ClickBerry Makes Videos Into Clickable Gateways to Shopping and Sharing
New Web technologies that once seemed like ultimate breakthroughs—such as streaming video online—may soon appear too slow or too static for our accelerating expectations. But from this impatience, new companies are often born.
Entrepreneur Alex Babin’s wife was watching a cooking show video a few years ago, and she wanted to find the recipe. Babin’s first impulse was to touch or click on the video to call the recipe up, as he would on an interactive Web page. But the video could not do what he’d come to expect of media—present a rich entryway leading to many other rooms full of information. Babin’s wife had to haul out her laptop to get the recipe.
Babin founded ClickBerry two years ago to change that. In September, the Los Altos startup launched a platform that allows a Web or iPad user to tag the friends laughing in her video, add links to their blog sites, post the video on Facebook, and encourage others to share it. Using ClickBerry, a home chef with a small business can tag the bottle of artisan chipotle sauce he uses in a cooking video, and link it to a landing page where viewers can buy the concoction from him. Another link on the video can open to his recipes.
“Everybody understands that this is how video will evolve,’’ Babin says. “Nobody has defined the exact path.’’
Video entrepreneurs have been inspired by Facebook’s $1 billion purchase this year of Instagram, which transformed still photos by making them easier to share and improve with artistic filters, says ClickBerry’s vice president of marketing, Nico Cunningham.
“What’s the video equivalent of Instagram?’’ is the question video pioneers are asking, Cunningham says. “This space is blowing up in terms of tons of different solutions in the marketplace.’’
Clickberry’s strategy has been evolving since it was founded in Russia and later expanded to include a Bay area headquarters. The technical side of annotating videos was not the company’s biggest challenge; in fact, people had been doing it for a more than a decade, Babin says. For example, VideoClix Technologies of Vancouver, Canada, founded in 1999, now offers interactive video production services to big commercial clients such as Kraft Foods.
Babin said he opted instead to serve consumers and mid-level media professionals by creating a set of easily mastered tools, rather than competing with big enterprise media services in the space, such as Adobe.
Consumers can use ClickBerry’s apps for the Mac, PC, or iPad to add interactive elements to their videos. For example, they can create a frame or “hotspot” around a landmark pictured in a video, and tag it with a link to a Web page about the building’s history. They can attach a Facebook Like button or a shopping cart widget to a video about a piece of handmade jewelry. The videos can be shared on Facebook through a link to ClickBerry’s cloud storage site, where the videos reside.
Babin says the company is learning from its earliest customers how to entice Web users to try ClickBerry, just as they quickly adopted Instagram. “What works for photos doesn’t necessarily work for video,’’ Cunningham says.
In the photo realm, Stipple and other companies have already built tagging mechanisms that allow Web users to pursue information directly from a picture published online. Web users can mouse over a “Stippled’’ photo to reveal links to a handbag maker’s website, or to the latest tweet of the movie star carrying the bag, for example.
Stipple CEO Rey Flemings said he and his partners had considered tackling video as a potential interactive medium, but decided to focus on photos. Both photos and video present challenges to a media startup seeking eventual profits, he says.
Revenues can flow from the fees that hundreds of manufacturers and Web retailers, such as Amazon, pay to bloggers, publishers, and media platforms like Stipple that send online sales their way. Stipple provides a shopping cart link that can be attached to products shown in photographs. Stipple also tracks the consumer purchases that stem from clicks on those links.
The manufacturers’ payments for these clicks, called affiliate commissions, will only amount to sizeable revenues if photo tagging grows to a substantial scale, Flemings says. Stipple welcomes consumers to use its freemium service to annotate their photos manually. But to scale up its business, the company has created an automated system to tag the goods in thousands of promotional images provided by manufacturers, who give Stipple access to their product databases.
“You can’t scale manual tag creation,’’ Flemings says. He and his partners decided that the tagging of videos—at 30 frames per second—would be too complex and time-consuming compared to tagging photos.
Another factor tipped the scales in favor of photos, Flemings says. He evaluated the ability of tagging information to “travel’’ along with a photo or video as it moves from one Web platform to another—for example, from a blogger’s Web page to a Pinterest gallery to a Facebook page. Leading Web services, including Tumblr, Google, and Facebook, mask the notes attached to photos by their creators, Flemings says.
To help Stipple’s tags remain visible, the company is signing up participating websites, where any visitor can see the links. For example, users can now turn a Stipple photo into a Twitter Card by using a tweet button on the photo.
Individual Web users can also install Stipple’s browser plug-in, so they can see the Stipple tags when they open non-participating websites, Flemings says.
While photos can percolate out to the public through thousands of different outlets, Flemings says, video distribution is much more concentrated. Most people watch videos on YouTube or its two major competitors, Brightcove and Vimeo, he says.
At this point, videos tagged with ClickBerry’s tools can’t be uploaded to YouTube with their links remaining visible. In the future, Babin says, he hopes to integrate ClickBerry more fully with other media platforms such as YouTube.
But in the meantime, ClickBerry offers users video hosting at its cloud storage site. Of the company’s 31 employees, 28 are programmers in Russia whose main task is to support the cloud hosting feature, Babin says.
ClickBerry has raised $1.8 million from Silicon Valley and Russian angel investors, including Yuri Virovets, president of Russia-based Headhunter Group. Babin says ClickBerry is preparing for a Series A fundraising round within a few months.
The Los Altos startup has its eye on affiliate commissions as a major revenue stream. To that end, ClickBerry is targeting two populations: casual users of social media, and professional marketers looking for an inexpensive way to make videos interactive.
Web users can download ClickBerry’s Mac and PC apps free, and also gain one free gigabyte of cloud storage. The iPad app, a tool for consumers who use it to add interactive features to their videos, sells for $1.99. The company also offers paid subscription services for media producers and brand promoters, who can use the extra tools to outfit their own websites with a player for interactive videos. Those professionals can also make use of ClickBerry’s analytics to gauge which videos and links draw the best responses from consumers.
ClickBerry sees its casual users as important elements in its overall business strategy. As they use ClickBerry to add links and layers within their own videos, they’ll look for such doorways in other videos they like, says Cunningham. That should help motivate product marketers to take the time to tag their videos and use them as selling launchpads, he says. In time, recipe links in a cooking show video could become a standard expectation.
“As it becomes entrenched, people may demand videos that have interactive features,’’ says Cunningham.