By Peter Csathy
Yesterday, I joined the VideoInk team in NYC for the Bertelsmann Media Summit 2015, a showcase for promising digital media-focused companies organized by German media-backed venture capital firm Bertelsman Digital Media Investments (BDMI). BDMI has invested in a powerful portfolio of leading digital video companies — most of which were featured there, together with a few other select companies with which they are, in the words of Managing Director Urs Cete, “friendly” (translation: he hopes to invest).
BDMI is no stranger to success in the digital video game. Two of its portfolio video companies — StyleHaul and Drama Fever — reaped big headlines and investor returns (and those were only 2 of BDMI’s 10 exits last year). Impressive. Given this kind of digital video focus and success, it’s good to know who BDMI believes is worthy of their time and money (note: BDMI’s venture fund invests $500K-$4 million; its seed fund invests $50K-$250K).
Here’s my round-up of yesterday’s video-focused presenting companies:
As I recently wrote, Jukin Media is top of mind for most who closely follow the digital video landscape, including many large strategics. The company is, in a word, “hot” — and for good reason. Founder/CEO Jonathan Skogmo bills Jukin as the world’s #1 viral video media company, and who can dispute that with its 1.5 billion monthly views of a library of 18,000 UGC-powered videos, each of which Jukin’ acquired and owns outright)?
Jukin’s video library is at the center of its stellar monetization universe centered on clip licensing (think Getty Images for viral videos), digital syndication (monetizing trending clips for both traditional TV partners like Comedy Central and digital partners like Yahoo!), and original programming such as its successful FailArmy show that has spawned multiple global renditions and lucrative licensing opportunities.
Jukin also has a more conventional “MCN-ian” side to it — streaming its own brands that drive 250 million monthly views, As Skogmo explains, it gives Jukin’ a way to test video success first on digital and then optimize for upstreamed traditional platforms. But while others frequently include Jukin’ in MCN round-ups, Jonathan calls his unique multi-pronged revenue model “MCNX” — as in, an MCN on steroids. Well played, Jonathan. Well played.
Founder and CEO Roy Burstin took center stage to showcase his Latino-focused digital-first video company, L.A.-based Mitu, and tt deserves to be featured on that center stage. Like Skogmo, Burstin distances himself from the traditional MCN label, calling Mitu “a media brand powered by technology and fueled by Latinos.” In his presentation, he emphasized the “underleveraged” global Latino market for media and bemoaned the lack of culturally-relevant content for a demographic he calls “super consumers.” They are Mitu’s focus and vast opportunity –the company drives the largest community of Latino video creators in the world, number more than 3,600.
Burstin says Mitu’s “secret salsa” (many chuckled as he said it) is its technology — a depth of intelligence that enables creators to reach the right audience with the right content and across the right distribution platforms. He explained that Mitu produces content natively, meaning that a creator’s video “story” may be told in 7 seconds on Vine, 90 seconds on YouTube, and longer on other upstreamed platforms.
Intriguing. And, like Jukin’, another one to closely watch. MiTu is one of BDMI’s “friends” — not yet part of its investment family. Not yet.
Founded by an all-star cast that includes serial media and tech innovator Fred Seibert (who runs leading animation-focused MCN Frederator), video incubator Thirty Labs was a decidedly different animal among the presenting companies. But BDMI is an investor, and membership has its privileges. Thirty Labs’ mission is to find great nascent video-first companies, grow them (fast!), and nurture them with multiple layers of support — strategy, core tech and, of course, capital. Efficiencies and acceleration are key value propositions here.
Co-founder Yoel Flohr showcased several of its portfolio companies, including Tuubi (a native video network for mobile games), Melt (a mobile video creation and sharing network which enables users to create 10-second silent films inspired by a daily prompt), FastCap (which, as the name implies, is focused on capturing videos in the moment) and Crumbles (a messaging app via which users can instantaneously create auto-generated videos from a clip library — seemingly a la Whipclip — as well as a user’s own clips).
CEO Field Garthwaite presented IRIS.TV as the “Pandora for video publishers,” programmatically delivering a continuous stream of “the right content to the right person at the right time.” IRIS is all about deepening engagement and retention. He cited one major customer for which video views increased 54% and customer retention climbed 70%. IRIS’s can help to maximize the value of a publisher’s video archive.
In a digital/online video world that is inherently multi-platform and social in nature, CEO Juan Bruce explained, Epoxy gives creators the tools they need to develop, syndicate and monetize their videos and effectively engage their audience. That vision attracted capital from the likes of Time-Warner and Greycroft, in addition to BDMI.
CEO Jamie Wilkinson introduced VHX’s direct distribution platform for film, TV and other content (such as workout videos) that previously lived primarily in a DVD world. He calls VHK a “Wordpress for OTT,” offering a full turn-key solution for video creators, enabling direct-to-fan distribution and direct sales from their own that has generating $6 million-plus to date for creators. Comedy Central is one major media partner that recently used VHX to launch its own digital comedy hub. VHX also has its own OTT streaming service.
Victorious is another L.A.-based company that is on a mission to give mobile video creators robust tools to build superfan-fueled communities around their content. CEO Sam Rogoway explained the opportunity to fuel deeper engagement via direct fan-to-fan video creation and real-time interaction. That fan hyperactive activity leads to a continuous stream of fresh curated content for a celebrity video creator (like client Ryan Higa) or even a traditional brand (like a weekly television show). With more to see, there is more of you to remember.
Since going live with its platform two months ago, the company has launched 10 creator-focused apps, and it plans to hit 100 by year end. It will be interesting to watch those engagement numbers closely.
All in all, it was a strong class of digital-first video innovators, and a strong event, with many of the “usual suspects” observing in the room.
Peter Csathy is CEO of business accelerator and development firm Manatt Digital Media, where he also serves as a venture capitalist. He regularly posts industry analysis on his Digital Media Update blog and contributes to VideoInk and other leading digital media and technology publications.