Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

For Viki, Web Video Translation Equals $20 Million

There are lots of ways to tackle the Web video boom. Viki’s angle: Crowd-sourced translation. The Singapore-based company takes video produced all over the world and provides subtitles in more than 150 languages.

That means you can watch “The Heart is But a Child,” a Hindi romantic comedy, with English captions. And you could also watch part of the movie with Thai subtitles, too — but you won’t be able to watch all of it until Viki’s volunteer translators finish their work on the film.

When I last talked to Viki CEO Razmig Hovaghimian about his company, I obsessed over the idea that Viki’s volunteer workforce would demand a cut of of the company’s revenue or equity as it grew. At the time — a little more than a year ago — the company had just raised $4.3 million from Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and Hovaghimian told me he thought his volunteers would keep working for free even with the new money.

Apparently he’s right — he says he now has 500,000 translators working on his movies, up from 100,000 a year ago. And now he’s raised another $20 million in funding with the BBC and SK Telecom unit SK Planet, along with earlier investors. Hovaghimian, a former NBCUniversal executive, says the money and partnerships will help him secure more content and distribution — in addition to his own site and YouTube, you can currently find some some of this stuff on Hulu and Netflix, and there’s more on the way.

Revenue? Last year I got Hovaghimian to tell me he was on a $1 million annual run rate, before factoring out payments to distributors and content partners. But this time he has wised up and is staying mum.


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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