Startups that are trying to create marketplaces that monetize video content. But how will they get people to the market?

I have been researching startups that offer opportunities for original video content creators to monetize their work, oftentimes by creating marketplaces and platforms. Here are some of the more interesting companies I have discovered. (Please add others in the comments section.)

Note: I am not writing about companies that work in music monetization or companies that are video advertising solutions.

1. PlaceVine (Acquired by social video syndicator Alphabird in 2011)

About: “PlaceVine is a service that bring passionate content producers together with marketers and their agencies to create socially engaging branded video experiences. Today, the basic Placevine service enables producers to showcase their concepts and content for brands, and enables marketers to provide talented producers with brand integration opportunities.”

2. Koldcast.tv

About: “KoldCast TV, a division of KoldCast Entertainment Media, LLC, is an international television network which distributes programming to entertainment consumers around the world via the KoldCast TV Network site, found at www.koldcast.tv, via set-top boxes, connected/smart TV’s and mobile devices, and via unique relationships with broadcast and cable TV networks and other television distribution venues around the world. Our programming is largely created by independent television producers and filmmakers from the United States and countries across the globe. The phenomenal growth of independent programming allows KoldCast to be highly-selective in its programming choices. Unlike online video distribution sites like YouTube and those that have followed them, KoldCast specializes exclusively in professionally-produced programming. Our programming slate does not combine user-created videos of cats and dogs playing the piano or riding a lawn mower.”

3. Blur Group

About: “Blur Group has built and operates the world’s largest Creative Services Exchange™. With 14,075 creatives and exchange staff, a unique business model and advanced technology, it radically alters the marketing services space. CMOs, marketing directors, VPs, creative heads and innovation leaders buy the best, most cost-effective creative services from expert providers around the world. The biggest global brands, the coolest startups and all points in between choose this transparent approach for the most cost-effective, real time and relevant design services, marketing campaigns, content programs, original artwork and innovation partnerships.”

4. Talenthouse

About: “Talenthouse provides life-changing opportunities for the creative community. It’s a place to participate in projects with leading artists and brands, gain recognition and virally grow your audience. Talenthouse embraces artists at every level of their career, as well as all supporters of the arts. Attracted by the potential for discovering, collaborating with and mentoring emerging talent, many global brands and acclaimed industry icons are involved with Talenthouse by hosting Creative Invites. Brands choose Talenthouse to engage in a dialogue with their audience in a targeted, relevant and credible context. Talenthouse currently focuses on film, fashion, music, art / design, and photography.”

5. Videolla.com

About: “You simply upload your video to Videolla and set price for it or insert ads into the video. Its simple and free. You will not need any coding skills. Just register, upload your videos and pick if you want to sell them or place ads.”

6. Bozza (South African)

About: “Most individuals in Africa engage with digital communication, information and entertainment through their mobile phones. Content drives the uptake of technology; yet despite the global increase and focus on the value of content, there continues to be a lack of locally generated, contextually relevant content for the African market. Focused on local made-for-mobile content, the Bozza application offers artists, filmmakers and entrepreneurs a mobile platform through which to distribute their content. By doing so these SMMEs earn revenue and users get free access to relevant, premium content (music, written word and videos) that entertains, educates, informs or all of the above.”

7. Poptent

About: “Poptent is a vibrant community of filmmakers (and actors, comedians, grips, animators and more!) who are connecting to each other and to companies that want to pay them for their talents. Through our passions for advertising and commercials, we are exploring a new way of creating branded messages for the Internet age. Poptent members can show off their work, build a portfolio, collaborate with other creators, leverage our deep set of features, and best of all make money doing what they love. Poptent brands are seeking new ways to reach their consumers and create new audiences. They are finding exciting possibilities that save them both money and time while staying just ahead of the curve of competition. They are, in a word, trendsetters.”

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The US Senate passed the JOBS Act: How this legislation can improve the quality of American journalism

I recently blogged about the many benefits that I hope will come to America with the passage of the JOBS Act. Now that the US Senate has passed the JOBS Act, the bill has gone back to the House of Representatives for final approval before President Obama signs it into law. Despite my skepticism about the ability of Congress to pass any legislation in this toxic and partisan political climate, I am pleasantly surprised that it looks like the JOBS Act should go through with bipartisan support.

