Friday, October 14, 2011
Interview with Sam Rogoway, Near Networks
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Do you remember those cheesy, late night local television commercials you used to watch (before you got Tivo?) Wondering how, as a small business, you can reach customers in the YouTube age? Well, Los Angeles based Near Networks (www.nearnetworks.com) is looking to both reach customers online, and avoid the tacky, lousy production of typical small business ads, with a new service. The company is employing a network of documentary filmmakers and high quality, Hollywood production capability here in Los Angeles to produce small business videos in HD for the web and YouTube. We caught up with Sam Rogoway, the firm's CEO--and the former founder of TripUp, which is now part of Kayak--to hear about how the firm is hoping to revolutionize the local business video market with its services, which just launched last month.
What is Near Networks?
Sam Rogoway: Near Networks is a national production studio that creates online videos for local businesses across the country. All of our videos are very documentary and editorial in nature, and don't look like commercials. They look more like the programs you see on TV. We think that taking that approach makes it much more engaging for online video, than a traditional 30 second television spot.
Where do those videos get distributed?
Sam Rogoway: We use YouTube as our hosting platform, for a variety of reasons. One, is it makes it easy for businesses to embed that video on their own website, on blogs, and Facebook, and they can also link to that video on their Google Places page. It's also a great way to build out your own YouTube channel, which we also help them do. To the extent that a business is not familiar with embedding, we also help them with that process, with claiming their Google Places page, and link that video. It's also our job to start populating their video channel for all of the businesses we work with--we don't just create one video, but we create multiple videos and a microdocumentary, a two minute overview of the business which anchors their video channel for the business. We also create 30 to 60 second vignettes, which provide a deeper dive into products, and allows them to showcase their business. That way, a business ends up having multiple videos, rather than just one, so they can tell their brand story and get across their brand message in a very visual and informative way. We've also found that online video really helps with search engine optimization. There was a recent study which showed that adding a video makes it 53 times more likely that you'll have a Google first page search result. Normally, SEO is not cheap, and video is a very affordable way to boost your businesses search engine optimization, and help you to get discovered.
What's your background, and where did the idea for the business come from?
Sam Rogoway: I'm an entertainment attorney by trade, and have represented a number of the largest reality production companies, as well as award winning filmmakers, both scripted and documentary filmmakers. I'm very familiar with good production values and telling stories visually. In between practicing, I actually started and ran my own social network, TripUp, which was later acquired by Sidestep, which is now Kayak. At TripUp, we had lots of user generated reviews and hotels, and we were the first to add user general video to a travel community site. Although there is lots of value in videos, we found that what people were uploading was choppy, and did not add a ton of value. So, what I've been doing is connecting my experience with those reviews, and working businesses, with my experience in the entertainment industry.
What we want to do is bring very good videos to businesses, at a very affordable price. One thing at distinguishes us, is you can get a broadcast quality, two minute documentary for your business for $1499, something that would normally cost you thousands of dollars from a traditional TV production company. We've scaled it so it's really affordable, and we can create videos for you business whether you are in LA, Chicago, Miami, or wherever. It doesn't matter where you are located. We have a network of filmmakers who film for us, but all of the producing and editing is brought back to our base here in Los Angeles. That way, we're able to maintain our quality and consistency.
The other reason we got into this, is if you look at the local market, it's really had an explosion over the past year. Yelp and CitySearch have been around for awhile, but Foursquare is really built on local businesses, Groupon, LivingSocial, and other deal sites are built on the backs of local businesses. Patch is very focused on local, Google is making a big initiative in local, and Facebook it trying to engage local. There's been a huge push to engage local businesses, to get them involve din social media, but video has yet to catch up. Unfortunately, most local videos look like those bad TV commercials or something you'd see on a public access cable show--a shaking camera and someone reading from a script. But, we think it doesn't have to be that bad. Many small businesses, even if they need or want video for their business, they don't want to spend a fortune if it's just going to harm their brand. That's why we think there's an opportunity, because local continues to explode, and video will have to catch up at some point.
How are you able to keep production values high even at a low price point?
Sam Rogoway: One thing we've done, and spent a lot of time on as a company, is cultivating a community of talented filmmakers. We don't have to fly a production crew around, because the filmmakers we use are very good and adept at shooting really high quality video, without having to bring in a lighting and audio person. They can handle it all on their own. Not having an enormous production crew, which businesses don't need, definitely keeps costs down. Plus, we're building out internal infrastructure to produce things in house, to edit things in house, and that also keeps costs down, as opposed to some other company which would source everything out to others. For us, it's a volume business. We're already producing videos on a weekly basis, and hope to produce hundreds, if not thousands, a month. That's really our business plan. Every business can benefit from video, whether they're a law firm, a restaurant, a hotel, or a plumber--we're casting a wide net on the kinds of businesses we work with.
I imagine it must be difficult to scale this and build out a network of filmmakers?
Sam Rogoway: Yes, it has. That's why it took us a few months to launch, so that we could have the top 15 markets covered, not just with a random wedding videographer. In each market, we have a filmmaker who has been in the documentary space before. They don't necessarily come out of the wedding video or commercial area, they're out of the documentary video area. It took months to put into place, because we had to have that in place before we launched, because we are positioned as a national company. It has worked out really well. We haven't had a city where businesses haven't had a filmmaker, and whether we're producing something in Portland or New York, the quality has been maintained. Our filmmakers have to work with the same HD equipment, the same audio equipment, and everything is edited in house. We are able to control the quality of each video by having very stringent standards for the filmmakers we work with.
Has it helped that the cost of professional equipment is really not an issue now?
Sam Rogoway. Yes, that's definitely one of the reasons. The types of cameras now that can shoot beautiful HD video are not thousands and thousands of dollars. That has allowed more creative people to get into video, without having to make such a huge investment it. But, we've also found some really, really talented people. My colleague, Jen Ringel, helped start MTV's New Media department, and really knows how to create high quality productions, coming from a major TV network. Plus, with the type of equipment out there, you can get beautiful, TV quality stuff without having to spend $10,000 on that equipment. It's definitely made it easier for us to jump into the game, and it also has made HD much more accessible to local businesses.
How is the company funded?
Sam Rogoway: Before we launched Near Networks, I had started a small private equity group called Brave New Ventures, which is a very early stage investor in media oriented companies. We made our first investment in Serious Business, which is more of a traditional production company, which takes online properties and develops them for TV and other platforms. We actually incubated Near Networks out of Serious Business, and because we were excited about the video space, we decided to put lots of energy and time into it.
Finally, what's the next big goal for the company?
Sam Rogoway: The next goal for us, is we are in talks with a number of large publisher and platform sites, from large deal sites, to large publishers in certain categories of content, such as restaurants and hotels, to power their local video solution. Most of them might have restaurant listings or business listings, but could benefit from adding video. That's our next goal, to strike a number of partnerships with a platform publisher, and power the local video solution for them. We've got talks ongoing and we're extremely excited.
Thanks, and good luck!