Riff wants to replace YouTube for TV show reaction videos

YouTube is a beautifully weird world full of surprises. It turns out there’s a big community of TV show and movie reaction YouTubers out there. Some of them have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of views. And yet, it seems like YouTube isn’t the right platform for these kinds of videos due to copyright laws. Meet Riff, a New York-based startup that has found a neat way to help these YouTubers provide a better experience. Riff is like an on-demand Twitch, but for TV shows and movies.

Right now, YouTubers can only react to trailers, talk in front of their cameras without showing the actual movie or TV show, or simply take a risk and display copyrighted material anyway. But if YouTube’s algorithms think you’re infringing copyright laws, your video is taken down and you get a warning. You could end up being banned in no time.

Max Stoller and Matt Renaud thought there should be a better way. Seeing YouTubers making jokes in real time, laughing and crying makes these reaction videos compelling for hardcore TV show fans. You get attached to your favorite commenter. So the Riff team broke down reaction videos into its core elements — the actual TV show, movie or anime episode, the reaction video and comments.

Then Riff separated the reaction video from the copyrighted material. And this is where it gets interesting — the service uses your Netflix account to play a TV show and movie, and display reaction videos right next to the copyrighted material.

Right now, Riff only works on desktop as you need to install a Chrome extension to synchronize everything. You first install the extension, then pick a reaction video and the two videos start in seconds.

Front and center, your browser plays a TV show episode or movie. Riff adds a reaction video with someone reacting to what you’re seeing at this very second, as well as a comment column.

What if it’s a loud scene and you can’t hear the reaction part? You can turn the volume down on the TV show part. What if you want to skip ahead? Everything stays perfectly in sync.

And the best part is that it’s perfectly legal. Riff is an elegant client-side solution that doesn’t rely on any API. Your computer just plays a Netflix video with another video on top of it. You’re already paying for a Netflix subscription, so it would be the same if you would play a video on Netflix.com and start a reaction video in another browser window. Riff just makes the experience much better.

Riff has a lot of potentials as YouTubers can tell their followers to watch full reaction videos on Riff. I can see some YouTubers showing abstracts on their channels and telling everyone to click and watch the full thing on Riff.

While the service is quite new, it seems like there are already hundreds of reaction videos, with some famous YouTubers on board. You can browse by movie, TV show or creator. Now, Riff will have to convince this community of YouTubers to make the switch.

The company would like to integrate with live content so that you can see someone react to a political debate or the Super Bowl. It’s going to be a long and windy road as Riff will have to find the right content provider and build a robust infrastructure for live streaming.