The text-based web of the last 25 years is evolving into an ever more visual web where pictures and videos dominate. Just look at how many apps there are to make movies or beautiful slideshows of our personal photos, or the success of sites like Pinterest or Snapchat. After all, we have the means to consume richer files thanks to abundant bandwidth and create them now that so many people own video cameras in the form of a smartphone.
But unlike the text-based web, searching the visual web is tough. That’s one reason why so many companies are working on computer vision. But in the meantime, there’s an excellent way to categorize videos and make them searchable — use audio. That’s what startup Op3nVoice is trying to do with an API it plans to launch in two weeks.
The Austin, Texas-based company is trying to become the Google of searching audio files and videos by allowing companies to access its platform, which first ingests video and audio files and then makes those files searchable. Google has similar technology is used to offer closed-captioning of YouTube videos. It’s pretty powerful stuff, allowing sites that host videos to do away with tags and directories and just let people search the terms referenced in the video. You can see the results at a site called Mobento, which has implemented the Op3nvoice product for its educational video service. Not only can you search for terms, but the results show where those terms occur in the video playback (see below).
That’s good news for a video site, but it’s useful for podcasts or even folks who archive telephone calls. In fact, that’s how the company got started back in 2011 in London — it was a consumer-facing service for people who wanted to record and store their phone calls. “One of the obvious things people wanted to do with those calls was search.” said Paul Murphy, Op3nvoice CEO and co-founder. So the company started building a search function on top of its own natural language processing engine and custom database.
The product sold to financial institutions like banks that wanted to track compliance issues and insurance firms that wanted to track potential problems in the interviews recorded by claims adjusters. But every new client meant hiring new engineers, which limited growth and scale.
So last year, after joining the initial Techstars London class, Op3nvoice realized that it needed to switch up its business if it wanted to build something that could scale and move to the U.S. to get the investment it needed to build that scalable product.
So now Op3nvoice is in Austin, all set to open its API and seeking to raise $1.7 million. Op3nvoice will charge between $2 and $3 per hour for the digital signal processing that has to occur when the video or audio files are ingested. The search function is free up to a certain number of searches.
As a journalist who records all kinds of audio, this seemed powerful, but not powerful enough. Could auto-generated written transcriptions be far behind decent audio search? Murphy disabused me of my hopes noting that transcription in a phone call is still about 75 percent accurate and 95 percent accurate in a lecture situation, which isn’t good enough yet for professional transcription. However, it’s plenty good enough for search, which should help developers build an amazing array of products from better ad matching on videos to tagging for podcasts.
Murphy says the company is also working with a German lab to detect emotion in audio via the voice waveform, which could then be applied to track everything from movie genres to determine what call center workers tend to lose their cool. For those of us who tend to speak our voicemails, it might also someday offer clues to how the text should be read. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
For Americans, TV is becoming the second screen. According a survey by the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of U.S. internet users would find it “very hard” to give up web, compared to 35 percent for TV.
That’s a wake-up call for marketers and an opportunity for insurgent media brands. That’s why Ad Age is bringing innovative media CEOs together at Ad Age’s Digital Conference on April 1 and 2 in New York City:
Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins
In the face of ever-increasing competition from the likes of Netflix and Amazon, all eyes are on Hulu. Will Hulu have the funds to compete, or will it remain a catch-up service for linear TV?
Betaworks CEO John Borthwick
Creator and operator of inventive startups Bit.ly, Chartbeat, Social Flow, Digg, Instapaper and Giphy, Betaworks is building the tools and pipes that make content smarter.
Upworthy Co-Founder Eli Pariser
Upworthy headlines have saturated news feeds the world over, but now Pariser is trying to move web advertising away from unique visitors and page views in favor of “attention minutes.”
Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff
Last year Vox Media expanded from the wonderfully readable Verge and SB Nation by buying Curbed, Eater and Racked. Now Bankoff is turning his sights on re-imagining the future of news with the code-named Project X.
Join us next month along with General Mills, Wal-Mart, American Express, Kimberly-Clark, e-Trade, T-Mobile, Citi, Electronic Arts and more.
KoldCast TV, an early pioneer of serialized original video content on the web, is shutting down. KoldCast co-founder and CEO David S. Samuels announced the decision to shutter the site in a remarkably honest email to its producers Thursday, which read in part:
“Simply stated, the costs of operation continue to outpace advertising revenue. Moreover, costs associated with audience development, in relation to industry CPM rates, make it impossible to expand our audience without losing money, which we have successfully been able to do for all but one calendar quarter during our life cycle. You read that right; we have never been able to generate an annual profit in this particular business.”
KoldCast TV, which was founded close to eight years ago, was home to a number of serialized originals, which the company distributed through its website and through apps for a variety of smart TV platforms. But while it tried to distinguish itself from sites dominated by user-generated content, it was never capable of capturing huge audiences and compete with the ever-growing online video giant that is YouTube.
Samuels said Thursday that the company lost millions of dollars over the years:
“As some of you may know, our company, KoldCast Entertainment Media, LLC, has been self-funded since inception. Unlike virtually every other distribution platform, we put our own money in this game and, as a result, have lost every penny of our investment, which is a material multi-million dollar investment. The loss is painful from any number of perspectives.”
Also affected by the shutdown is The Sixth Wall, KoldCast’s production company. The KoldCast founders want to now focus on Dynamic Influence and Wild Spirit Studios, two sister companies that have been focusing on content production and consulting services for third parties.
