Fora.TV Triples Traffic. Wait, That Many People Want Hour-Long Videos on Economics?

Fora.TV has always been playing a dangerous game—trying to sell long-form online video about intellectual ideas. That’s like trying to sell sunblock to the cast of Jersey Shore. Fora calls itself Hulu for “the Thinking Man’s Web.” (There’s a Thinking Man’s Web?)

Eighteen months after closing its $6 million series A round and long time magazine editor Blaise Zerega took over as CEO, Fora seems to be grinding it out. The traffic has tripled and it’s now streaming about three million videos per month, mostly captured from conferences and high-level events. Those aren’t close to YouTube numbers, but considering the intellectually demanding content– think Timothy Geithner talking for an hour about the best ways to stimulate the economy—it’s impressive.

Despite its limited size, Fora has a few high-brow sponsors like Mercedes Benz who want to reach its rarefied audience. Conferences love it, because it gives them a sophisticated way to broadcast content to people who can’t attend. Anything they make is money that would have been left on the table otherwise. For instance, 150 people attended a talk by Stanford’s director of design earlier this year, but 500 people watched it live over Fora. Thirty days later more than 325,000 watched it. And this was just a talk about how some students set up an incubator at Stanford. It may not be a YouTube-sized business, but there’s clearly something there.

And, as of today, Fora has a new $5/month subscription to watch and download most of the videos without ads. The site still offers pay-per-view pricing for specific talks, too. Think of the business model like cable TV, Zerega says. There are basic packages and premium packages and stuff you pay for individually ala On Demand. Think of their content like the Discovery Channel. No doubt when it launched, media executives were saying, “People aren’t going to watch long form non-fiction content on cable! Shark week? Who cares about sharks?”

Everyone wants to post live video of their events these days, but it’s incredibly hard, expensive and time consuming to do well—something we’ve all learned getting TechCrunchTV up and running this summer. What gives Fora an edge is that it can do everything from filming a conference’s content to writing headlines and speaker bios to cutting the film into watchable DVD chapters and three-minute teasers to writing transcripts. And increasingly, Fora is working on distribution, trying to get that content available on as many platforms as possible. Already Fora is on Boxee and Comcast.

There are so many wonky, technical, tedious details in that process that most think-tank or university conferences just don’t have the staff or know-how to tackle. Put another way—maybe Fora doesn’t solve an obvious problem for millions of viewers (I have an hour to kill…..where can I find a lecture on free market economics?) but it does solve a big problem for thousands of conferences and event planners, who in turn will push that content to their constituents.

It’s no surprise Zerega was the managing editor of Wired during its “Long Tail” days.