BroadbandTV is proud to announce their front page feature in the Vancouver Sun today (31 May 2011).
VANCOUVER — You can fight them, or you can work with them.
By taking the latter approach with some of the Internet’s more benign “pirates,” a British Columbia-based Internet business is carving out a potentially formidable space for itself on the world wide web.
BroadbandTV, brainchild of Shahrzad Rafati, is already a profitable venture that boasts business relationships including YouTube, the National Basketball Association, Electronic Arts, United Way, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers.
Rafati started the company in 2005, a year before she graduated from the University of B.C. in computer sciences.
The company began by offering foreign language television entertainment over the Internet, and still does.
But it was Rafati’s innovations that have piqued wider interest; this month, Fast Company listed her as one of the world’s top 100 creative business thinkers.
She has developed computer programs — search algorithms — that comb the web for certain kinds of content.
(The creators of Google on a much larger scale developed computer programs as the foundation of its prodigious search engine).
In the case of the NBA, for example, BroadbandTV looks for fan- or “user”-generated videos — such as a LeBron James slam dunk compilation that a Miami Heat fan might post on YouTube or another basketball site or web page.
The NBA has a copyright for all images involving its teams and players so, technically, a fan who is posting game highlights is violating the copyright — in effect, pirating the NBA’s proprietary video content, even if it’s just intended as a tribute.
But instead of antagonizing fans with lawsuits, the NBA has a contract with BroadbandTV to rebrand their clips as official content.
Rafati’s algorithms scan the web for unauthorized video clips. When they find one, BroadbandTV staff screen — or “curate” — it for potential objectionable content and remove it, and then attach advertisements. A pirate clip posted on YouTube is rebranded into a revenue-generating league asset.
The ensuing ad revenue is shared among partners in the venture, including the NBA and BroadbandTV.
“I consume a lot of videos online myself. I watch a lot of content on YouTube and other sites,” Rafati said in an interview at BroadbandTV’s new offices in downtown Vancouver.
“When first YouTube came around, and a lot of other video portals that might not even be around now, the majority of the content on these platforms was uploaded by users. The majority of the uploaded content was not videos of cats and dogs. It was an NBA clip, an American Idol clip.
“I thought — the guys that are uploading are not really thinking of themselves as pirates. These are fans that are going out there, they are uploading the videos, they are sharing them with their friends and they’re very enthusiastic. They’re posting it on their Facebook wall.
“We thought, how can we come up with a solution to a problem that the content partners are facing where we give them control?”
A deal to clean up user generated content was the first step. The next one was persuading the clients to let BroadbandTV create unique, legitimized Internet video channels where fans could upload their clips — and attach advertisements that would drive revenue.
The company created a “consumer brand,” VISO, that operates on YouTube and offers a series of channels dedicated to content from video games, other sports, music, television and movie trailers.
As with the NBA channel, BroadbandTV is using the new promotional channels to curate fan-driven content, attach advertisements, and drive revenue growth.
There’s a VISO Gamer channel for video gamers to post video clips from their in-game adventures — Electronic Arts is a partner on that one.
VISO Trailers shows movie trailer and other film fan content, VISO Games shows video game trailers, and VISO Music features concert clips and other music videos.
“At the end of the day you are giving the end user what they are looking for, not looking at them as pirates but as fans, enthusiastic fans that are going out there sharing, uploading content, sharing it with their friends and educating them,” Rafati said.
Getting the attention of a large, internationally regarded corporate entity such as the NBA or EA or Sony was not easy for a tiny Vancouver company with a CEO barely out of university.
“For us, when we were approaching the content partners it was very difficult at the beginning. It was months and months of negotiation with different content partners but, at the end of the day, we provided them with stats, data, on user activity associated with their video assets.
“They had two options. Either they had no control or they have control — and there was a business model behind it, a real business model. There are real revenues associated with user activity around the user uploaded content,” Rafati said.
“Because there was no risk on their end and we were doing all the work and bringing them a revenue stream, we were able to get them on board.”
Those stations are in addition to others that offer more traditional TV content, such as an online BroadbandTV channel for watching Venezuelan soap operas, or old movies in the public domain, or other content that can’t find its way onto a local network or specialty television station.
Even here, BroadbandTV is offering to help curate content and monetize it for its owners.
Rafati’s favourite new channel is VISO Give, which enables charitable enterprises to post their own content and generate revenue from it.
They don’t need to plead for donations. Instead, charities on VISO Give need only to have people watch their videos to generate revenue from the advertisements that are attached to them.
For the public, a 90-second video of yelping puppies at an animal shelter means advertising revenue for the shelter that costs nothing more than the 90 seconds it took to watch the video.
The more people you can attract to your video, the more revenue you can generate.
“You see a lot of technology companies that just create technology for the sake of creating something really cool and hoping that someone is going to acquire the company. For us it’s solving a real problem that exists out there,” Rafati said.
“It’s something I’m personally passionate about because it’s doing something good within the community and truly helping the non-profits. We are hoping to get more and more non-profits on board to really create a kick-ass, aggregated hub destination for the non-profits.”
Meanwhile, Rafati is talking with potential investors about a first, significant round of venture capital funding — a Series A venture that would put the company, and Canada, on the digital map.
“We’ve been fortunate,” she said.
“The business is cash-flow positive. We have a proven model. As a result of that, we want to grow rapidly and we think it’s best to go out there and raise some money and truly scale the business.”