Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

ViKi Raises Millions for Web Video From Around the World

Problem: You want to watch foreign-language movies and TV shows on the Web.

But! You only know English.

Solution: ViKi, a site that shows videos from around the world and provides captions in 100 different languages.

Cool, right? And capital efficient, too: The two-year-old start-up gets all of its translation for free, courtesy of some 100,000 volunteers. Hence the name–”Vi” for video and “Ki” for Wiki.

ViKi has relatively modest traffic, and is just starting to ramp up revenue, via third-party ad network sales. The company says it’s looking at a $1 million run rate, but that’s a gross number that doesn’t account for the money it has to pay out to content owners as well as to distributors like Hulu. (The site also puts out some of its stuff on Google’s YouTube, but there’s no revenue in that relationship, for now.)

Still, the pitch has been compelling enough for the company to round up $4.3 million in funding in the past 18 months, from lots of bold-name investors like Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz.

But now that the company is talking publicly about the money it’s raising, and the money it would like to make, won’t its army of volunteers start asking for a cut, too?

Probably not, argues CEO Razmig Hovaghimian, a veteran of GE’s NBC Universal. He says ViKi has already approached some of its most senior and prolific volunteers with offers to pay them, but they haven’t wanted cash–they’re doing it for fun.

“We are creating a playground for them,” he says. And if that works, great: ViKi needs the money to acquire online distribution rights. But I wonder what happens if its free workforce starts asking for a check.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work