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What Ooyala is Up To

Posted by: Peter Burrows on December 31, 2007

For three twenty-somethings intent on finding ways to make money on online video, you’d think Bismarck Lepe, his brother Belsasar and Sean Knapp were already in the right place as of a year ago. Both were respected vets at Google, owner of online video giant YouTube. Instead, they chose to leave to start Ooyala. “Your parents may have the most beautiful mansion in the world, but it’s still you’re parents’ mansion,” Knapp explains. “This was an opportunity to build something of our own.”

I suppose that’s the kind of confidence (or delusion, as the case may be) that millions in the bank, not to mention being part of Google’s world-altering success, can bring. But these guys evidently mean what they say, because they’ve drawn up a blueprint for big mansion, indeed. Rather than carve out a safe little niche, Ooyala is essentially out to create an entirely new online video ecosystem. More after the break.

With just 18 people, they've managed to build a lot in just six months. First, there's a distribution/syndication platform called Backlot that video owners, with just a few clicks, can use to control where their content is viewed, not to mention a suite of analytics tools to help them carefully track traffic trends. Then there's a media player with an inventive new user interface for consumers to use (more on that later). Most ambitious, they're planning to roll out a technology early next year that they hope will revolutionize on-line video advertising. Rather than inject TV-style spots, viewers would be able to click on objects within a clip that they're interested in--say, the leading man (to find out what else he's been in, for example), or the car he's driving (to see an ad, or be linked to a local dealer).

Sounds a lot like trying to boil the ocean, but they seem to be off to a promising start. Besides the obligatory foosball table and the catered sushi lunches, they've also got some paying customers. These include and online gaming site, and word is that they're in talks with YouTube, Facebook, ESPN and others. Among the attractions: the Backlot "video management platform" is designed to let content owners efficiently distribute (either very quickly, or in HD quality, as the situation requires) for a flat $.08 per viewed hour. Lepe claims that is many times cheaper than rivals such as Brightcove. Liz Gannes over at NewTeeVee was seems to have been similarly intrigued when she got a gander at Ooyala's plans a few months ago. (By the way, Liz, Lepe tells me that Ooyala's backers include angel investors such as former Yahoo CEO Tim Koogle and venture capitalist Kip Hagopian from Redpoint Ventures, though that next round of funding is said to be imminent.)

The new advertising model is the most radical part of this vision. The company has hired six experts in computer vision, who've developed a way to catalog various objects within a video. When a viewer clicks on a football highlight featuring Patriots' QB Tom Brady , for example, Ooyala's technology will know it is him and will bring up relevant information (this could be anything from links to products Brady sponsors, his statistics, or maybe a message board where fans can discuss his latest exploits). Lepe says the experience could be tailored in many ways. The video could pause, or requests for information on objects could be sent into a shopping cart, to be explored after the video ends.

Then there's the new interface. It's Apple-esque in its look and feel, and offers an interesting wrinkle: it provides a way for content owners to bundle related clips together in what Ooyala calls "Channels". The clip the viewer asked for shows up front and center, but other clips can be seen floating off to the side or behind (it's vaguely reminiscent of Apple's iChat videoconferencing, come to think of it). This might be a useful way for a movie studio to show trailers of all of its new releases. A cooking channel can show all clips about making dishes involving artichokes. A band could show footage of each song performed at its latest concert. Or a reporter, like this one, could show highlights of an interview.

But better to show than tell. So here is what this looks like. NOTE: After Lepe's face appears, you can either hit play to watch portions of the Q&A in sequence. Or to see the "Channels" view, click on the little icon with the three boxes. You can then navigate and choose the clip based on its title (though for any video that isn't just talking heads, just a quick look would ID what it is, obviously).

Finally, a quick note of thanks to Ooyala marketing manager Alexa Lee. She pitched me on the idea of showing portions of the interview using Ooyala's technology, and even offered to shoot and edit the video--which she did, per my instructions.

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Reader Comments

Alexa ranking affects SERP ranking?

January 2, 2008 04:41 AM

A low ranking on Alexa does not indicate that the traffic is not being generated on, and search engines.

Stephen Bashforth

January 3, 2008 03:05 AM

The quote from Bismark Lepe and Sean Knapp shows that the ability to write English (or American) is a dying art. "You're" is wrong, "Your" is what should be have been written. It is small wonder that they have left Google - those two could not possibly conribute to making a search engine work on "natural English" requests based on their lack of English language skills.

B Herrick

January 3, 2008 05:51 PM

Hey Stephen,

Is it contribute? or like you said conribute? It seems written English is a dying art with yourself too. You bum.

Scott Walsh

January 11, 2008 06:44 PM

Ive worked with putting video on the
'Net since the very earliest days
when RealPlayer and Shockwave first
hit the scene and I think Ooyala has
some very good ideas and the software
sounds like it would be very fun to
broadcast with.

But as Justin.TV can tell you being
first to do something doesn't
guarantee success. Sometimes it takes
a personality like East Coast Vegas
or Joe Rogan to make a show great.