My general thesis is that if the “people” can now invest in new ventures, then they will be more apt to use products and services that cater to small groups/communities, and more likely to shun products, services, and information that comes from large corporations that are geared for the masses. Of course, it may take a couple of years to see these effects, but I am hopeful that fragmentation can create diversity in spheres of life where Americans now have too few choices.

While other commentators have focused on the overall benefits and drawbacks for investors, businesses, regulators, and consumers, I will list potential ways that the new crowdfunding legislation can influence and disrupt journalism. My theories on winners and losers from the JOBS Act:

1. Communities can rally around creating publications that they control, rather than leaving sub-par newspapers in the hands of publishers motivated by the bottom line rather than creating high quality community content. Watch out Patch and legacy publishers! The potential to revive local journalism in places that are currently without local news sources is the most promising development that I see. But legacy media organizations should be on guard, because disruption born out of frustration may be just around the corner.

2. Niche publications will be able to get off the ground more easily. If a fragmented community of  1,000 people — I’m thinking an online community for this example — who were spread throughout America, wanted to hire one person to work to create content, they could hypothetically each donate $30 to a venture that could create a niche publication with a professional or semi-professional journalist/curator at the helm.

3. Television networks and cable channels should be scared because YouTube is already slicing up the market. Enthusiasts of various types of content that don’t achieve the critical masses needed for channels that cater to advertisers may now have their opportunity to band together to create more desirable programming…and make it profitable.

4. Television news should be a prime target for entrepreneurs at the local and national levels, as it has remained virtually unchanged for such a long time. I foresee new formats developing, and I believe the crowd will control how they develop.

5. Crowdfunded radio stations may destroy the traditional for-profit ones. Watch out ClearChannel. Look out for an indy radio explosion…most likely based on the Internet.

6. Lone bloggers and journalists with strong personal brands — or with the ability to build strong personal brands — will now be able to have investors rally behind them. This may create a major revolution for sole proprietors, ending the struggles that freelancers face in terms of tax burdens. Another advantage is that talented people may now be more willing to go off on their own rather than remain with corporations that underutilize talented journalists’ skills and abilities.

Update: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith’s response to my recent post

My original post about The Texas Tribune is here.

UPDATE 2: Click HERE for an interesting white paper on non-profit/commercial news partnerships from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

UPDATE 1: Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune just returned my call. And he was angry. At the start of the call, he cited me as having factual errors in my reporting. (In reality, there was only one. Jay Root came to the Tribune directly from the AP, not the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he worked for many years, as I wrote.) As promised, I will give Smith his shot at a fair response right here:

Re: My accusation about a failure to disclose Texas A&M’s contributions to his organization in the recent New York Times piece, he said, “”I think we should have disclosed that A&M is an institutional donor to the Tribune.” He called the incident “a rare lapse.”

Smith then described a December 2010 story in the Times in which a Texas Tribune reporter, Emily Ramshaw, critiqued a Tribune donor, Christus Healthcare.

He said, “I wouldn’t be in the non-profit sector if I was in it for the money. I had a higher salary at Texas Monthly. The reason I raise the money has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the the mission of this organization.”

Smith said that $315,000 is his actual salary, even though it may seem higher on financial reports, because of deferred payments.

He critiqued my notion that I should be watching over a watchdog by saying, “You’re allowed to have a point of view, but it ought to be based on something. Be a watchdog on the watchdogs. If that’s your place, God Bless.” By my own admission,  I have not done a full review of all of The Tribune’s articles to gauge whether or not they treat their donors preferentially. I simply found one recent incident and wrote about it.

However, I feel that someone must examine non-profit news organizations with the same scrutiny that for-profit news organizations are critiqued. Smith replied, “You haven’t done the work required to rip us a new one.” Admittedly, I worked on this post for a few hours, and I was unpaid for my work. Smith also said,  “There are plenty of places that go into strong stances on issues. We give you the tools to think about things yourself.”

