In a dingy converted apartment building off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, there’s a startup revolutionizing online video discovery and curation.
Cough. Buzzword. Cough. Skepticism.
I had exactly these reservations, when I first heard the pitch about Chill. Then I took the product for a spin with co-founder Brian Norgard and did some research about user statistics. Consider me “un-reserved.”
Despite its humble surroundings, Chill is funded by Kleiner Perkins and others to the tune of $2 million (a bit more than the $1.5 million previously reported publicly). It also has some of the early MySpace brain trust among its founding team. Norgard’s Chill co-founder is Ad.ly and Newroo founder Daniel Gould.
According to AppData, Chill has more than seven million monthly active users. If the charts provided are accurate, the majority of these users have appeared in the last two weeks. While Norgard declined to go on the record about his usership figures, another company representative did say that AppData’s numbers are “typically about 30 percent low.”
So, let’s take that as a nice round 10 million monthly active users for a site that launched its current iteration only four months ago in January of this year.
Chill is doing a few things absolutely right which are contributing to its growth. First, they focus primarily on premium rather than user-generated content. For online video to truly compete with traditional broadcast, both the quality and accessibility need to elevate. These are things that Chill is nailing.
The company has made tagging video encountered elsewhere online dead simple via a repost bookmarklet, a la Pinterest. Also, once I logged in with my Facebook account, I had the option of importing all the videos I’ve ever posted to my timeline. (Chicken, meet egg. Problem solved.)
In a nod to Path’s emotion-based comments, users can share their reaction to video as “smile,” “laugh,” “wow,” “frown,” or “love.” So that’s two user interface inspirations adopted. Add in a Pinterest-like tile layout and we’ve got the hat-trick. (Remember, as Steve Jobs said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”)
The site succeeds by empowering category experts to curate comprehensive collections on a given subject. Users follow one another both through existing social network connections but also through shared affinities for certain topics.
One example the company offers is The Definitive Steve Jobs Collection assembled by Scott, a member of its founding team. This 88 video collection was so impressive that apparently Apple representatives have consulted this library to fill holes in their own records. In a similar vein, Norgard has developed quite the reputation for his own extensive collections of Underwater Cinematography and Big-Wave Surfing video content.
When you have 20 minutes to kill, it’s far more practical to find content that has been filtered by people you trust and organized by topic you care about. From the perspective of a content consumer, DirectTV and DVR work, because they’re easy. Everything you expect to find is there. There’s a simple menu, professional content, and extensive selection.
YouTube, on the other hand is a clusterfuck of poorly labeled, limited-value content. The majority of the Web suffers the same problem.
Anyone who thinks that this is another derivative idea needs to look only as far as the words of Google VP of Corporate Development David Lawee for perspective. Lawee said, “The most challenging problem we have right now is discovery of video, that’s the most challenging problem on the Web.”
The road ahead for Chill will not be without its potholes. First, the service is largely beholden to the Facebook Open Graph at this stage. Earlier today, Om Malik had some interesting thoughts on the ability of Facebook to promote or throttle the growth of apps riding on its platform. This is something that we’ll have to watch out for across the market. Whether they’ll admit it or not, Norgard and his team likely know this could become an issue.
No discussion of a content curation platform would be complete without considering copyright issues. Chill compares activity on its platform to that of videos being posted and shared on Facebook or Twitter. It honors the terms of service of its partner publishers and always links back to the original source. Any embedded pre-roll advertising and publisher branding (YouTube, Vimeo, Funny or Die, etc.) are maintained. No video is uploaded to its servers, meaning that if original content is removed, it is no longer available on Chill.
Norgard will be the first to admit that they have a long way to go. The company is adding features as fast as possible while trying to keep the sit up amidst the growth in traffic. One thing that’s high on the list is an improved mobile experience.
Further down the line, it will shift its attention from growing usership to montetization. Gould deadpanned, “It’s not like monetization around web-video is some big secret. When the time comes, we’re not too worried about turning it on.” Could it possibly be that simple?
Chill has unimaginatively been called “Pinterest for Video.” Norgard and his team prefer to be known as the “Front Door of Video.” He’s betting that one day that users will view Chill as the gateway through which they find and consume the majority of their video content.