Ive been without TV, as in cable
TV, for about 5 or 6 years now but
about a month ago I got a converter
box from Comcast and let me tell you,
besides being overcharged and a
lousy internet connection, Comcast is
delivering nothing to me but commercials. I was the first, or
one of the first, to put video
on a business card-sized cd and
have watched this niche get ruined
by so called 'design' experts who
gave their customers cards with a
few minutes of small screen adobe
flash video, some yellow-pages style,
template based crappy webpages with
a form and an email address and charged
them a bundle to do so. Here lately,
in the field of business card sized
dvds, Best Buy has set this field back
literally 5 years by my estimation
when they put out their SpongeBob
DVD gift cards.

This thing of ours, lifecasting(a
term coined by Justin of Justin.TV)
is going to transform business
communications, politics, advertising,
sales, etc. , etc.

The question is not if, but when. I tried to watch the demo video posted
here but on my admitedly lousy
Comcast internet it just started and
stopped, froze and unfroze, everyone
(except the fortunate few) knows what
I am talking about.

Email is just about unusable, although
Gmail is changing that, and to use
automobile sales as an example....

Back in the 1990's, before car
dealerships adopted the Net, I spent
about 3 months going to every car
dealer in Atlanta trying to sell them
$300 website packages and didnt sell
a single one. Now every car dealer has
a website and these guys are spending
HUGE amounts of money generating
leads for their sales people.

I predict that the day will come, and
it wont be long at all, when hundreds
will crowd into channels to watch
their favorite sales guy or babe
close a sale.

Reality telivision is on alot of
these Comcast cable channels I am
about to get rid of but with all
the commercials I often find myself
going to the computer to dial up
the video I desire, usually Google
tech talks or the latest movie
release still in the theatres.

And while that is satisfying, and
Ive sampled uStream, Im drawn back
again and again to Justin.TV.

They've invented something great,
and now the rest of the pack, including
Ooyala, will have to try and catch
up. With Paul Graham as their backer,
I predict Michael Sibel, Justin, the
genius coder Emmett, Phil and the
rest of the crew will continue to
dominate for years to come.

Why? People. People like Spooky
McGee and Cara and iChristy, lifedoc
and all the rest.

Maybe FuzzDecay will enter the field.
REAL people, real time, 24-7. Its the
natural response to the world we live
in where security cameras monitor
your every move and if you want to
be missing you have to throw your
cell phone on the side of the road.
One day, not too long now, WE will
have honest, transparent elections
and the spin masters will no longer
be able to explain why the polls were

0 votes turns into 33. Human error.
They wont get away with it when more
than a few poll workers are monitoring
the results.

The world has changed. And can change
in one day. 9/11 showed us all that.
And Bin Laden himself, the evil bastards that killed our people that
day will one day be caught on film
just like Saddam.

And I wouldnt be suprised at all, not
one bit, if it was a lifecaster who
does what the US military, with all
their billions and blackwater security
teams, have failed to do.

I know. My brother is an F-16
pilot so I hear the feeble excuses
from time to time why they failed on
9-11 and why Osama can't be found.

Has anyone checked the White House
basements? Like down in the tunnels
when Cheney couldnt get the President
on the phone for *20* minutes and
George just sat there reading a
childrens book about the goat.

Goats, wolves, eagles. In one day,
just like 9-11, whatever the truth is
and whatever the outcome, be it the
nuclear end of the world or the start
of lasting world peace, it could all
happen in one day.

And someones software invention is
as likely to spark the change as
is a bullet or a bomb.

Small people talk about other people,
average people talk about things,
great people talk about ideas.

Change is coming my friend, change
is coming. Let it be, let it be.

Scott Walsh
Manager of

Ben Franklin liked beer. And invented
the paper business card. Dont forget it.
And if you do forget it, remember:

Anyone want to buy TheTrumpCard.EU
Donald? Donald? Will you leave your
commercial TV and join us?

Some of the people who read this
understand. Some people just think
Ron Paul is the guy who cant possibly
win. The internet routes around censorship and the day it wins the
big election will be as important as
the day Bin Laden is found. And for
some strange reason I cant explain,
I have a feeling those days wont be
far apart.

Kerry and Cheney went to Hawaii late
in the race. Michael Badnarik was
arrested trying to enter the presidential debates to serve papers.
The NY Times, the Atlanta Journal, most
of the rest didnt put it in their paper.

And not a whisper was heard on Fox
News or CNN or CBS or NBC. I dont
buy alot of what he says, but Alex
Jones and Free Talk Live give me news
that I cant get from the mainstream media.

Scott Walsh

January 11, 2008 06:46 PM

I meant to say...

Ive worked with putting video on the
'Net since the very earliest days
when RealPlayer and Shockwave first
hit the scene and I think Ooyala has
some very good ideas and the software
sounds like it would be very fun to
broadcast with.

But as Justin.TV can tell you being
first to do something doesn't
guarantee success. Sometimes it takes
a personality like East Coast Vegas
or Joe Rogan to make a show great.

This thing of ours, lifecasting(a
term coined by Justin of Justin.TV)
is going to transform business
communications, politics, advertising,
sales, etc. , etc.

You got the rough draft the first
time, sorry. Enjoy it but please
dont publish it.

Post a comment



BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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