Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouNow, Web Video’s Live Amateur Hour, Bulks Up by Buying Blog TV

younowIf you take “American Idol” and add “The Gong Show” and then add Chatroulette but subtract the naked dudes, you get YouNow, a Web service that lets amateurs sing and dance for each other in real time.

And now you can add one more thing to the mix: Blog TV, an older and similar take on the same idea. YouNow has acquired Blog TV, and is importing the company’s users into its own platform; YouNow CEO Adi Sideman won’t disclose a purchase price, but says his company paid cash.

The combined company is still not going to be very big. Blog TV, which has been around for close to a decade, has four million registered users. YouNow has one million, and $5 million in funding from Orens Capital, Union Square Ventures and angels.

But I think this is one to keep an eye on, because I think YouNow could be on to something: It is arguing that live Web viewing makes for compelling Web viewing, but understands that what’s compelling to you isn’t interesting to me at all.

That’s why the site offers viewers dozens of amateur singers, dancers and talkers to choose from at any given time, and allows them to stay or gives them the hook based on its users’ real-time interactions.

Each one of those performers may only draw a few thousand concurrent viewers at most — and much likely, many less than that. But if it clicks, you don’t need to know that you’re watching something that millions of other people are seeing at the same time. A few dozen can give you a little thrill, too.

Like anything else on the Web, this is also a notion that a much bigger company — most obviously Facebook or YouTube — could latch onto if it got real traction.

But Facebook has already seen Sean Parker flail at live social video, and YouTube seems like it is most interested in selling advertisers on the notion of live as an “event,” not live as an everyday thing. So, we’ll see.

You can also see for yourself. Here are two takes of Sideman demonstrating his service at D: Dive Into Media last month. The first version is the one our in-house team made; Sideman then took the same footage and reinserted some shots that give you a better sense of what Web viewers were seeing.

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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