications that are layered over the video, and can be superimposed or semi-transparent, depending on the client’s preference. They allow the user to add comments about the video, add thought-bubbles on the video, tag it or chat with friends while watching it, all while still in full screen mode. The user ends up spending much more time on the site, as they share their comments and preferences regarding videos, and are able to watch it “through other users eyes”. Our platform also allows distribution of a selection of videos over social networks such as facebook or myspace.
VC Cafe: What would you say were the main lessons learned along the way?
The main lessons in my opinion are:
- Aim at learning – we don’t know everything. We want to adapt to the market and the users, and not vice versa. This is why we see great value in the Tvinci Lab, where users’ comments compose a significant part in our ongoing development process.
- Keep the product extremely flexible, in order to suit different destination audiences, and therefore various clients.
- Choose the employees you think can develop at least as fast as you’d like your company to grow. We’ve also realized the importance of hiring Tech- people that can also see things from the marketing’s point of view, and a marketing-management division that is strongly involved in the technical aspects of the product. To achieve that you must hire people that are not only professional at their expertise, but also very broad-minded.
- Make sure your employees are constantly updated with the target market. This ensures our customers can feel safe that they are engaged with a company that will stay innovative and up to date. Obviously that’s the kind of reputation we seek.
VC Cafe: Are there plans to set up your own monetization platform? If so, how would that work?
Currently we are associated with Double Click and other advertising networks, as we offer various advertising opportunities for our clients: pre, post, in stream, over layers and sponsorship. We are also in late stages of developing our own monetization platform, but I can’t elaborate on that at the moment.
VC Cafe: What does TVinci look like in five years from now? In terms of usage, products, market etc.
Our market is ever changing. I think our strength so far has been our ability to foresee those changes and act accordingly, and we intend to keep doing so. Having said that, we have a clear view of where we’d like to be in five years. I assume our biggest clients will be the operators (we’ve already signed an agreement to work with one of the major ones in Europe). These companies have incredible amounts of high-quality content, and they are definitely interested in doing more with it. Enriching and upgrading existing content, exposing it to more users, is what our company is all about.
In terms of usage, I predict our player and concept will be regularly enjoyed by end users in at least four continents. As I have mentioned TVinci will enter at least three new international markets before the end of Q2 2008.
In terms of products, I believe we will continue to be the spearhead of the Content Experience revolution, yet it might very well go beyond the internet world.