A New York City startup called Howcast is launching today that wants to be the YouTube of instructional videos. In fact, the three founders—Jason Liebman, Daniel Blackman and Sanjay Raman—are ex-Google employees who worked on Google Video and YouTube before they left eight months ago. They actually are going for a little more polish than YouTube, trying to bring some production values to the world of Web video.
Howcast is also announcing an $8 million series A financing, led by Tudor Investment Corp. In addition to their own site, they already have a Youtube channel (where they split advertising revenues with their former employer). The Howcast team also has signed distribution deals with Myspace, Verizon for its Vcast phones and FiOS TV, Joost, and ROO. JetBlue is the launch advertiser. Howcast faces competition from Expert Village, 5min, and Instructables (even though the latter uses step-by-step images more than video).
The site is launching with professionally-shot instructional videos on everything from “How to Paint a Wall” (see embed below) and “How to Groom Your Cat” to “How to Get Laid.” There is a familiar formula for each one: The Howcast graphic, an intro explaining what you’ll need for the task at a hand, and step-by-step instructions explained in a voiceover. The video player on the site lets you jump to different chapters or steps, lets you zoom in for a better look, and provides the transcript as well. Viewers can add comments in the form of tips, warnings, and facts to each video. And the Flash-based site lets you browse the video directory on the left hand side while you are watching a video without interrupting it or going to a different page.
Audience participation in the creation of the videos starts with the ability to suggest video topics such as “How to Do A Television Appearance,” “How to build a Sofa From Scratch,” “How to Make Tempura,” or “How to Fire a Nanny.” The audience can then vote the best suggestions to the top in a Digg-like fashion.
Audience members can also look at upcoming scripts and improve them or write their own in a guided wiki portion of the site that follows the Howcast script template (introduction, instructions, tips, end with a fact). The script is then approved by Howcast, a voiceover is recorded, and Howcast farms out the production to young film school students and graduates. They get $50 for each video plus a 50/50 rev-share from any advertising. Anyone can also upload their own instructional videos to the site without going through this process.
The video ads are in the form of clickable overlays that pop up to take up the bottom part of the screen. “Pre-roll, non-skipable ads are bad, in our opinion,” says CEO Liebman, who originally joined Google through the acquisition of Applied Semantics and helped roll out AdSense. Howcast is starting with a $20 CPM rate card. The more targetable those ads become, the higher the rate should go. Each video is tagged by topic and each one has a visible script, making them highly searchable. A paint company might want to buy up spots in the How to Paint video, for instance, or even buy paid links in the list of necessary supplies that is part of the video. Can you say AdSense for video? Jason Liebman can.