Today, content discovery is the biggest challenge for websites providing digital content (like YouTube, Metacafe and Hulu, among others). YouTube, the biggest video-sharing site in the world, acknowledges the pain points and has recently redesigned its site to fix some of the issues. And this is where Althea Systems, a Bangalore-based video consumer technology startup, comes into the picture. Founded in 2009 by Kishore AK (also the CEO), Vijaya Sagar Vinnakota, Rajnish R and Vinod Gopinath, the company designs video-based consumer technology products for the global market. In June 2010, Althea closed a round of institutional funding of $3 million from Intel Capital. In an exclusive interview with Techcircle.in, Kishore AK, CEO of Althea Systems, talks about his company and what's next for content discovery.
What is your flagship product Shufflr and what's your target market?
Shufflr is a 'social video browser' for the desktop, Web and mobile (iPhone and Android) and its enables users to discover, watch and share videos on the Web. As of now, As of now, users from over 160 countries are using Shufflr and it has had more than a 2.5 million app downloads.
In general, the metadata around videos is very poor, for example, if someone uploads their wedding video on YouTube and names it 'Don 2- unseen footage', people searching for Don 2 videos could end up discovering and watching this video. The second problem is that as of now, people don't have a consolidated discovery platform for videos. They usually end up discovering videos via blogs, friends sharing links, emails or social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter."
We are essentially trying to formalize the way people discover videos on the web and then make all of it available in one place. The videos that are finally played could be from YouTube, Hulu, NDTV, MTV or anyplace else for that matter, but Shufflr will help in the discovery of such videos. Also, we do not interfere with how the respective sites show the videos (in the sense whether they monetize the videos, do they give it for free etc), hence we don't actually hurt anyone; instead only add to that particular sites traffic.
But if Shufflr helps in video discovery, how does it decide what is worth discovering?
We have tried various approaches, however, we found the ones that make use of the social aspect to be the most effective. We believe the web is re-orienting itself around people. We today base our core video discovery on a unique (patented) approach that combines social data and algorithms. There is a a lot of activity around videos on the web that include views, shares, likes, comments, embeds etc. We accumulate all the social data that surrounds videos from the various mediums like blogs, social networks and user timelines. We then use the social data to figure out what videos are trending (like the song 'Kolaveri Di' became a rage in India), what videos are related to trending topics, breaking news, what are the celebrities talking about and what are their (the users) friends watching and so on.
We run a bunch of personalization algorithms on top of that for each of our users and surface relevant videos to them.
What are your funding and expansion plans?
We had received angel funding in September 2009 and then in June 2010, we closed a round of institutional funding of $3 million from Intel Capital. Till now, we have spent around 50-60 percent of the $3 million that we raised and we will look to raise more funds (a larger round this time) by end of 2012.
As of now, we have just one office in Bangalore, but we are planning to open a US office in San Francisco in the next six months. Also, currently, the team size is 20 and we plan to double this number to 40 by mid next year.
What about monetisation?
As of now, the Shufflr app is free and we are not that concerned about generating revenues. Our focus lies on growing the user base and building a brand for Shufflr. In the long run, revenues can be generated in a number of ways, like entering deals with TV manufacturers like Samsung, LG, etc for embedding the Shufflr app in their TV sets. We can also get in partnership with content creators like TV channels who generate revenues from advertisements that are played on their videos. So if the content creator's video is discovered and played on Shufflr, they will do a revenue share of the money made for the ads with us.
Additionally, premium content is also an option for generating revenues. We can look at buying the rights to a particular content (like for example a movie or a TV show), and then we can charge users money for viewing that content.
What are the challenges you face and what are your future plans?
Our biggest challenge lies in getting visibility on a global level, improving our product quality, talent acquisition and customer acquisition. In the post PC era, we want to be the global leader in the online video space on mobile phones and Tablet devices. Also, our target for this year is to grow our user base to over 20 million users.