PermissionTV Gives Video Publishers Permission to Get Creative

7/7/08Follow @wroush

Interactive video is finally being reborn.

In the mid-1990s, multimedia artists publishing on CD-ROMs developed a huge catalog of techniques for letting viewers interact with digital video. But as I noted in a column a couple of months go, all of that wisdom seemed to go out the window around 2000, when the broadband Web largely replaced the old-fashioned CD-ROM as a medium for digital distribution. “Internet video” came to mean either regurgitated TV shows or amateur YouTube videos, showing in tiny players embedded in pages full of ugly banner ads.

But now companies like Waltham, MA-based PermissionTV—part of the big Boston-centered cluster of Internet video companies we chronicled in March—are figuring out how to bring high-quality interactivity to Web video. The company released a new development kit for Web publishers last month, and I recently caught up with Matt Kaplan, PermissionTV’s vice president of creative and client services, and Corey Halverson, vice president of product management, who explained that they’re out to make video into a front-and-center feature of the Web—with all of the opportunities for interaction and exploration that surfers have come to expect from text-based Web pages.

“The world tends to look at video as an element of a website,” says Kaplan. “We see it the other way around. We think video can be the backdrop that Web-style interactive experiences are built around.”

Local organizations like the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Harvard Business School, BobVila.com, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign have all used PermissionTV’s technology to create online video experiences that go well beyond the typical two-minute Web clip, where “interactivity” tends to be limited to the “play,” “pause,” and “stop” buttons. The Boston Pops site, for example, currently features a large-screen interactive program about “Oscar and Tony,” a CD of Broadway and Hollywood musical scores that the orchestra recently recorded. Text commentary from conductor Keith Lockhart runs alongside the video of the Pops’ performance, and viewers can jump between numbers using a graphical timeline, or follow links to purchase the CD itself.

Here’s a quick demo that PermissionTV let us borrow. [Update, October 6, 2009: The video is no longer supported by the company and has been removed.]

PermissionTV has raised about $18 million in financing since its founding in 2004, including a $9 million round last summer led by Castile Ventures and Point Judith Capital and a $3 million venture debt deal this April with BlueCrest Capital Finance. Along with its development kit—which the company’s own engineers have been using for a couple of years, but has now been opened up so that other media companies can try it out—the company has created an online “solutions hub” demonstrating the platform’s full capabilities, such as subtitles, polls, opt-in request forms, Google ads, and “special offer” graphics leading to retail sites.

In essence, every video fed into the system is annotated with a digital timeline that allows Web designers to specify when such interactive elements should appear, and what should happen next, depending on the choices the viewer makes. “For example, you might be watching a video, and it pauses for a second, and there’s a poll,” says Kaplan. “Your response to that poll drives you down one path of the video versus another path—taking what was traditionally a linear experience and making it a user-driven experience.”

The idea of structuring interactive video around timelines isn’t new. It’s been the central metaphor in multimedia development software ever since the appearance of Macromedia’s pioneering Director software package in the 1990s—and indeed, PermissionTV’s platform is based on the same ActionScript scripting language that’s at the heart of the Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash video format. But PermissionTV’s solutions hub makes it easy to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.permissiontv.com Matt Kaplan

    Hi Wade,

    With your question “Will users interact with video online?”, you really made me stop and think about it some more. You can read my full response here.

    http://permissiontv.com/about/blog/9/2008-07-09-but_will_they_engage_in_video_20

  • http://www.permissiontv.com Matthew Mamet

    Re-reading this article six months later and it’s amazing how far we’ve come already.

    Sure, PTV, and companies like us, still have a long way to go, but to the question of “Will users interact with video online?” I think we’ve seen a definitive answer of “Yes!”

    We’ve seen some great interaction with video through the rise of the “Twebinar” – a webinar combined with a live twitter stream at http://permissiontv.com/live

    Using video on our own blog has resulted in a great deal of interaction and engagement, as tracked through our standard web analytics tools.

    Looking forward to another great leap forward in 2009!

  • http://cookies Vanessa huges

    we would like to have music videos and youtube so we can get to see cool stuff on youtube