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Web Wranglers
A Philadelphia startup helps the Internet’s most popular bloggers rope in new videos. BY J E S S E H ICK S
B R I A N DAW K I N S , T H E 3 4 -Y E A R - O L D free

safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, likes to imagine he’s a superhero. Specifically, Wolverine, the Marvel Comics character known for his short temper and razor-sharp claws. In an ESPN segment about his love of comic books, Dawkins showed off an extensive action figure collection and a pair of replica Wolverine claws. “Wolverine is strong,” he said. “Wolverine is fast. Wolverine is ferocious. So am I.” In an earlier age, ESPN’s quickie-bio would have disappeared as soon as it aired, vanishing into the media ether. But today Redlasso, a Philadelphia-area Web start-up, has preserved

on the Internet this fleeting media moment— fueling conversations across the Web about a football player and his X-Men obsession. On the Sports Outlaw, a football-themed blog, fans shared their love of Dawkins; most wished he’d had Wolverine’s vaunted healing ability during his injury-prone 2007 season. A more caustic site, bountybowl.com, ran the headline “Brian Dawkins likes to play pretend, arrange dolls.” Sports and comics: Welcome to the global water cooler, circa 2008. Redlasso promotes that global conversation by digitizing news broadcasts

Rope Tricks TV is for the taking.

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from around the country, mostly from networks like ESPN, Fox News, and C-Span, along with local stations in New York, San Francisco, and 16 other cities. Free to users, the site currently requires a private invitation; the company gets 200 to 300 requests to join daily. The site currently contains some 26,000 clips and adds up to 6,000 more every month. Even in invite-only mode, Redlasso has become the seventh mostpopular video portal on the web, with 5,500 users creating video clips. Those videos feature on prominent blogs such as online magazine Salon, music news site Hip Hop Crunch, celebrity gossip site Perez Hilton, and political journal the Huffington Post. More than 8 million people have watched the clips online, and in an old-meets-new media twist, Fox News has aired Redlasso content, as has the syndicated entertainment show The Insider. The company has also teamed up with the Philadelphia Inquirer for a site called

DebateTracker that allows users to see how presidential candidates’ policies have, ahem, evolved throughout the campaign. “You want to see it over time,” says Mark Thompson, Redlasso’s chief technology officer. “What did they say in May versus what they’re saying today?” With Redlasso, he says, television can show context. And users can become their own Daily Show researchers. “They can say, ‘I kind of remember him doing this…’ and go back and look it up. They can put both clips on their website, and get people talking about them.”
R E D L A S S O E M E RG E D thanks to the

convergence of several Web 2.0 trends, the foremost being the pursuit of multimedia search. Increasing bandwidth caused a proliferation of Web multimedia, with more people listening to podcasts and watching online video than ever before. And while Google has quite profitably sewn up text-based search, multimedia search remains a largely

uncharted territory because it requires different technology. A traditional search engine can only “see” text. YouTube searches, for example, rely on accurate keywords and descriptions: a search for “winning Super Bowl touchdown” returns useful results only if the nearby text contains those words. This makes multimedia search a frustratingly hit-or-miss process. Wouldn’t it be better, many companies have asked, if search engines knew a video contained that winning touchdown? Hoping to automate and improve the accuracy of multimedia search, companies like EveryZing have sprung up, using speech recognition technology to translate multimedia to text. The technology’s promise helped earn EveryZing $10 million in a recent round of venture capital financing. Similarly, search engines such as TVEyes and Blinkx promise to open video up to “discovery,” making it possible for websurfers to find multimedia content. Blinkx has signed content deals

with the BBC, CBS, and the Weather Channel, while TVEyes integrated its technology into the Associated Press’ video service. Advertisers have followed video to the Web. Online analyst emarketer.com predicts a $1.5 billion market for online video advertising by 2009, up from just $225 million in 2005. “Online video advertising is only going to get bigger, and the companies that do the best job of helping users find the content they want will be in a good position to capitalize on that growth,” says Tolman Geffs, a managing director at the Jordan, Edmiston Group Inc., an investment bank to the media and information industries. So who’s watching these videos? A recent study by the Online Publishers Association found that 24 percent of Internet users access online video at least once a week; 46 percent watch at least once a month. News and current events remains the most popular online video category. Redlasso plays directly to that audience by digitally archiving the last two weeks’ footage from major news media like CNN and NPR. Users can search those raw feeds and clip the segment they wish to share. “By the time most people get to search,” Thompson says, “there’s probably already a clip about it.” Those clips can remain online indefinitely, provoking discussion long after their television expiration date. As Redlasso sees it, that’s a fundamental transformation in the way people experience broadcast media, and one they’re surprised hasn’t come sooner.
G I V E N T H E E X PE R I E N C E of Red

