In addition to a whole lot of great content, 2014 also brought a number of interesting startups and technologies to the forefront.
Whether it’s a company looking to help creators go mobile, a company planning to help traditional media giants (“creators” in their own right) go over-the-top, or an immersive technology that’s redefining “video” as we know it, all of our picks have one thing in common: They believe they’re the future of digital entertainment.
In some cases, we’re inclined to agree, in other cases, we’re just wondering what the future holds for said company or technology. In all cases, they’re companies and technologies definitely worth paying attention to over the next 12 months.
Victorious is a startup that we, as well as many others in the industry, have our eyes on. Backed by $13 million, the company wants to help creators grow their presence on the screen that their fans are increasingly watching and engaging with content on — mobile. More so than that, though, Victorious is also promising to give more control back to the creator, who have full control over the design and functionality of their Victorious-built mobile apps.
What makes Victorious even more compelling — aside from the fact that we have yet to see an app confirmed to be built by the company — is its executive team, which is led by star investor and YouTube’s former global head of content and operations Dean Gilbert; Bing Chen, YouTube’s former global head of creator development, is Victorious’ chief creative officer.
The much talked about streaming platform from former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar has remained in stealth mode for so long that people couldn’t help but buzz about it. Part of that buzz is that the startup’s ready to take on YouTube, having already courted some of the video giant’s top creators and networks to distribute content on its service.
Like YouTube, Vessel’s focus lies in short-form content, but unlike YouTube, the startup plans to only “premium” content, more like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. But it almost goes without saying that the reason Vessel is worth keeping tabs on is because who’s behind it. Kilar has recruited many of his former Hulu and Amazon buddies to help him build Vessel, including Richard Tom, Corky Keck, Lonn Lee, Megan Healey, and Jean-Paul Colaco.
Ready to take on major mobile apps like Vine and Instagram, Ocho launched first on the iPhone, where it let users take and upload eight-second videos directly to the app. However, it’s not the eight seconds that differentiate it most meaningfully from Vine and Instagram when it comes to video.
Rather, Ocho offers a “lean back” mode of viewing with a running stream of eight-second clips. Furthermore, the app automatically captures videos in a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning that viewers can watch them in the appropriate size across iOS devices and Apple TVs without any extra trouble. It’s worth watching out for what this startup might accomplish, as it’s already gained $1.65 in a seed-funding round (part of which came from Mark Cuban) and has a partnership set up with Vice Sports.
None of this means that Ocho is bound to be successful…but who thought six-second videos would be so popular before Vine came along?
Sci-fi movies have been speculating about the future of these devices since forever…even “South Park” got in on the action this season with an episode about the, uh, complexities of VR. Now, we’re actually at a point where the imagination gives way to the concrete, as companies such as Samsung and Oculus have come out with technologies that make the viewing experience 3D.
What’s also helping steer people’s attention towards the technology is who’s already invested in it. Facebook spent over $2 billion to buy Oculus this past summer, while video producers like Vevo and Fox are already creating content for such devices. There’s no telling how big virtual reality will be in the future, but it’s hard not to be optimistic about its chances.
With all of the videos uploaded to the internet, it’s no surprise that viewers have trouble finding the content they’ve set out to watch. That’s the main premise behind N3twork, a video service that wants to make it easier for people to find and share the videos that they love.
N3twork’s video service launched back in August, sorting video into categories and interests that make them easier to find. The service also lets users create their own channels, which they can share with others over the web.
Video discovery is a tough nut to crack, and many have tried (and failed) to do it. N3twork believes it can be the TV network of the future, putting control in the hands of the people who want to watch content rather than those who seek to distribute it. There’s no guarantee that the strategy will work, but it’s certainly one worth keeping track of.
Pluto TV, on the other hand, has a different approach to video discovery — make the web more like TV. The service, which launched in March of 2014, organizes content by categories, interests, and networks, but presents them via linear, “TV-like” channels.
So far, Pluto TV has convinced many premium content partners to join its lineup, including Funny or Die, Refinery29, Maker Studios, Freddie Wong’s Rocket Jump Studios, and The Young Turks. Oh, and its got a list of backers that include UTA, Sky, UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer, ICM partner and president Chris Silbermann, Omnicom Digital CEO Jonathan Nelson, and Interscope Records co-founder Tom Whalley, among many, many others. That’s a lot of people banking on the fact that Pluto TV might be on to something here.
As more video entertainment goes digital, Nielsen, known as the standard for TV ratings, has got to keep up with the times in order to maintain its authority over the entertainment space. In 2014, Nielsen announced multiple initiatives to tackle the gargantuan task of “digital ratings.”
While streaming services like Netflix and Amazon don’t offer up viewership data, Nielsen says it will step in to gather such metrics. To do this, the company will use audio-recognition technology to determine which shows people are watching. To get more comprehensive ratings for digital video, the measurement firm also partnered with Adobe to launch “Digital Content Ratings,” which will debut sometime in 2015. This is all in addition to Nielsen OCR, which aims to measure digital advertising across platforms.
The writing is on the wall; digital has already disrupted traditional entertainment, and will grow in importance in the coming years. For the old guard, it means adapting and evolving, or getting left behind.
Speaking of which… At the start of 2014, the WWE Network went over-the-top with the help of MLB Advanced Media, the digital branch of Major League Baseball that offers back-end services for networks interested in streaming content, developing apps, and receiving operational support throughout the process.
Though MLBAM has been around for some time, it picked up serious momentum in 2014. Not only did it help the WWE embrace digital, but it’s also a key player in HBO’s plans to launch a standalone video service in 2015 — what might become the biggest story in 2015. This is all in addition to providing video tech and infrastructure to other major content partners, including ESPN, Sony, and Whistle Sports.
No one knew what Kernel was until the Guardians of Peace got their hands on a whole bunch of internal documents at Sony Pictures Entertainment. The controversy that erupted following the cyber-attack forced the film studio to initially cancel the release of “The Interview,” the Seth Rogen comedy at the center of the mess.
That decision was short-lived, as Sony eventually decided on a limited theatrical release, coupled with day-and-date digital distribution of the film across YouTube, Google Play, Xbox, and its own website SeeTheInterview.com, which was powered by Kernel.
But Kernel isn’t just a streaming video tech provider; the startup also wants to be a new kind of digital marketing vehicle for major film studios. Its “KernelPass” packages allow studios to market the film by selling all sorts of perks, including exclusive digital downloads, behind-the-scenes content, scripts, and even tickets to a film’s premiere. Essentially, its a way to bring the Kickstarter model to film marketing, and one to keep an eye on as Sony uses Kernel for its upcoming blockbuster “The 5th Wave.”
If what Kernel is trying to do sounds familiar to you (outside of the similarities to Kickstarter), you’re not totally off base; VHX was part of a similar marketing scheme for “Camp Takota,” the camp comedy starring YouTubers Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart, and Mamrie Hart. For that, producers sold various “care packages” prior to the film’s release, and in doing so, increased buzz for the film.
Since launch, VHX has become an important services for creators of all types — from the “Camp Takota” team to Aziz Ansari — distribute projects directly to their fans. Until recently, though, the company has remained in the background.
Now it has an iOS app and a “library” feature, and intends to grow user time and engagement on its own platforms. What does this mean for other digital distribution services, from Vimeo to iTunes?
For other best-of lists, as well as profiles of the creators, networks, and stories that dominated the online-video news cycle in 2014, check out the rest of our 2014 “VideoInk Entertainers of the Year” special issue.