Startup Watch: Klickable TV
by Andrew Freiburghouse, Edgelings New York Bureau Chief
Two o’clock on a muggy New York Friday afternoon. Tomorrow begins Labor Day weekend. And this is the type of meeting that gets cancelled on a day like this. But Roger Wu and Dmitry Samochine of Klickable TV are right where they said they’d be. Where they are every day: at their desk in their office, meaning at a common table in a café called Subtle Tea, on 30th and Madison. This a story about a dollar and a dream.The dream is to create a world where we don’t just watch the boob tube; we interact with it, and make it smarter. Couch potatoes of the world, unite, and then lean forward, learn more and talk back. You’re watching “The John Stewart Show” on Hulu.com, for example, and you want to know more about the actor being interviewed, and John’s not asking those questions. So you click on the actor and up pops an IMDB profile. Maybe you add a comment of your own, and maybe, if it’s clever enough, that comment becomes a part of the video other people see.“It’s TV meets Wikipedia,” is the elevator pitch. For the time being, though, Klickable only works with online video, not regular TV.“In this early stage,” Founder and President Wu says, “we want to keep it pretty simple. We want people to get used to clicking on video. I want my mom to be able to use this and get enjoyment out of it.” Boasting a wavy black mane and two BS degrees from Penn to go with an MBA from the Wharton, Wu is the talkative one; and a notorious networker — I see him at every Silicon Alley event I attend. Meanwhile, Samochine, Klickable’s Chief Technology Officer, spent our time together on his laptop, coding and fixing bugs in the system. Their other partner, Emily Gannett, who has a film background, was out scouring Manhattan for media partners.Klickable’s core technology is a Flash programming tool that enables video editors—including, sometimes, viewers themselves—to create “hot spots” within a video and “tag” these hot spots with relevant information so that when you click on them, a bubble pops up and tells you more. It’s tough to explain in words. So, check out the demo at http://www.klickable.tvThat’s the dream. Now, where’s the dollars? “This is an experimental thing,” responds Wu. “We want to show that people like and use our technology before we try to go out and get a bunch of money. The first step is to do actual deals with advertisers and build a real community of users.” The long-term revenue strategy, as of now, is to “catch the long tail of Internet video advertising.” That is, to start by partnering with professional content. The trailer for the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day got Klickabled. “I see us as a business-to-business play,” Wu explains. “If another company wants to use our technology, great, we’re all for it. We don’t need to have our name on everything.”After the pros are on board, Klickable plans to move down the food chain to the semi-pro stuff like “LonelyGirl115.” And then finally, if and when the technology is sharp enough that the economics make sense, the even everyday folks should be able to make their videos “klickable.”Direct access to that first, highest-priority group—the pros—is the main reason why these guys like Subtle Tea. In fact, they can make the case that it’s better than a real office. Eight dollar sandwiches, sure, but it’s literally on Madison Avenue. “We meet possible partners all the time,” Wu says. “People see us here every day, and they want to know what we’re doing.” The bigger question behind all this? Is the Internet merely another distribution channel for television, or an entirely new form of television, or some mutant combination of the two? The bigger question behind that? Mr. Wu said it beautifully: “How the hell do you make money off online video?” When you find out, let YouTube know. But Roger Wu & Company is not the only team thinking outside the proverbial idiot box, nor are they the richest. Asterpix was the rival that immediately came up in our talk. They’re out in Silicon Valley and have serious money from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates – which explains why their website looks slicker. Avant Interactive and DoubleClick (owned by Google) are also direct and active competitors. And they have even more money.Wu and Samochine, however, demonstrate a grounded understanding of the importance of creating a positive user experience, rather than seeking to base everything on direct selling of product. These guys grew up playing video games, and think TV should feel a little more like that. Speaking of which, that’s the deal Wu really covets: an agreement with Nintendo, to use the Wii as an input device by which to render regular TV “klickable.” But their secret weapon may be their commitment: these guys truly love what they’re doing. By the time my interview ended it was well past four o’clock. The streets of New York were quiet, almost empty. But, as I walked away, Wu and Samochine were still at their table, hunched over their work.