Lasso’s founders, it’s easy to see why they might have expected change to happen quickly. Company president Kevin O’Kane served as vice president and general manager of Philadelphia’s Channel 57, while CEO Al McGowan founded the New Media division of traffic.com. In 2005, O’Kane heard about technology that separated words phonetically. The technology seemed perfect for audio searching, and O’Kane contacted his friend Jim McCusker, a software expert,

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about developing it. The three founders worked out of McCusker’s garage, finishing a prototype in 2006. Back then the men called the company Phonetic Search Inc. Their early efforts archived a local sports talk radio station, 610 WIP. O’Kane offered the prototype to Philadelphia sports teams, who wanted to hear what WIP had to say about them. From there, the business became a clipping service for sports teams and politicians. They began following other radio stations and expanded into television. As YouTube and similar sites began to show the viability of online video, the team shifted their focus away from businesses and toward consumers. They brought in a technology veteran as CEO, Ken Hayward. In 1995, Hayward founded V-Span, a videoconferencing firm; his hiring gave Redlasso even more experience in tech-entrepreneurship. That kind of expertise gave Redlasso the credibility necessary to secure meetings with top investors. In January of 2006, Philadelphia entrepreneur-icon Pat Croce sat down for a demonstration of Redlasso’s technology. That morning, he had appeared on a local radio show talking about the birth of his granddaughter, Pascale. During Croce’s meeting with the Redlasso team, O’Kane entered “Pascale” in the search box. Seconds later, the proud grandfather heard the radio segment broadcast just that morning. Croce put $500,000 into the new company. Since then Redlasso has raised $6.5 million from several other investors, including Guggenheim Venture Partners, Anthem Capital, and Osage Venture Partners, who see the potential for growth that the blogosphere still holds.
R E D L A S S O A N D I T S investors see blog-

gers as the model for the future of media. “You have to be looking at TV,” Thompson says. “It doesn’t allow for the kind of two-way conversation bloggers want to have. With the Web, you can have community. You take two minutes of something important, and people start talking. It transforms the media.”

Redlasso’s strategy involves building a critical mass of viewers, people engaged and passionate about what they’re watching. “Eight million people want this content, have thought it’s compelling enough to watch,” Thompson says. “We know where it comes from, we know who’s watching it, and we know how long they watched it. We can point them back to the original content owner.” That kind of fine-grained information appeals to advertisers, who want to know the audience they’re selling to, and to content providers, who want to extract the most money from their video. As online video advertising grows, Redlasso expects to offer its user base as a revenue stream for content providers. The company signed commercial agreements with XM Satellite Radio and Greater Media Inc., and remain in talks with content owners about how to better share their product. “We’re kind of an arms dealer in this space,” says Thompson, giving everyone the ability to clip and share the media they’re passionate about. Redlasso’s philosophy could lead to friction with content owners who profit from traffic to their own video-enhanced websites. Last May, three of the major TV networks—FOX, NBC, and CBS—sent a cease and desist letter to Redlasso. At press time, the company was still online and offering content. Ultimately, Redlasso’s future may depend on its ability to negotiate a fair compromise with content owners. If that happens, the service will realize its goal of commoditizing multimedia in a way that will enable everyone to search— similar to the way Google has done. When Jim Cramer tells investors to hold onto those Bear Stearns stocks, his gaffe will survive online, and people will talk about it. In Redlasso’s vision of the future, everyone will be in on the water cooler conversation, whether it’s about Gary Busey’s Oscar night meltdown, the latest Conan O’Brien sketch—or Brian Dawkins and his love of dolls.
Jesse Hicks is a freelance writer based in State College, Pennsylvania.

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