[Updated 8.22.15 at 11:43 am PT to clarify ViewLift’s marketing and ad capabilities.]
Get ready for ad-hoc branded video networks that surface everywhere and then fade away when the demand does.
One possible engine for such a new era in online video is a pedigreed startup called ViewLift. It has the modest goal of becoming a “third-party NetFlix.”
Launched in January, it is a video distribution platform-for-hire. It is an offspring of SnagFilms, a four-year-old website and online distributor of more than 5,000 documentaries and other independent films that recently scored a $4 million round of debt and securities. Titles in its collection include Casino Jack, Super Size Me, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
SnagFilms, which generates revenues from ads on its site and from what it says are 100,000+ other sites and services like Hulu Plus and Xfinity, also owns the online independent film publication Indiewire.
Essentially, ViewLift is offering to any program owner the multi-platform distribution that SnagFilms has created for its own collection. Multi-platform as in 21 device types, including mobile, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, and connected TVs.
“If you’re a media company [or an advertiser],” ViewLift and SnagFilms founding CEO Rick Allen told me, “we can allow you to own your own channel.”
ViewLift develops, stores, and manages streaming video to custom and branded apps it creates or to browsers; handles payment for subscription-based or ad-based video on demand; offers analytics and configurable content protection; accommodates ad roll-ins; and provides targeted online marketing campaigns and an internal ad exchange.
In other words, it provides the ability for any brand, program creator, or program aggregator to readily offer its own Netflix-like, multi-platform video distribution. It’s network-as-a-service.
Behind both ViewLift and SnagFilms are some heavy hitters in the world of cable and online media. Allen has held senior executive roles at Discovery Communications, The Sporting News, and National Geographic, the latter stint including when NatGeo began its cable channel.
SnagFilms itself was a spinoff from AOL by ex-AOL president Ted Leonsis. Other backers included AOL cofounder and ex-CEO Steve Case, former Yahoo and Warner Bros. CEO Terry Semel, and the Knight Foundation. Most of its content is licensed, but some — like a collection of comedy shorts called Thundershorts — are original productions.
ViewLift currently has five major clients, according to Allen, of which four can be mentioned publicly. There’s a joint venture for sports and entertainment programming with Tegna (formerly a part of Gannett), called WinnersView; a service from lifelong learning firm Great Courses; independent films from CoolFlix; and an upcoming sports network for lacrosse fans called Lax Sports Network. These are in addition to SnagFilms’ content feed, which includes a comedy channel and a kids channel.
The impetus behind ViewLift, Allen said, was media companies’ interest in doing what SnagFilms was doing: readily distributing their content across devices.
The current video ecosystem includes Sesame Street Go, WWE Network, TV network and cable channel apps, and the biggies: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Hulu Plus. Each of these has largely set up its own multi-device distribution.
But it’s not just media companies that will populate a growing landscape of programming bundles, he predicted.
ViewLift offers a rentable cross-device network. That will encourage the creation of programming channels, he envisioned, by “large traditional advertisers — Procter & Gamble, the software drink folks, the Red Bulls of the world” — that are interested in controlling their message, the characterization of their brand, and the way their advertising is presented.
Allen also suggested that major content-makers will accelerate their move to direct-to-consumer video programming if the path is easy enough. As an example, he pointed to comedian and TV star Jerry Seinfeld creating programming for video site/distributor Crackle.
“If you’re a big organization,” Allen said, “you can build it yourself, stitch [the pieces] together, or come to us and focus on content and marketing.”
It’s like a content delivery network (CDN) across devices, but optimized for brands and content programmers. In other words, it’s the cross-device, for-hire equivalent of a TV broadcasting or cable infrastructure.