Q&A with Knocka.tv, a destination video site with a fighting chance

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The web is overrun with outlets for user-generated video, and at least 90 percent of it is barely viewable trash. But Israel’s Knocka.tv, a site founded and partially funded by the creators of the pioneer IM service, ICQ, has just launched an answer to this problem, and it’s one of the more cleverly executed concepts we’ve seen in video for a while.

The site takes some of the best user-generated video I’ve seen on the web, uses professional producers to package the content into a series of continuously running “live” channels, and adds in real-time chat and community features like voting. Knocka.tv’s ” live” channels have a variety of segments 5-10 minutes long that display videos with common themes. For example, the accurately named “What the Fuck?” segment features bizarre and often hilarious moments captured on camera. The site barrages you with content, but in an effective, consistently entertaining way. While sites that curate high quality user-generated video exist, none have the intensity of Knocka.tv or focus on the pure entertainment value.

Today, we talk to co-founder and CEO Nir Erlich.

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VB: So what’s the core concept with Knocka.tv?
NE: The idea is to create a structured world out of the overwhelming mass of videos out there and to create limited professional, packaged channels which are live, interactive and involve the community in their creation.

VB: Tell us more about the community’s role.
NE: Anyone can suggest a video clip to Knocka, but the community decides if that clip goes through to be played on one of the channels or gets kicked out. We take all the chosen clips and create a TV-like experience around them. The average viewer [of online video] gets everything already made with no extra effort. Now we take that and we add real time events around it such as chats, friends, webcam conversations, and more. But more than that, we let users participate in the live stream through voting.

VB: How does a video go from being out there on the web to getting onto Knocka.tv?
NE: First, we work with over 600 producers — user-generated content/semi-pro producers. Second, we work with series producers such as Break A Leg, Rocketboom, Aniboom…about 30 of them. Third, we are encouraging producers to upload clips to Knocka.

VB: Any producers? How do you filter that?
NE: At the end of the day, the community will filter the content and choose what goes to TV and what stays out.

VB: How great is the demand for user-generated video?
NE: Well, there are more and more user-generated content producers out there who are getting better and better. They create continuous series and pull in hundreds of thousands of followers. The problem is that they’re fighting in a PR war — each have their own section on YouTube and other sites, and each is trying to make it on their own, which makes a very wide creation span. We tell them: instead of going wide let’s go deep and collaborate to create a specific channel where all producers can share.

VB: So have you gone and poached YouTube stars?
NE: From all over the web, but that’s just a kick start. It’s the same with Wikipedia, which launched with very few items and used the community to leverage its variety. But unlike Wikipedia, this is entertainment, so we produce the package and add the interactivity into it.

VB: Are you paying this initial community?
NE: Not at the moment.

VB: Isn’t it kind of hard to be a destination site in an increasingly distributed web?
NE: It’s not an easy task to be a destination site in the video space, but we have many plans. They include a Meebo-style integration with existing communities and some viral features planned for commercial launch, but I’d rather not give it away at this point.

VB: What made you come up with this?
NE: We noticed that the only video experience [you could get online] involved someone sending us a link, running into an embed, or searching for something specific. We also noticed that the experience of watching a video feels very isolated. YouTube gets hundreds of thousands of concurrent users, but they are all doing different things and are not aware of one another. We wanted to create something that will mean “together” both for producers and viewers. The video space is very crowded, but this specific space is almost untouched.

VB: What makes you think “together” matters for viewers?
NE: It already matters to them when it comes to IM and chat. We aim to define “togetherness” by offering the experience of the best of what’s out there, but also by adding interactive elements which will leverage the fact that we have many people doing the same thing at the same time.

VB: What are those interactive features?
NE: They will include two main elements: the ability for users with webcams to appear on the screen, and voting.

VB: You mean people having webcam conversations will show up on other people’s streams?
NE: People who would like to “Be on TV” will indicate they want to, and our moderator will place them on the main screen over the relevant time spots for between 30 seconds to a few minutes. So for the most basic example, we will have a “Who will you vote for in the next Presidential campaign?” discussion in which each user can say his bit for one minute. At the end, the viewers will vote in real time for their favorite.

VB: That sounds dangerous. Will they be live?
NE: Live, but constantly moderated.

VB: So someone is going to be moderating 24/7?
NE: Yes.

VB: Indians?
NE: Jews [Israelis]

VB: So once this is up and running, are you going to add in advertising?
NE: We will have elements which are less intrusive, like sponsorships, overlays, etc. But also some video ads.

VB: Is this all self-financed?
NE: Evergreen (an Israeli VC) is behind us with about $5 million, but also investors from ICQ.

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