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AP Takes A Stake In Bambuser, The Real-Time Mobile Video Service That Helps Eyewitnesses Tell Their Stories

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Bambuser, the upstart mobile video service that has carved out a name for itself as a crucial tool for eyewitnesses to record and transmit footage of major events — be they political uprisings, bombings or a star sighting — is today announcing another step along the route to becoming a part and parcel of the traditional media world. It’s taking an investment from the Associated Press, the storied news organization that works with dozens of newspapers, websites and broadcasters to source and report on the news of the world.

The exact amount has not been disclosed but Sandy MacIntyre, the AP’s global head of video news (who is also joining Bambuser’s board), says it is in the “mid six figures” and is more strategic about where the companies will go together in the longer term.

This is the AP’s first investment in a video-based social media service, but this is not the AP’s first dalliance with Bambuser.

The pair have actually been working together for the last three years; and for the last year, AP reporters have been using Bambuser’s backend to record and then deliver video to its studios from the field; and also to source content from citizen journalists to bolster overall coverage. Notable events that have benefitted from that relationship have included the siege of Homs; video taken by activists inside the Syrian government’s Taftanaz air base; the Oklahoma tornado; the Russian meteor; and the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

“At end of the day we are judged on being first and right so anything that helps us with the speed of delivery or accuracy through crowdsourcing, we will aggressively want to be in that space,” MacIntyre told TechCrunch. He notes that the decision was made to stay away from an outright purchase for now because this part of the news ecosystem is still “at an infant level.”

“We are better doing this together with a startup company,” he adds. “They are experts in their space and doing a partnership makes more sense than trying to master that space ourselves.”

Indeed, one of the big issues in traditional, big media companies is the inability to innovate and move fast enough to keep up with the pace of change; deals like these are one way of tackling that challenge. (The AP, of course is no stranger to that criticism and falling in its shadow.) The tune has changed quite a lot these days. “User-generated video content of live and breaking news is the new frontier of news generation,” MacIntyre says. “Every story that breaks, your first thought is where are the user-generated images. With Bambuser as part of our stable we would expect that kind of coverage to grow in future.”

One of the key advantages with Bambuser, apart from the fact that it is free for regular people to use (only professional news organizations get charged) is that it’s a very strong platform for sourcing content because it works over even the most basic handsets and most basic networks — one of the ironic advantages to first opening for business in 2007 — before the first iPhone had even landed in the market.

The plan will be to build out existing areas of coverage, but also to help Bambuser build out its bigger business model, effectively doing for other news organizations what it has been doing for the AP up to now on an exclusive basis: creating a cost-effective platform that can be used by reporting teams to both record and transmit video footage, and also help source footage that can be authenticated and used alongside that “professional” coverage.

So for now Bambuser will keep its monetizing restricted to a B2B play (and leave to those other news organizations to continue to figure out how to finance their news services), but you can see how, with the flattening of the internet, there could be scope for Bambuser to use investment to grow other aspects of its own platform. Whether it can do this without stepping on its customers’ toes in the process is another question.

“Working so closely with the AP over the last year has proven the huge demand for user-generated video content,” noted Hans Eriksson, executive chairman at Bambuser, in a statement. “This equity investment is an important milestone in Bambuser’s journey as it not only brings our two organizations closer, but enables us to share our expertise to an even greater extent.” The company has recently rolled out a new SDK for organizations to more easily embed content from Bambuser on third-party sites — a crucial move to take the service to a wider market.

In this deal to grow its customer base, it looks like the AP will remain a key partner in the process: “Through Bambuser, AP can source UGC video news live from the scene from eyewitnesses exclusively for its broadcast and online publisher customers. This not only ensures that the AP remains the foremost global provider of live video news, but also helps its customers overcome their own UGC challenges,” the AP notes in a statement.

The company does not disclose the size of its user base or revenues, or total past funding. It has raised at least $2.5 million more to date, in addition to the AP’s most recent investment.