YouNow, A “Live” Social Network, Raises $15 Million in Fresh Funding

YouNow, a four-year-old, New York-based social network that connects audiences and broadcasters in real time, has raised $15 million in new funding co-led by earlier backers Venrock and investor Oren Zeev, with participation from Comcast Ventures.

The company has now collected $30 million altogether from investors, including Union Square Ventures, which led its Series A round in 2013.

VCs are likely drawn to a number of YouNow’s features, beginning with the highly participatory nature of the platform. Specifically, broadcasters (who can be anyone) engage in real time with their audience as comments are being posted to the site. More, unlike other live streaming services, there’s no limit to how long a YouNow broadcast can be. And the broadcasts can be watched — or fast forwarded, or rewound — up until a broadcaster starts streaming anew.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that YouNow is gaining momentum. Though he won’t share the number of users on the platform, YouNow founder and CEO Adi Sideman says the service is averaging 100 million user sessions a month and 150,000 live broadcasts a day. We asked him about those numbers and more in an email exchange last night.

TC: You say you power 150,000 unique broadcasts each day. How many users does that involve? Are some – or many – of your users broadcasting multiple times a day?

AS: We don’t break out those numbers, but some of the broadcasters indeed do multiple broadcasts.

TC: How long is the average broadcast?

AS: About 20 minutes. On average, users spend around 50 minutes per day on the platform. According to eMarketer data, that’s more time than users spend each day on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat.

TC: You’ve said publicly that 70 percent of YouNow’s audience is 24 years old or younger. Can you give us a more granular breakdown of your demographics?

AS: Around 70 percent of YouNow users are under 24, with about 55 percent female. About 65 percent of users are English-speaking, and the remainder are from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.

TC: And how are people finding YouNow other than word-of-mouth?

AS: The growth of YouNow has been fueled by word of mouth only.

TC: What’s being broadcast primarily – what types of programming?

AS: Music is the top category, followed by talk. There’s also an abundance of performing arts. Popular tags include #musicians, #talk, #humor, #dance and #lgbt.

TC: What other ways are people using the product to broadcast?

AS: The Huffington Post uses YouNow to connect with young audiences. They do a weekly show. We also see young stars such as [YouTube sensation] Connor Franta use YouNow very successfully to raise money for charity. Recently YouTubers Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg also broadcasted to promote their new comedy DVD. In a 40-minute broadcast, they sold over 8,000 DVDs as pre-orders, which drove their DVD to number one on Amazon and iTunes. That was a fastest-to-number-one record for Amazon.

TC: Product placements/mentions during a broadcast are one form of revenue. Does YouNow figure out those terms with the brand, or does it leave that to the person doing the broadcast?

AS: We do not sell advertising but broadcasters are welcome to work with brands and take 100 percent of the revenue. We have broadcasters who promote brands like Arizona Iced Tea and Wendy’s, for example.

Our virtual goods [including digital hearts that appear on screen during live streams] provide for a built-in revenue model that benefits our partner broadcasters directly, as they earn revenues from the virtual goods proceeds.

TC: How much does YouNow charge for its various virtual goods?

AS: Audiences support their favorite performers by purchasing virtual goods using a YouNow virtual currency (Bars). Bar packages start at 0.99 cents and go all the way up to $49.99. With Bars, users can purchase goods like “50 thumbs up” that helps the broadcaster trend, or special “fan mail,” which is a highlighted chat message that the broadcaster accepts and usually reacts to.

TC: Is there another revenue stream coming and, if so, can you describe it?

AS: We are looking at other revenue sources.

TC: How do you see the platform evolving? Will we see YouNow stars? Does the company want to strike exclusive arrangements with talent?

AS: We’re delighted to see new talent being discovered on YouNow. [Singer] Emma McGann is one example.

TC: Other than the Huffington Post, what media companies has YouNow struck deals with?

AS: We have no deals with anyone. It’s a platform that anyone can use. It’s great to see publishers like Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, Huffington Post and others broadcasting regularly on YouNow. It’s a great way for them to reach millions of Gen Z users.

TC: How does YouNow differ the most from Periscope or Meerkat?

AS: YouNow is a different use case. It’s a network that focuses the attention on broadcasters and facilitates an intimate interaction with them. It has very high engagement numbers. More than 70 percent of our users interact through chat, voting, gifting, and so forth. It also allows the users to support the broadcasters directly, and it facilitates earning for engaging performers.

TC: Who/what does YouNow see as its biggest competition?

AS: We work together with other social platforms to deliver a critical component of the Gen Z diet. YouNow is additive to the YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat platforms. We think it further enhances the fan/creator experiences to make them immediate, participatory and intimate.

TC: You previously spent 11 years at the marketing company Oddcast. What did you learn at there that informs what you’re doing with YouNow?

AS: I ran Oddcast for 11 years and created over 200 web and mobile user-generated rich media apps, including audio mixers, video mixers, photo mixers, ringtone makers, avatar products – anything that consumers can create and share. . .

So I’ve been in the [user-generated content] space for a long time, since before the internet, and I’ve been working with a terrific crew — veterans of the space. We’ve seen UGC transition from text to images to video to real images and now to real-time video; that experience allows us to take the long view of what entertainment and consumer media products will look like over the next five years.