He insisted, referring to donations, that, “None of this ever influences the work that we do. I pointed this out to Howard Kurtz in 2009: The money we got from advertisers at the for-profit publications where I previously worked is greater then what we get at The Tribune.”

Other Smith quotes from our conversation:

1. “If you provide us with the resources to do the work we do, we will get our work in as many places as possible. We will allow the individual corporate and foundations to support us, so that we can make that content available for free.”

2. “We want to help educate as many Texans as possible about the things that happen in the world.”

3. “The goal here is to provide as many news organizations as possible with great content.”

4. “The reason that you know about my salary is because we publish it. We overdisclose. We are not obligated to publish any of this stuff.” I disagree. As a non-profit, they must disclose the salaries of their five highest paid employees.

5. “We ask transparency of others so we do it ourselves.”

6. “My salary gives me a disincentive to ruffle feathers. We have written negatively about our donors. There are countless examples where they will yell at us.”

7. “It is enormously hard work. We take it very seriously. Most of us worked for for-profit media companies, but we believe the mission of The Tribune is more important.”

The Texas Tribune’s non-profit business model is harming for-profit journalism in Texas and Texas A&M’s corporate sponsorship of The Tribune should have been disclosed in a recent New York Times piece

Update: Click HERE for Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith’s response and additional notes regarding the post below.

My updated conclusion: Led by the success of the non-profit news model represented by The Texas Tribune, the decline of the for-profit news ecosystem is being accelerated by competition from the non-profit world. The role of a non-profit should be to help increase the quality of journalism, but not at the expense of for-profit organizations.

In journalism circles, The Texas Tribune is generally held in high regard for the quality of its content and its ability to lure top reporters from other Texas-based organizations. It is trusted enough to provide reports to the Old Grey Lady.

While I have been impressed by many of the Tribune’s special reports, data journalism, and coverage in general, it never dawned on me until I had a chance conversation with a reporter from The Austin Chronicle at South by Southwest (SXSW) who accused “The Trib,” as he called it, of creating an unfair playing field for journalists who work at for-profit news organizations in Texas.

Since its formation in late 2009, The Trib has received large donations from foundations and individuals. It has also made many big-name hires: Emily Ramshaw from the Dallas Morning News, Jay Root from the Associated Press, and most recently Aman Batheja, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Batheja recently accepted a buyout offer from the Star-Telegram during its latest round of layoffs, and quickly lined up his new political reporting gig at The Trib.

On the surface, this appears extremely positive, as laid-off Texas journalists may now have a news outlet to call home. The Tribune’s open-source model will now enable other Texas news organizations to access Batheja’s high quality content for free. Therefore, the Star-Telegram no longer has to pay Batheja a salary while still getting his ace political coverage.

Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune
Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune

The ideas that a non-profit news organization is not beholden to interests that affect for-profit news organizations (corporations, advertisers, etc.) is also flawed. Because The Trib is subsidized by wealthy donors, it may not create the type of journalism that could harm its financial future. Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith has a strong financial incentive not to ruffle any feathers: According to The Texas Tribune’s 990 form, filed with the IRS in 2010, Smith made a $320,625 base salary and $13,038 in additional compensation. (I guess it helps that he’s also on the Tribune’s Board of Directors.)

From the Texas Tribune’s 2010 2010 IRS filing.

A TT insider, whose anonymity I will protect here, told me that because it is important for The Trib to maintain positive relations with donors, the organization rarely takes strong stances on issues. Smith himself described membership, major donors, foundations, corporate sponsorship, and earned income as the sources of revenue for his non-profit news organization. However, as the screenshot from The Texas Tribune’s homepage below shows, corporate sponsorship and advertising look to be one and the same:

It’s doubtful that The Tribune would now write a damning report against Texas A&M or Austin Recovery. In fact, four days ago, Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey wrote a glowing profile in The New York Times titled “A Master Carver, at Work at A&M” about John Sharp, the new Texas A&M University System chancellor. While Ramsey admits previously working with Sharp in at the Texas Comptrollers Office in the 1990s, he does not mention that Texas A&M is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune today.

Can a startup non-profit news organization that relies on donors, members, and corporate sponsors for growth also excel at reporting that requires it to be non-partisan, as the Tribune claims to be? I argue that the answer is clearly no.

