ReelSurfer beefs up its discovery and video clipping tools, finds surprising success among brands and publishers

By Michael Carney , written on April 12, 2013

From The News Desk

Facebook alumni Jeff Hammerbacher is famous for saying, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads." An equal number of leading product experts are focused on the similar challenge of getting people to watch video online.

Despite the meteoric rise in online video consumption, the medium still faces a few systematic challenges. First and foremost is the fact that video is difficult – or impossible – to skim, relative to images or text. This means that viewers need to commit the time required to watch a video before knowing whether it’s something they’ll enjoy. Several companies have turned to social signaling to solve this problem.

Y Combinator alumni ReelSurfer has taken a different approach, focusing on allowing users to clip and share the best bite-sized moments from longer scenes – typically between three to 30 seconds in length. As a result, many have taken to calling the platform the “tl;dr for video.” Today, the company rolled out an entirely redesigned Web interface focused on allowing users to both create clips, and to discover clips that others have created and shared.

At the heart of the redesign is a significantly beefed up search and discovery engine that helps users identify relevant clips before needing to create their own. Users can copy and paste the URL of a target video directly into the ReelSurfer interface, or use an accompanying bookmarklet browser plugin. With each submitted video, ReelSurfer surfaces existing and related clips, inviting the user to easily share those clips.

The new interface also allows users to create reels of multiple videos, either from within a single longer video or reflecting a theme across multiple videos. All ReelSurfer videos link back to the original content source allowing the viewer to watch full length video should they choose. Because ReelSurfer doesn’t host videos, but rather links through to source content, all videos on its platform retain their native advertising such as pre-rolls and mid-rolls.

Along with the redesign, ReelSurfer added support for additional video platforms, including Ooyala and Brightcove which power the video content of ESPN, The New York Times, TED, and countless other mass media publishers. (The platform previously supported only YouTube and Vimeo.) ReelSurfer is currently available for both content consumption and creation on the Web and for consumption only on mobile, although mobile clipping will be added in a future release according to the company.

ReelSurfer has been popular among consumers, but it’s the use by media companies that is the most interesting. Celebrity news and gossip site PopSugar uses ReelSurfer to tease its longer form content and drive traffic back to its YouTube channel. The company combines clips of its most popular videos, sharing the reels via social media and email newsletters.

Los Angeles-based Entertainment management and production company The Collective found a different use in promoting the upcoming tour of its client The Counting Crows. The agency has been breathing life into old content by cutting clips from the band’s past tours and inviting fans to aggregate share them across social media. The crowdsourced advertising campaign has generated 13 percent click through rates, driving content to the concert ticket sales page, according to the Collective.

ReelSurfer has not publicly launched any monetization strategies – yet – but you can see in the above commercial models the opportunity to develop premium B2B tools and products. The company raised an $880,000 seed round in August 12 from unnamed investors.

ReelSurfer is competing in a crowded category with sites like Chill, Telly, and YouTube itself rolling out solutions to make online video more consumable and more shareable. Earning mindshare in this environment is no small order and given the network effect advantages of these more established competitors.

Online video is representing an increasingly large portion of all content consumption by consumers. At the same time, brands and publishers are looking for more effective ways to drive audience to their content. As this trend continues, tools like ReelSurfer will play a crucial role in solving the category’s systemic challenges.