In the world of online conversations, one of the oldest is that of community forums. As part of those forums, users are now regularly posting links, videos, and other information to others. To try to take advantage of those links, Los Angeles-based AutoStream (www.autostream.com) has developed software which makes those links to videos interactive, embedding an inline video player to keep users engaged on those forums. We spoke with Bill Kelley, COO and Partner of the firm, about what the company is up to.
Bill Kelley: AutoStream is a relatively new company. We're just moving into our second year. The company was formed originally to use video as a conversational essence in the social media world. Video has been emerging as a way to enhance communications, and is being used as a focus for communications. Our end of the market is the automotive end, which is where Adam Bruce, the founder and CEO and I have come from. We came from the automotive aftermarket area, and have been car guys for a long time.
There are approximately 400 major automotive forums in the automotive sector, with some with as many as 10 million monthly uniques. You can see a breakdown of them at big-boards.com. Within the industry, there are aggregators with between 100 and 200 forums under a single, corporate ownership. 78 percent of all of those major forums in the automotive area use software called vBulletin to manage their communications and discussions. The way those forums work, is there is a general forum area, and then discussion areas within that forum. Within those forums are threads, with posts within those threads. The whole forum environment has been a closed ecosystem in the past. Our objective, when we started, was to bust open that ecosystem, and bring video in a way that will allow people to have a conversation around that video.
How do you do that?
Bill Kelley: The trick with forums, is you have to be accepted, and you have to not interrupt the way the forum operates currently. That's a little hard to do. So, what we did is we created a multi-technology, distribution tool which intercepts embedded videos. It observes where the video is being embedded. For example, if you have a video of a Camaro convertible, you can embed that link, just like you did before our tool was installed--but once you do, instead of putting a YouTube video embedded in the post, we install what appears to be a player. That's a piece of magic created by Adam which essentially triggers a mashup of not only the video that someone has selected, but companion videos and attributions to the original, who did the embedding of the video in the forum, and additional recommended videos. Basically, it's more of a theater managed within a forum than a simple player of a single video.
Why is that useful?
Bill Kelley: If you think of things from the forum owner and administrators standpoint, if you allow people to embed a video or link, you risk having those users go down a rabbit hole to YouTube and leave the forum. This player allows people to stay in the forum instead, for long form viewing. They can just lean back and watch the video. What we've also done, through careful tag management and cataloging, is we've created a system where everyone who is a forum member is also a curator. So, the only videos that get into the system are the ones that have been uploaded, and therefore recommended, by other forum members. We are on track to have around 93 forums by the middle of the second quarter of this year using the tool.
Talk about your content efforts?
Bill Kelley: Approximately 13 months ago, we purchased the automotive properties of Next New Newtorks, including the number one automotive interst show, Fastlane Daily, which delivers 4-5 million views a month. We're going on towards 105 million lifetime views of the channel. That content, Fastlane Daily, will be embedded within the player as a recommended, premium video that they can view throughout the forums this goes into. With this new audience, and having Fastlane Daily brought to them, that allows us to push more content into the automotive community. The community already embraces it very strongly, it's a very popular show which is up 80 percent, year-to-year, in terms of viewership. So this makes it available and more people aware of it through forums. We've also licensed independent producer's programs, and we will have a tier of premium content coming from independent producers, where we share revenue.
What do you mean by premium content?
Bill Kelley: Those are videos we recommend through our players. In order to be premium, you have to be brand-safe, professionally produced, and in a series. Adam Bruce, the founder of the company, also started Streetfire, which ended up as a web site with lots of views but which was difficult for advertisers to participate with. The reason why, it had lots of user generated content, where people were doing things that were more and more outrageous, in order to catch eyeballs. That included things like street racing and other illegal activities. So, we created this channel to be more brand friendly. Our model is advertising, and we have people like Sony, Top Gear UK, and other pending campaigns. We're simply providing a very big platform, which is something of real significance to consumer package companies. We're using YouTube as a server, and our YouTube stats say we have are 91 percent male, 18-54, and we are surpassing 5-6 million up to 10 million views.
What's the next big move for you?
Bill Kelley: Two things. We have rev 1.0 our right now, and we have a roadmap through the third quarter of this year. We'll be adding some features, which are probably non-essential, but which are good social lubricants. We're on track to integrate into 93 forums by mid second quarter, and are also in discussions with individual websites to host our player, which will expand the reach of our show. We're also in talks with a couple of aggregators to bring the forum player into new forum. We're anticipating that by the end of Q3 or Q4 we will be reaching around 50 million uniques a month.
You're very focused on auto, but it seems like this tool might actually be more generally applicable?
Bill Kelley: You've touched on our secret sauce. Once we understand how to do this, and with revision 1.5, we can expand to other categories. We're going to go stepwise to power sports next, and it's a good observation that this particular medium of social communications, and creation of ad-hoc networks around video content, is completely transportable to any interest area.