A full list of Texas Tribune donors and members is available HERE, as well as The Tribune’s 990 forms for the IRS.

Sympathy with the devil: Why former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi should be found not guilty on all charges

When I recently Googled “Dharun Ravi supporters,” I was shocked that not a single hit appeared that indicated any type of support for the 20-year-old accused of “15 counts of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence and a witness.” While it is certainly tragic that Ravi’s roommate Tyler Clementi felt so humiliated that he took his own life by jumping from the George Washington Bridge, it is not fair to make a scapegoat of Ravi for using his webcam as a “bias intimidation” mechanism or “invasion of privacy” tool.

The media has utterly failed to take into account the order of events that led to Clementi’s death. Mainstream media organizations have treaded lightly over this delicate case because Clementi’s death inspired a wave of successful anti-harassment and gay-awareness campaigns that led to the creation of a widely supported piece of Congressional legislation called the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011.” Therefore, any defense of Ravi could be misconstrued as anti-gay or pro-harassment.

But we were all once 18-year-old college freshmen. I know that if an unknown older person, regardless of sexual orientation, was spending time in my bedroom when I was not there, I too would have been skeptical about whether my belongings were safe. How would you feel if you knew that you couldn’t enter your own bedroom because someone you got a “bad vibe from” (Ravi’s words) was inside your room?

Anyone who remembers the 1999 movie American Pie would know that high school and college kids can use webcams for unsavory purposes: In the film, the Czech exchange student Nadia changes her clothing while a webcam records the entire act. (I will always be scarred by this scene, as I awkwardly watched American Pie for the first time with my parents…an experience I will never forget!) Today, nearly all computers have built-in cameras, so it should not be surprising that students use them for keeping tabs on one another.

There are also cultural factors at play that may have caused Ravi to lack maturity or compassion regarding his roommate’s sexuality. At age 18, many Americans are not exposed to homosexual culture or sexual diversity. This may have been compounded by the fact that Ravi was born in India and raised in a household that may not have exposed him to non-traditional lifestyles. But in his interrogation, Ravi came across as genuine, articulate, and not the homophobe that he has been portrayed as by the media. (I find it appalling Ravi had no lawyer present and that his interrogation video is publicly available.)

Furthermore, it appears that Ravi genuinely tried to apologize and make amends with his roommate after learning of his intent to take his own life. He wrote to Clementi, “I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don’t want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it’s adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don’t want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation.”

Finding Ravi guilty, despite his reputation already destroyed by the media, would be reprehensible. One life has already been lost. There is no reason for a second young person, whose life is already in shambles, to be sentenced to prison or found guilty for a situation that may have represented some level of immaturity, but certainly not a crime.

SXSW – Successful Journalism Startups: Global Lessons

Takeaways from Pekka Pekkala’s sustainable journalism business models talk:

Visit http://www.submojour.net/ for more info. This is a database of for-profit news sites that make money.

Top findings from case studies of profitable journalism startups:

1. This is not a new thing: The average age of money-making web sites is 6+ years (worldwide).

2. Advertising rules: 75%of people interviewed said they make more than 75% of their revenues from advertising. Most journalists sell the ads themselves. They sell weekly or monthly ads rather than CPM-based ads. Avoid Google AdSense.

3. Make money as a consultant. You can earn 3x as much money as you do as a journalist. But make sure you are an expert.

4. Host events.

5. Syndication.

6. Be frugal. WordPress is by far the most popular publishing platform — but learn basic tech skills.

7. Be entrepreneurial: Think about the money from day one.

8. People don’t pay for content…but they are happy to support a cause: This is true in the US, but perhaps not in other countries.

9. Find your niche. Based on geography, taste, interest, or point of view…

10. Pay your contributors: Free citizen journalism is the exception, not the norm. 1 out of 10 contributors stay more than a couple of months, and those people hardly ever write again. You invest so much time and money in training people.

11. It’s about community: It’s not about you. The people who create content have to be a part of the community. (The Patch.com turnover rate was so high that new editors were not able to form relationships with the people they covered.)