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Boston startups driving the future of web video innovation, despite the incumbents

Posted by Alex Pearlman  December 10, 2011 09:34 AM

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online video.jpgBy Kyle Psaty

Last week, YouTube took a cue from its big brother Google and rolled out “Analytics.” A step up from the “Insights” tool, this new functionality aims to help video creators understand what’s working for them, make better videos, and grow audiences -- and to become the gold standard for measuring video content, just like Google Analytics is for web traffic. Compounding the significance of the launch is the fact that YouTube has been the second-most popular search engine on the Internet for three straight years (behind -- you guessed it -- Google).

The launch also means the 500-pound gorilla of web video hosting is a step closer to a number of Boston-area startups aimed at delivering the future of online video. The difference between YouTube and these companies, however, is that they are all succeeding in realms YouTube doesn’t compete in by doing things YouTube has yet to try. Everything YouTube just released has already been done before; every new feature was something companies like Cambridge-based Wistia, founded in 2006, and local IPO hopeful Brightcove, founded in 2004, have been doing for years.

For example, one of the most blogged-about new features on YouTube -- “audience retention reporting,” which shows where viewers get bored -- solves a problem Wistia solved for its clients long ago; they called it "video heat mapping" when the service launched in August 2009. Brightcove launched its own analytics module, which included a similar tool, a week later and had clearly been working on the problem simultaneously.

"If you can see that 90 percent of your viewers are watching the video all the way through, then you know that at least you've told the story the right way,” said Wistia CEO Chris Savage. “That kind of feedback allows you to have a better understanding of how your audience is responding and how to better engage them as you go on to build more video content."

These companies are helping their customers do more with videos and do it more easily. Customers want to deliver the best possible video and analyze the success of that video in ways YouTube doesn’t offer. “We are super-focused on helping our customers succeed,” said Savage, whose company is “building tools to help companies and users get more from online video.”

They’re also staying ahead of YouTube by being agile. Brainshark, a Waltham-based online video company, for example, allows its customers to turn presentations into easily delivered web videos, and even to add audio via phone.

“Online video is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for companies. It’s a ‘must have,’” said Bettina Hein, CEO of Cambridge-based Pixability. “Prospects, customers, and partners now expect organizations to have a strong and professional online video presence. Not having one is now a big flag.”

The creation of online videos has become a major priority for many companies, big and small. YouTube is an obvious third social network for companies to join after seeding their audiences on Twitter and Facebook. B2B companies like Brightcove, Wistia, Pixability, and Brainshark deliver higher-quality, more accessible videos than their clients could alone -- and that means having access to analytics.

“We continue to introduce new capabilities in our own analytics in Brightcove Video Cloud that give our customers insights into how viewers are interacting with their content,” said Steve Rotter, VP of Marketing for Brightcove, the biggest online video fish in the Bay State, with 300 employees and $103 million in total funding. The company is quickly becoming a major player in the larger cloud-hosting space, though it began purely as a video hosting company.

“[Those analytics are] key in making sure that our customers can optimize their video efforts by linking video performance to key metrics and understanding the impact on engagement, interest, and conversion,” he said. “Additionally, video analytics also make it possible for marketers to understand how viewers are discovering their video content through search engines and social networks…another key element to helping them to optimize their video initiatives.”

Pixabiliy, founded in 2008, goes so far as to actually help companies create their videos. They offer learning materials and video shooting advice, then edit the footage for their customers, all in addition to video hosting. When a new company signs up, Pixability will even mail the company a handheld camera.

“Video isn’t an island, so video analytics must be integrated with other parts of [the] business value chain,” Hein said. “We use extensive analytics -- including YouTube’s -- to ensure that videos are helping to drive business, awareness, and action.”

There are other video companies in Boston pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge video delivery as well: Zixi, also based in Waltham and founded in 2006, is improving the delivery of Internet video on televisions. The company raised $4 million in April to compete with products like Apple TV and Google TV. All told, the market for the online video business is an estimated $2.3 billion and will more than double to an estimated $5.8 billion by 2015, according to Brightcove’s IPO filing.

These companies are all growing in the exciting online video space by doing things their biggest competitors -- other high-tech, modern brands we often think of as new and cutting-edge -- simply cannot keep up with. Wistia recently rolled out a new tool designed to improve online video for its corporate clients: automated, searchable transcripts. Now, video viewers can navigate to any point in a video where a word or phrase appears -- especially useful for things like training videos, webinars, or tutorials. They created the new offering in partnership with another Boston-area startup, 3Play Media, which specializes in delivering rapid video transcription.

You see, that’s the thing about startups: They’re always innovating. You can be a fan of YouTube, Google, or even the web’s staple media consumption site, Facebook, but it’s important to recognize the key role smaller startups play in the global online video conversation. After all, if you’re watching video on the Internet these days, you’re also probably hoping it gets faster, clearer, and easier to use. Without startups like these Boston-based companies, the evolution of online video would be happening at a much slower pace.

Photo by believekevin (Flickr)

About Kyle -- I'm obsessed with what's next, especially when it involves truly helping people live better, more fulfilling lives. I believe this is where creativity and creation become innovation. The founding editor of the online publication BostInnovation and a former staff writer for the New England Patriots, I'm lucky to now spend my days building a brighter future for consumer banking at PerkStreet Financial, where I also manage a daily blog. Follow me on Twitter @KylePs80.

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