Sean Parker’s Airtime acquires WebRTC video chat wizards vLine

It takes some serious engineering magic to build low-latency group mobile video chat and simultaneous content viewing. That’s why Sean Parker’s recently relaunched video chat room app Airtime acquired vLine, which offered video chat infrastructure to SaaS companies. Founded in 2010, vLine was backed with $1.5 million from Kleiner Perkins and Harrison Metal.

vLine’s team will join Airtime’s Palo Alto office. The teams first started working together months ago to prep for Airtime’s second coming, but now they’re making the buyout official. vLine had already deprecated its platform and stopped taking customers late last year.

vLine explains that “When we first met Sean Parker it was clear he had a vision that resonated with ours: that the proliferation of smartphones and increasing network bandwidth and coverage provide the foundation for a world where real-time video will give rise to new ways of communication and experiences.”

Airtime feature

The six-way video chat experience falls apart if the different feeds are delayed. Suddenly everyone’s missing chunks of the conversation or talking over each other, and it’s impossible to recreate the brisk pace and comedic timing of an in-person conversation. Airtime is designed to produce the feeling of human “togetherness,” but that requires some hardcore lifting by the technology in the background.

2-person-conversationAirtime’s president Daniel Klaus told me in a statement that “Unlike simple streaming applications that can tolerate latency on the order of seconds and leverage existing content delivery networks, the new Airtime platform has to provide latency on the order of milliseconds to facilitate real-time group communication anywhere in the world.”

Nailing this global WebRTC platform on mobile is critical, considering that Airtime was plagued with technical issues when it first launched back in 2012.

In an embarrassing moment, Airtime glitched out while Parker demoed it to a big audience full of reporters at its star-studded launch event in New York City in 2012. It took several tries to get a video call to Snoop Dogg to go through. That was despite Airtime having acquired former Hulu CTO Eric Feng’s startup Erly.

If vLine can help Airtime get the back end sorted, the question remains whether the app will gain traction. While the product is fun and could be addicting with enough close friends on it, few in the Silicon Valley ecosphere have been talking about it since the launch two weeks ago.

Parker told me he knows that building communities takes time, and he’s willing to play the long game. But as Marc Andreessen has said, succeeding in social can be as tough and unpredictable as capturing lightning in a bottle. Airtime is firmly aligned with the trends of messaging and video consumption. Yet even with all of Parker’s resources, it will be a battle to convince clusters of friends to make Airtime their digital clubhouse.