There’s a lot being written these days about the potential for the web to overtake conventional news sources. Most of it has to do with newspapers (like Fred Wilson’s blog post this morning), but television news is also vulnerable. I interviewed Ken Zamkow, Flixwagon’s Executive Director of Marketing and Business Development to find out more about the emerging combination of web and video news.
I had been curious about Flixwagon since hearing about them via Robert Scoble (looks to me like they’ve fixed most of his gripes, BTW), who is always on about video and the web. It had always seemed to me like video on the web could be the most difficult of propositions. After all, doesn’t video require more production than any other form of media to be successful? Little did I know that is actually far from the truth.
Of course Scoble himself has made a career out of video, even though he started more as a blogger. The photo on his web site shows a video camera with tripod slung over one shoulder. More recently he’s become a devotee of cell phone video, simply because you can shoot it in places that just aren’t possible with a full sized camera. Whether that’s because you’re shooting from the tight confines of a Tesla electric sports car, or as a participant in the Davos World Economic Forums, the cell phone can go places that the big cameras can’t and with surprisingly good results.
But could this phenomenon actually he mainstream? That’s what I wanted to find out from Ken.
As he puts it, Flixwagon started out with a technology and they didn’t know what they would do with it. The company was founded a little over a year ago by three veterans. It’s headquarters are in Boston, MA, with offices in New York (where Ken is) and Israel for R&D. They’re funded by a group of individual investors.
Today, there are two main uses for the service:
1. Consumer. Individuals making videos and chatting with friends while doing that. Sometimes private, sometimes public, and so on.
2. Business: More important to us. MTV, Conde Nast, and others use this to broadcast live content.
That second scenario, broadcasting live content for various media concerns, is the interesting piece. They’ve been working with MTV, for example, for most of their history. MTV sends its reporters into various events with just cell phones. For Super Tuesday, they had 23 reporters canvassing the event with their phones capturing the video.
Their biggest success to date has been an MTV event covering the Jonas Brothers backstage at a concert. They followed the group through Jones Beach, Long Island, and Madison Square Garden, backstage, on board helicopters and limos. It’s unique footage and you can see again where it would’ve been hard to capture this sort of thing with a conventional video crew. This footage all led to some of the biggest mobile video numbers ever recorded. We’re talking streaming 6 million videos in 36 hours, live TV replays shown at a rate of 2 clips an hour, and over 90,000 blog comments left on the videos. Those kind of numbers would get any media company interested!
Lest you think it’s just the edgy music crowd that would go for such a thing, they’ve also had good success covering fashion shows for Conde Nast property Brides.com. Once again they’re sending reporters to do live coverage of fashion show for Brides.com’s blogs.
So Flixwagon are intent on establishing themselves as the new media platform for video. I asked Ken to speculate on some of the factors that have made this format more acceptable. From my own perspective, I think video like the Blair Witch Project got people used to the idea of consuming video with these sorts of production values. The thing about this kind of video is not only can it be tremendously more candid, opening the door for more interesting kinds of content, but it is also connected with web communities, which also drives a more interesting experience than plain old video (remember when we called ordinary telephones Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS?).
Ken’s comment was:
People are used to a more handmade production value. They’re okay with content shot on a smaller camera. Blair Witch opened that door. The key is the informational value. Is the content engaging and interesting. People enjoy a broader diet of media. They enjoy HiDef movies, but they now have more room in their entertainment diet for variety. They snack on short form videos and consume a lot of other types throughout the day.
It really is about whether the content is engaging or interesting, isn’t it? We’ve all seen shows with incredible production values that were duds because they weren’t engaging or interesting.
What’s the relationship of YouTube to services like Flixwagon? Obviously YouTube is the Big Kahuna for video on the web, but there’s more to it than that. First, there’s the cell phone angle, which opens up whole new avenues for content. Then there are Flixwagons efforts to become a media platform. For the commercial video producers, the MTV’s of the world, they don’t want to send their traffic out to YouTube, they want to keep that community for themselves. Flixwagon facilitates that.
At a high level, Ken characterizes Flixwagon in this way:
We think this is a great technology because it makes things easier and simpler. It costs a fraction of what a broadcast crew costs so it is a way to revolutionize broadcast content. You can create a lot of engagement with much lower cost than ever before. That’s what the web is all about.
Indeed, this sort of thing is exactly what the web does well.