Video is disrupting B2B content platforms, and the bots are next, says ViewLift

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed August 21, 2017
Content platforms are changing fast. ViewLift's CTO tells me about why video is surging, and how partner Incedo keeps them on top of Alexa - and the AI bots to come.

Startups are about adapting - and adapting fast. Nowhere is that truer than in media, and ViewLift would know. With heavy hitters like AOL Co-Founder Ted Leonsis on the founding team, ViewLift began in 2007 with an eye towards bringing media to the desktop.

But, as Manik Bambha, ViewLift Co-Founder and CTO told me, massive change was on the horizon:

Back in 2008, nobody had those fancy devices like iPads and Rokus and Apple TVs. It was just the desktop.

Bambha's team made an early bet that's held true: TV will shift from being the primary/only video content channel:

Over time, as iPad and Apple TV and Rokus and everything else becomes successful, ViewLift was one of the very few companies who started building a platform in technology which allowed people to consume content on those devices.

Platforms multiplied:

In 2012 and 2013, when we were launching OTP solutions, it was just us, Netflix, and YouTube at that time who were really on every device. By 2014, we were on 30+ platforms.

Keeping pace - from iPads to Alexa

Then, in 2014, ViewLift shifted their content platform to B2B. It's now a "white label" platform that companies use for content streaming and analysis. Video is a driving trend, but ViewLift supports everything from text to podcasts. There's no time to relax:

The challenge in our industry is every year you have couple of new devices which launch. Just in the last twelve months, you have Alexa and Google Home as two devices which came out and became pretty popular, pretty well used. Almost half the people I know have at least one of those devices.

That includes Bambha's five-year-old daughter, who is Alexa-savvy:

She would not open her iPad to check weather or anything else she's interested in.

ViewLift relies on its technology/service partner Incedo to keep pace:

We were doing a lot of things on our own. We had in-house staff and whatnot. But as the market kept expanding, and we needed help in terms of staff augmentation and innovation and trying out solutions, we needed a partner who would do the same, and also have interest and investments to continue [evolving our services].

That holds true for the Alexa services ViewLift is now adding:

When Alexa came. I called my peers at Incedo and said, "Are you guys doing anything in Alexa?" They're said, "Yeah! We built a prototype for some client and it does this, and it doesn't do xyz. But we can help and build a POC." After two weeks of work, they built up an Alexa prototype for us.

ViewLift's clients are impressed:

We took that, and we showed it to one of our clients. Our clients really got happy about it, and said, "Wow, you guys are good. We didn't even ask for this, and now we have a prototype." Same thing with Google Home. Now we're trying other devices. We have those products already live. We're working with our clients to make it really top of the class. Then, we'll be launching them in next 30, 60 days.

Demand for video platforms has surged

Though ViewLift is a "video-centric" platform, they also serve out text content. Given the debates on the value of text, and several high-profile sites laying off bloggers in favor of video, I asked Bambha: where is the real demand?

In the past 12 months, what we are seeing is people have a huge attention towards video. There are two reasons for it. One is that it's a longer attention timeline. Once people start watching, they watch more. But the piece of that is the monetization. When you have a monetization strategy around text, you don't have many options.

Bambha says his clients' monetization around video content is significantly higher than text. Video can get a five dollar CPM minimum, with premium networks getting up to $80 in CPM. That's well beyond what display ads on a text page can get: "With video, suddenly, the magnitude is different."

And what about video content length? Bambha says that's going to vary significantly by industry:

If you're looking at news and publishing, they're centering around two minutes now. I used to say two to five, but even the five is going away. Two has become more of a standard. You stick around two minutes, and two minutes later, it's on to the next video, the next feed, so you make more money.

Shorter news videos are not just about monetization. It's about viewer habits:

Everybody wants to snack content these days. Even if it's news, I don't want to dig in to it. I don't want to watch a movie about it.

Entertainment and sports are different:

But if you take entertainment and sports, an hour and a half? Two hours? Not a problem. And then you look into episodic, where you have all these new series launching on Netflix, and everybody else is doing original content, 20 to 30 minutes per episode, and again, you can watch it on your phone. You can do it on the commute... It really depends on what industry you are in.

ViewLift's relationship with Incedo is different than most consulting relationships I've heard about. It's a long-term, retainer type arrangement, but it includes access to some of Incedo's technology, which ViewLift is able to then incorporate into their own IP. You don't hear that every day:

Incedo has a very specific set of departments where they innovate stuff. So, for example, you know we have a huge product in analytics. We said, "What are you doing in analytics?" Incedo has a lot of people who are in data warehousing, ETL reporting, so they have advanced products around that. And Sometimes it's a great fit; sometimes we take half of it. Sometimes we take none of it. But it's good to work with a partner who's doing it. Now, in Alexa, it was 100% rate. Google Home it was 100% rate. Analytics was a 60% rate.

I told Bambha: this sounds like the kind of services model we need more of.

Very few companies in that space do that. Most of them are around how many people, what rates and all that. Incedo is more around solutions and specialization.

My take

This use case is not intended to imply that every company works with Incedo in the same way. At some point I'll do a piece with Incedo, where I'll dig further into how they structure their IP and services arrangements.

Bambha and I got into something of a debate around video monetization. On YouTube, video monetization is a rudimentary, brute force exercise, with noisy ads that have no personalization or relevance (forcing viewers to watch ads while viewing dramas like AMC's Walking Dead makes more monetization sense). Long story short, Bambha says ViewLift's clients are pursuing much more effective video monetization approaches than the generic "pre-rolls" we typically see on YouTube.

ViewLift's clients are mostly in the consumer-facing sports and entertainment industries. Many diginomica readers are in B2B industries where content is more about opt-in than monetization. You can track my advisory for such companies in my digital media disruptions series. I also have strong views on text versus video (see my blogger layoffs piece).

Regarding monetization, Bambha says many of his clients are doing well with paid subscription offerings. Again, in B2B, subscriptions might be free but the principle is the same - it's a value exchange that makes for a better UX and reduces the need for interruption marketing.

It's full speed ahead for ViewLift. In July, Bambha visited his Incedo team in India. His co-workers pulled him in and showed him a new piece of technology that is built on AI and bots. Bambha's still pondering the use cases; one possibility could be a "text bot" to add to ViewLift's analytics offerings, allowing clients to inquire via text on the number of new daily subscribers. POCs are underway. ViewLift has more to say on analytics; I'll revisit that in the future.

Turning tech into useful services is no easy job. From VR to AR, to Alexa to Google, ViewLift must adapt and reset daily:

For us there is no such day as we are done. Every day we wake up there is a new challenge we continue to work on.

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