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Published: February 13, 2008 at 04:43 PM GMT
Last Updated: February 13, 2008 at 04:43 PM GMT
Today we Google, we Blog, and we Twitter as easily as we breathe. There is little argument that society has enjoyed substantive productivity gains thanks to the ubiquitous search engine, or for that matter, that our relationships to media, even how we define community, have evolved with the advent of a handful of social networks. But has there yet been an online entertainment destination that looks at both phenomena -- search and Web 2.0 -- through a single lens? Notwithstanding the presence of Joost, of Veoh, of Vuze, and a thousand and one counterparts, have we yet seen a true social media aggregator for TV?
Tape It Off The Internet (www.TIOTI.com) aspires to be such a thing. The Web site has been operating in stealth since 2005, back when we believed that Rupert Murdoch had overpaid for his $580M acquisition of MySpace. In 2006 TIOTI launched a closed beta, and last fall it had a soft launch in October to coincide with its Series A funding. With little fanfare, and no invites, the Web site managed one million pageviews in its first four weeks.
While TIOTI has some features in common with the aforementioned aggregators, it is its philosophy that sets it apart. One that TIOTI co-founder Marc Colando articulated exclusively to JackMyers Media Business Report.
At the outset Colando defines his terms: "What do we mean by TV? Something that you get emotionally involved with on a repetitive basis. A story you talk about and share with others. It doesn't have to have been on TV, but it feels like it could have been." Just as NBC picked up Quarterlife, and Sci Fi just announced plans to broadcast Sanctuary, Colando speaks passionately about Charlie Jade, a sci-fi meets detective yarn that emanates from Cape Town, South Africa. "We offered it up to our ad partners as potentially exclusive content. It's much easier to build community if there's already a spark of emotional involvement."
And while TIOTI has a wide funnel of sources – 130 and counting – it is not interested in a Google-wide Net approach to search. "Casting a wide net is not only unnecessary, but it's potentially a waste of time; you retrieve multiple versions of the same thing. We are doing signal analysis to build a better mousetrap. Ultimately the content comes from an owner or a producer, the point-source owner is a canonical source that could be NBC or an indie studio. We want to be the best at finding that source and categorizing it in a meaningful way."
The user experience on TIOTI offers an elegant and intuitive interface. Searching for a show, such as Dead Like Me, retrieves program info, links to downloading, streaming, renting, or purchasing the content across the Net, as well as discussions that are related to the show. Like Wikipedia you can write or edit program descriptions, and create threads or groups on the fly. And as with Facebook you can fill out a profile (if you sign in via Facebook, that information is ported over) and find friends who share your tastes. Certainly, if TIOTI had been around when Dead was dying, it could have been a central clearinghouse for fans who wanted to save the show and a way for Showtime to gauge the passion of its viewers.
At first blush TIOTI's bootstrapped startup echoes the humble beginnings of an Apple or a Microsoft – two guys in a garage tinkering around. But Colando is at pains to offer context: His co-founder Paul Cleghorn was a creative director at Razorfish in London, where, according to Colando, "usability and audience analysis was deep in his core." His former head of information architecture is now Google's head of user experience, lording over a four hundred person team. TIOTI uses the same legal counsel who does IP for Apple and Google and has been vetted by at least four international law firms. Colando's experience is in aggregation, not in TV, but in e-commerce on the level of PriceGrabber.
Colando draws from this background to make a convincing argument on how TIOTI will assume a place in the entertainment ecosystem: "Most consumers are happy with the products at BestBuy, yet if you look at comScore ratings, aggregators like ShopLocal are right up there in traffic. There's something about a superset of features that an aggregator offers that makes it worth the visit. Even if I have a Netflix membership, with its long tail inventory, there are limits – including geographical – to what it can offer. We are a global brand and want to offer more." (Searches on TIOTI also retrieve content on Netflix that can be added to one's queue.) "We're looking at our offerings from a user POV. If you're a fan of Lost and are catching up as the new season gets underway, the better experience might be to put it on your Netflix list and get it in the mail. But you're going to decide if you'd otherwise wander off into BitTorrent, stream each episode on Hulu, or download it via Amazon UnBox.
Last fall at the GigaOm sponsored Reinventing TV conference Colando recalls one participant: the CMO of MTV, who stood up and said, "We view piracy as our failure to move content to where people want it. We want one billion people globally to consume our content, wherever they are." This moves Colando to recommend that we recommit TV towards a broader ecosystem.
TIOTI co-founder Paul Cleghorn reports monthly pageviews at "around one million for the first three months since our launch of October, 2007. TIOTI's homepage gets 6,500 pageviews per day for a total of 200,000 per month. Our TV show "about" pages get 13,000 hits per day for a total of 400,000 per month." Currently, TIOTI has 66,000 registered users.
In the next month, approximately ninety days after TIOTI received its funding, they will be re-launching with an emphasis on indexers and a gentle guiding hand on editorial. While Colando hints at "fairly innovative advertising concepts" on deck for mid-2008, it won't be at the expense of the user. Job #1 will be to grow its audience and keep them happy -- thus the company's slogan, "We Heart TV." "Simply, we want to make 21st Century television as easy as 1970's TV."
Earlier this week Colando indicated that he was parting ways with the company he co-founded, but he continues to speak positively about its future prospects.
Contact: TIOTI co-founder Paul Cleghorn via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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