Online video start-up Tape it off the internet (TIOTI) came out of beta recently and announced that it had bagged some funding from Pond Venture Partners.
Calling itself a social media aggregator for internet TV, TIOTI doesn’t host content but provides links to where it can be found, including the likes of YouTube, Veoh and Joost.
We spoke to UK-based founding partner and creator Paul Cleghorn to find out a bit more, as well as to get his thoughts on online video business models, copyright issues and IPTV.
Now you’re out of beta, what are your plans for the business and have you any interesting ideas on the advertising side of things?
One of the things we’ve been asking people about is their attitude to advertising on the site. They are fine with it, as long as we make it as relevant as possible.
We’re being quite careful – we won’t sign up any advertiser that comes along; we will be a bit of a gatekeeper. Anything entertainment-based should be fine, but all the financial services ads that you see on the newspaper websites won’t really be relevant. We’ll take the hit in order to keep the users happy.
Moving forward, we’re also keen for online agencies and advertisers to start using our site as a kind of ‘advertising lab’ to try out new things. Things like using our data source to build things around – not just slapping banners on things.
In the same way you might sponsor a show for TV using break bumpers, there’s no reason you wouldn’t sponsor something like Metal Mickey, which isn’t aired anymore but would get quite a few hits a day. It’s like the long tail of TV.
As you link to paid-for sites like iTunes and Amazon, is affiliate marketing becoming a significant opportunity in the online TV space?
We do have referral fees from commercial content providers that we link to. We are also looking at ad-funded providers like Joost and Babelgum, where we refer users to them. If we send them anonymised user data, we would want to share their ad revenue too. It’s kind of an affiliate model for broadcast.
Both myself and Marc (Colando, TIOTI’s US founding partner) are from an online advertising background so we are quite keen to try things out and understand that part of the business quite well.
We’ve been talking to some of the big online ad agencies already – people like Dare and Poke. But first, we need to deliver an audience. That’s our first task.
What are your thoughts on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4’s Project Kangaroo scheme?
Part of what Project Kangaroo is about, as far as I am aware, is trying to head off some of the criticism from the ISPs over P2P distribution. The ISPs are picking up the tab for it, and it’s quite a hard thing to defend if it is just the BBC. But if the whole broadcasting industry is moving towards it, it’s a lot harder for them to turn it off.
So as far as I am aware, there are some tough negotiations going on between the BBC and BT at the moment. For us, we’re not high enough up the food chain to make a difference but I hope it gets sorted out sensibly. It’s all a bit of a showdown – someone will pay someone some money and it will get sorted out.
Do you think these broadcasters are going to be able to control online TV distribution?
At the moment, with things like 4OD and the iPlayer, you have content makers trying to own the whole distribution channel, like a cable operator would. But that’s not what they do. They should try and distribute their stuff through every channel possible – syndicating to other websites, streaming, embeds and so on.
The technology is not quite robust enough yet to build ads on top of that, but that’s the way things are going to go. But at the moment, they are trying to replicate an entire distribution model for each channel.
It’s a bit of a weird situation. The BBC and Channel 4 are distributing software applications but they are not software writers and shouldn’t be in that business – they should be using other people and using the internet as a general distribution channel.
But I understand the rights issues they have with their content owners, and it’s still early days. The online TV world is in a state of transition and it could take five to seven years.
IBM recently came out with a study which suggested that 11% of web users would pay small subscriptions to remove advertising from online TV content. What are your thoughts on the subscription versus advertising debate?
We’re being completely agnostic about business models and technology. I don’t know how it will work out. But what might become interesting is the amount of smaller indie producers in the UK – they don’t get a great deal from the TV companies, so it might get to the point where they start to sell stuff online first.
They might not make enough money to fund their entire projects. But if they can make £100k up front before going to the broadcasters, then it might become interesting.
It isn’t rocket science to go to a media buying group and sell ad space around your content directly. You don’t need a media network to do it for you.
My feeling is that some of the larger indies will do it first, and then a few others will follow and they will wake up to the fact that they don’t necessarily need broadcasters anymore. And that will be a big change.
Which online video ad formats do you think will gain the widest acceptance?
Pre-rolls are difficult on the internet because people’s attention spans are on a completely different scale. They will not watch a 30-second pre-roll – it just won’t work.
YouTube’s concept of trying out overlays might be closer to what works best. But I think other things have also yet to be tried out creatively. We’re just scraping the surface.
Where do you stand legally, when linking to copyrighted content on other sites?
When we first started the site two years ago, the only TV shows available anywhere online were on BitTorrent. Now, there are all these streaming sites and some of them are putting licensed content up from broadcasters. But at the same time, they also still have uploaded content from users.
Until they make it clear in a machine-readable format which is which – like a licensed certificate in XML or something – we can’t tell the difference. It’s not really our role to police other websites.
Have you had any contact about that from copyright owners?
Not so far, no.
What do you have to do to get indexed by your site? Where do you drawn the line between user generated content and ‘professional’ content?
We have been quite strict with what we call ‘TV’ up to this point, but we are aware that this is changing. You have things like video podcasts and amateur content appearing, as well as professional stuff being distributed on the internet.
We plan to introduce a mechanism where people can submit stuff and if the general community agrees, it goes in. We don’t have that yet, but that’s the plan.