ZunaVision Is Trying To Monetize Online Video By Making It Unwatchable

ZunaVision last week announced it had raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding from Stanford professor David Cheriton, the billionaire who is credited with introducing Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to the VCs at Kleiner Perkins – the rest, as they say, is history.

I’m going to go out on an enormous limb here and claim he just made a very poor investment decision by placing a reportedly “upper five figures” bet on this startup.

ZunaVision was born out of the artificial intelligence lab at Stanford University by three researchers and an Assistant Professor, and what they’ve come up with is technology that enables video publishers – from amateurs who produce content for fun to professionals – to insert image and video advertising units into clips. It is product placment for online video.

This is how it works: an algorithm first analyzes the video, subsequently alters different aspects of embedded images or videos (such as the lighting, color and texture), and then attempts to fit the advertising into the physical space of their videos without appearing like a blatant overlay. Watch the video below for some example results.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not an entirely new idea; I’ve covered a similar initiative called SmartAd from a company called Keystream in the past, and we’ve recently reviewed an Israeli company called Innovid doing similar things with in-video advertising.

My biggest gripe with these companies is not related to the technology, which is actually quite impressive, but the fact that these startups keep throwing words like ‘non-intrusive’, ‘uninterrupted’ and ‘natural’ at us while at the same time promoting the embedding technology to advertisers as ‘unmissable’ and ‘unskippable’. I find it unbelievable that they’re pretending to create a beneficial situation for publishers, advertisers and viewers while it’s painfully clear the latter are not gaining anything from this but a poorer viewing experience.

Online video is still notoriously hard to monetize, but I think ZunaVision is taking a step backwards by essentially giving everyone a way to clutter videos with product placement that is the video equivalent of pop-up ads