Online video is limbering up. The volume of video content already being watched online is massive. Here’s just one stat to boggle the mind: ComScore reported close to 50 billion online videos watched by Americans alone in just the month of January this year. But really you ain’t seen nothing yet.
As cameras find their way into more connected devices, and more people around the world adopt smartphones with a lens and a data connection as their personal mobile device then orders of magnitude more video content is going to be produced, uploaded and consumed.
There’s no doubt the digital future will be filmed and streamed from myriad mobile devices. So there’s a growing problem. Namely: discoverability.
With so much video content fighting for eyeballs, finding the best stuff is only going to get trickier. And that’s likely to drive demand for tools that help condense videos into highlights packages to make content quicker and easier to consume. Digital video is both increasingly plentiful and ripe for remixing.
So step forward UK-based startup StepUp which has built a platform for turning existing digital video content into shorter snippets that can be looped for repeat viewing, or watched in sequence – one segment after another.
Founder Makoto Inoue dubs his creation a ‘Vine for YouTube’. The basic idea is to give the average online consumer the ability to chain together and tag/annotate video snippets — cutting a single longer original video down to size as a highlight snippet. Or combining multiple highlights into a sequence of easily digestible chunks that can be used to structure and navigate the video content to aid learning.
“Online video itself is a huge market but many people are focusing on how to let people create more video contents, but there are not many companies focusing on how to help people consume. So the more videos get generated there’s more [scope] for us to help people consume videos much easier,” says Inoue.
Pro video editing tools already offer the ability to edit video content, of course, but Inoue wants to democratize the process to make it easy enough for the mainstream online consumer to do, not just video editing professionals. The resulting edit may be less polished but it’s more accessible.
He describes StepUp as a “video bite-sized service”. While that might immediately make you think of Vine, Twitter’s looping micro video snippet format, it’s not a like-for-like rival because Vine is focused on helping people film new video, while StepUp wants to let people remix existing content in new ways.
“Vine is all about video creation,” says Inoue. “[StepUp is] more about curation. Vine actually made my life a lot easier because when I say ‘Vine for YouTube video’ more people understand why a small size make sense.”
Animated GIF tools are perhaps a better comparison but StepUp aims to be a much broader platform than the GIF’s one trick pony. It’s about remixing longer video content into useful — or entertaining — highlights packages that can be used as a learning aid (by letting people re-watch individual segments until a tidbit of knowledge sticks, for instance), not just a medium for condensed video buffoonery.
As well as giving people basic and accessible video editing tools, StepUp is obviously also aiming to become a video content platform in its own right — where people can seek, find and consume videos on particular topics that others have curated into its segmented montage format. (Another startup with some crossover is Coursmos, which is using short videos as a format to support mobile e-learning.)
Inoue argues that identifying a good bit in a video doesn’t require a video editor or any specialist training. “You don’t really need a specific skill or design skill to augment video [in that way]. All you need to know is from where to where is important. So I focus on that specific bit,” he tells TechCrunch.
“And, the biggest win for us is, assuming [the video] on YouTube you don’t have to download and upload which takes lots of time,” he adds.
There’s no limit on the length a StepUp video segment can be (although it defaults to a Vine-esque six seconds). Once a source video has been added to StepUp, the user can press a clip button to grab a particular segment, changing the time stamp after the fact if needed and then, once happy with their clip, they add a category, tags or other notes and upload their remix to StepUp’s platform.
Currently source video for splicing and dicing can be grabbed from YouTube, or users can search for existing content uploaded to StepUp to use. On the viewer side, those watching StepUp videos can like individual segments, and comment on the whole video. StepUp videos can also be embedded on other sites as well as watched on its own platform.
In terms of direct competitors Inoue names Russian startup Coub as the closest, but points out that unlike Coub there’s no time limit on video segments on StepUp — meaning it can be used to create remixes that offer the viewer something more substantial than can be conveyed in just 10 seconds.
StepUp sidesteps rights issues about using others’ content by proving a link back to the original video/s — much like Pinterest turning existing online photos into pins. Inoue believes this could be a selling point for StepUp, pointing to online news’ and community sites’ penchant for using embedded animated GIFs as a bit of a grey area when it comes to rights issues.
“For these purposes it’s much easier if they embed my tool. It’s almost like animated GIF but with sounds and also with one click you can go back to the original video. That’s one area I wish people would use [StepUp for],” he adds.
In terms of particular video content he sees as a good fit for StepUp he suggests longer talks and music videos offer especially ripe raw material for stepping up.
For instance he says panel discussions at conferences might lend themselves to a best bits cut, while music videos tend to be about three to four minutes long on average — so he argues there’s scope to offer a condensed, bite-size teaser version. Or for fans to splice together their favourite moments.
The wider point again is that StepUp can accommodate both e-learning and entertainment use-cases. And if it can build a big enough user-base it could become a video discovery platform in its own right. A sort of YouTube digest, if you will. Or that’s the grand vision.
Inoue’s original idea for StepUp was called Benkyo Player, which still exists as a separate video learning toolset offering things like subtitle search for the video libraries of massively open online courses (MOOCs).
That e-learning angle got Innoe and Benkyo Player backing from the social good focused Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV). The accelerator then remained on board, despite the pivot from dedicated e-learning video player to more expansive StepUp video platform.
Content categories on the site currently include various topics that lend themselves to step-by-step learning and instruction, such as cooking, fitness, martial arts, musical instruments and languages. So, although StepUp is a pivot it’s not moved a million miles away from Innoe’s original e-learning focus.
The name StepUp actually comes from a film of the same name about a hip hop dancer and a classical ballet dancer trying to teach each other their respective dance moves — and that step by step learning process is what StepUp aims to facilitate, says Inoue.
StepUp as it is now launched around April this year and is getting monthly page views that average between 10,000 and 30,000 at this early stage.
As well as the original £15,000 backing from BGV Inoue also pulled in a grant and mentoring from Nominet so has raised £65,000 in pre-seed funding so far for StepUp. He’s now looking for seed funding of between £100,000 and £500,000 to expand on what he’s built so far.
If he’s able to pull in the larger amount — either in Europe or over the pond where the money generally flows freer for these type of big platform UGC content startups — Inoue says the priority would be building StepUp for mobile. Currently the product doesn’t work properly on mobile devices because of browser restrictions. Fixing that would be a key priority, he says.
In terms of business model, he sees the platform supporting a Pinterest-style model once it has enough users — offering native ads in a spliced snippets format, giving brands a way to tease ad content and potentially spice it up or make it less annoying to view (by turning a three minute pre-roll advert into a more condensed and consumable snippet, for example).
Other monetization ideas include a freemium model for using StepUp’s tools — e.g. charging for things like adding non-public video content for editing, or offering more control over the tagging process. Doing a degree of automation for the step/clip or caption process for a fee is another idea.
Inoue also sees potential offering video analytics for brands — since the platform can be used to identify the particular segments of video content that viewers really like (based on things like how many times they loop a segment or which snippets of a video they actively like).
All those ideas are just snippets of potential right now, though. Inoue is a sole founder driving StepUp, and needs funding to step the current desktop-only product to a more accessible and mobile friendly next level. But the core idea at least stands on a solid foundation — so he’ll be hoping the money follows.