I like to think we’ve all been here at one point: You’re bored out of your wits and rather than try to do something productive, you just spend hour after endless hour on YouTube. The problem that tends to come up in those situations is that, after a while, you just can’t find videos that strike your fancy any more. Tragic, I know.
As it happens, that’s exactly what Greg Isenberg, founder and CEO of a Montreal-based web video startup called 5by is trying to fix. 5by takes a decidedly different approach to how it finds and plays videos for you, though it may look a little familiar if you’ve spent some time mucking around with mobile music apps.
5by has been called the Songza of video, and it’s not hard to see why. Once you mosey over to the website, you’re greeted not by a smattering of videos but by a series of categories like “Blowing You Away” and “Killing Time.” Clicking any of those categories brings you to a slightly more granular set of options to choose from (think “Animals” or, my personal favorite, “Space”), and one more click takes you straight into a video (culled from YouTube or Vimeo) of 5by’s choosing.
When you’re in a video, you’re presented with a series of reactions: you can hit buttons to signify that you’ve laughed at the video being shown to you, hated it, or felt it tug at your heartstrings. And if a video just isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always a skip button to take you far, far away. While all that skipping or liking or OMG-ing is going on, 5by is quietly taking all of those little interactions and learning what you do and don’t like so it can serve you a video better suited to your tastes the next time around.
It sounds like a simple enough concept, and Isenberg says it’s working very well so far. He and the rest of the 5by team launched a very lean version of the site at the Launch conference held this past March, and in the days that followed, 5by attracted thousands of visitors who stayed on the site for about 12 minutes. These days, that average time on site has jumped to 19 minutes, and Isenberg says that the site has curated about 100,000 videos for its users to gawk at.
At this stage, all that content curation is handled by the small 5by team, with a little help from a curation algorithm designed to bring in high-value video from multiple sources. The algorithm knows to pull in videos from popular sources like Vice and Epic Meal Time and sort them into the proper categories for users to discover. But that process of curation won’t remain in-house for too much longer. Part of the 5by monetization plan hinges on a CPV model like the one StumbleUpon leans on, but Isenberg says companies are starting to sign on as curators and push their own videos to viewers who like video categories or certain kinds of videos.
It’s no secret that the line between video content and the ads that go in between those videos has grown awfully murky, and sponsored content on websites like BuzzFeed show that there’s a decent chunk of people who don’t mind mixing content and advertising. Now third-party curators can target certain types of users to receive videos and native ads (remember, 5by can figure out what you like and what you don’t) and Isenberg says Playboy has signed on to be the first one.
The thing that hasn’t eluded the 5by team is that, as enthralling as a leanback web video experience can be, there’s only so much leaning back you can do when you’re plopped down in front of your computer monitor. As far as Isenberg is concerned, the future of 5by will rely on branching out from traditional PCs. They’re working on an iOS app, and it ditches the web version’s category view in favor of a greater focus on how much free time you have to blow.
Isenberg also confirmed that 5by has already engaged in talks with two major television OEMs about the prospect of baking 5by into their forthcoming smart TVs. Why? Well, for lack of a better term, the YouTube experiences you’ll find on most smart TVs are generally pretty lousy. It’s still early days for 5by, but I’ve already found myself wasting more time there than I care to realize — if Isenberg’s cross-platform expansion plans pan out, we could all be in a bit of trouble.