Looks like Dish’s internet TV deal with Disney may open the floodgates for news about similar arrangements: Reuters is reporting that DirecTV is in negotiations with Disney about also launching an internet-based TV service with programming from ABC and ESPN. DirecTV’s retransmission agreement with Disney is up soon, so the timing couldn’t be better.
Content identification specialist Vobile has acquired Los Angeles-based video analytics startup Blayze to better target YouTube networks and other publishers interested in making more money with the Google-owned video site. Blayze’s two co-founders are joining Vobile and are tasked with establishing a new Los Angeles office.
The acquisition was part cash, part stock, and Vobile CEO Yangbin Wang said during an interview Wednesday that the total value of the deal could reach eight figures, depending on certain benchmarks, but declined to offer further details.
For Vobile, the deal represents an interesting opportunity to take a business it has been building for close to ten years to a new generation of publishers. Vobile started out as one of many content recognition and rights management companies, and for a while was best known for its automated content recognition and filtering technology that’s been used by adult video websites as well as major media companies to find and flag unlicensed content.
Initially, Vobile competed with a number of other players, many of which employed students to scour sites, flag uploads and issue takedown notices. Vobile instead chose to automate content recognition through audio and video fingerprinting. This helped Vobile to stay around and adapt to a changing business while others had to give up.
Fast forward to 2014, and a new crop of content identification and management companies is popping up, promising multi-channel networks and other publishers on YouTube to help them track and monetize their content on the site. And again, some are employing hordes of students as “claim managers.” It’s déjà vu for Wang, who still thinks that content identification should be left to machines.
That’s why he decided to acquire Blayze, whose co-founder Ben Smith was at Google when the company acquired YouTube and subsequently became YouTube’s first employee in Los Angeles. Smith developed relationships with major movie studios and broadcasters for YouTube, and now wants to bring YouTube business to Vobile.
Wang told me that Smith and his co-founder won’t be on their own for long in Los Angeles. The company is actively hiring to grow its team in the entertainment capital, and recently raised a $9 million Series C to finance its expansion. Wang said that the company now has close to 250 employees, and that it has been profitable “for quite a while.”
Streaming radio service Spotify is acquiring The Echo Nest, a Somerville, Mass., startup focused on building the world’s largest graph of data about music. The Echo Nest already powers music recommendation for Spotify, as well as many other streaming services, so it’s a natural move for Spotify to want to bring that capability in-house.
The Echo Nest was founded by MIT Ph.Ds. Tristan Jehan and Brian Whitman, and has collected more than a trillion data points about over 35 million songs. These data points cover a variety of stuff, from genre to media mentions to the actual musical attributes of the songs themselves. All of it comes together in a large graph that The Echo Nest says lets it recommend content and deliver information about music better than most, if not everybody, around.
The company — which was founded in 2005 and has raised more than $25 million in venture capital — also offers a free API for developers who want to build some of its musical data into their applications.
Whitman will be speaking at our Structure Data conference March 19-20 in New York as part our Data Lab sessions. He’ll be talking about the state of the art in machine listening — the practice of teaching computers pick out the features of songs and sounds — and its potential applications across industries.
For Spotify, the acquisition helps it compete with the likes of Pandora, Google Now Music, iTunes Radio and now Gracenote without relying on a third party. Every company in the streaming music space has its own advantages and its own strategies around recommendations, and some — like Google — are already out showing off their prowess in analyzing music data, too. As large music libraries and recommendation systems become standard fare, the best services are going to have to find ways to do them better through data science.
The acquisition should also provide Spotify with additional momentum as it prepares for a long-rumored IPO. Speaking of which: Bloomberg reported Thursday that Spotify is working with Goldman Sachs on raising a credit facility, which could be a precursor to a public offering in the coming months.
This post was updated at 10:35 am with additional information about Spotify’s plans to go public.
One year after launching its VOD platform, Vimeo is doubling down on paid content by earmarking a total of $10 million for videographers who want to sell their productions through its site. Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor said during an interview this week that the commitment was a direct response to the growth Vimeo has seen for paid titles.
Filmmakers who have successfully raised $10,000 or more on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or a similar crowdfunding program are eligible for the funding. Also eligible are filmmakers whose films are debuting at one of the 20 leading film festivals worldwide. Both criteria are an interesting filter to make sure that Vimeo isn’t swamped with subpar submissions, and Vimeo GM Greg Clayman said that the site has also started to actively seek out titles to distribute through the platform. “We are talking directly to film makers, we are talking to distributors.”
Vimeo’s commitment to invest $10 million comes after similar, albeit smaller experiments in the past few months. The video platform started to provide some funding to movies that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and then earmarked $500,000 for successfully crowdfunded movies in January.
Trainor told me that Vimeo now offers more than 6,000 videos for sale through Vimeo on Demand, ranging from indie movies to instructional videos to even serialized fare. Film makers can set their own price for paid downloads, and Vimeo keeps only 10 percent of the revenue — a significantly lower cut than most digital download platforms.
Trainor didn’t want to go into details on how much revenue Vimeo has generated with VOD so far, but he said that some film makers had been able to make tens of thousands of dollars within days — something that would have taken them a much longer time, and millions of plays, on YouTube. “We couldn’t be more bullish,” about VOD, said Trainor.