Video platform Oovvuu presides over news’ marriage with AI

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Sydney-based Oovvuu uses AI to recommend video content to news readers; counts IBM and Amazon as investors.

Every century has a unique influencer – in the 19th century, it was the newspapers, in the 20th it was radio and television; today, it is everything that the internet offers, be it video or news.

A Cisco study says that by 2019, over 80 percent of the world’s internet traffic will be driven by video. Ricky Sutton, a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, together with colleague Greg Moore, are cashing in on this opportunity with Oovvuu.

An artificial intelligence (AI) powered video-on-demand platform, Oovvuu delivers relevant video content to consumers.

Ricky Sutton

How it works

Oovvuu currently uses AI to ‘read’ and analyse read 300,000 articles a day from 100,000 publishers worldwide, covering 26 million topics an hour. ‘Compass’ – an AI content recommendation tool – then uses a combination of machine and algorithmic learnings and the cloud to match the two, embedding the video in the article.

Using OVPs (online video platforms), and even publishers' CMS (content management systems), the system also suggests the right advertising for the reader - all in under a second.

Oovvuu recently started operations in India, and already claims to have on board around 50 broadcasters. Also, growing internet penetration and smartphone usage after Reliance Jio entered the market with low-cost data plans have been driving demand.

Understanding the gap in the market

With experience in journalism and business for close to a decade, Ricky saw people wanted more video content, while broadcasters wanted simple, affordable and scalable digital distribution.

Publishers, who service a billion news consumers daily, wanted more video to satisfy demand, and advertising agencies and their clients wanted brand safety at scale.

“It was obvious to us that linear TV wasn't working for a huge swathe of the audience. People wanted choice and convenience,” says Ricky.

In today’s world of instant news consumption, linear TV is neither intuitive nor convenient. “We flipped the thinking to take the video to the viewer instead,” adds Ricky.

Challenging old ideas

Ricky and Greg began work on Oovvuu in 2014, but had actually been working on the concept at The Sydney Morning Herald since 2007. Back in the day, The Sydney Morning Herald was the leader in short form video, but there was a line of thought that long form videos would be more engaging, popular and profitable.

It was challenging to give the idea shape and form as the news company already had 22 producers making 1,000 short videos a month, generating 15 million streams which half of Australia was watching. It made millions of dollars in pre-roll advertising, but the operation itself was loss-making.

Within weeks, it was clear that long form video viewers were 10 times more valuable than short form ones. Ricky says he believed people would invest time if the video was good enough.

“We argued that adding long form would drive the business to profit. After all, a short form viewer sees one pre-roll (ad). Pre-rolls are commoditised, and prices are not profitable. The same viewer watching long form would watch as many as four ads, both pre- and mid-rolls, that were premium,” adds Ricky.

Soon after, The Sydney Morning Herald became the first publisher in the world to launch a video on demand hub called smh.tv .

Creating the content

Generating quality content wasn’t easy, so the team at The Sydney Morning Herald reached out to other broadcasters. Ricky adds that in three years, the team had signed 147 deals, expanded to 2,000 titles and delivered 60 channels from parenting to military history.

“Within a year, smh.tv was generating more than a million dollars in ad revenue but most critically, and for the first time, video was profitable. Soon, global publishers were asking the team to build services for them, and broadcasters were asking us to expand globally. We had the model, so we created Oovvuu to scale,” explains Ricky.

Building the core team

With their idea validated, in 2014, Ricky and Greg set up Oovvuu. While Ricky had the journalism base, Greg was the coding hand. The third founder was Ross McCreath, who had experience in the broadcast and finance industries.

“We worked as a threesome for 18 months signing rights deals and publishers. The first publisher to sign was News Corp, followed by The Guardian and then Australia's leading broadcaster Seven West Media,” explains Ricky.

“Interestingly, all the core team are aged over 40. We see this as a bonus. We are influential and connected, but we retain the vision to build the future. Old enough to know, young enough to learn,” adds Ricky. Currently, Oovvuu is a 10-member team.

Raking in the numbers

The team had initially decided to remain bootstrapped and focused on driving cash flow from the News Corp deal. Soon, they got a deal worth $500,000, which was invested into the company.

“We had built some tech to read News Corp's articles and match videos automatically. We then taught it to self-optimise. We told a few friends, and received a call from IBM. Their Watson AI looked at our tech and loved it. They funded us and suddenly we were working with the global Watson team. Soon after, Amazon invested too. Over a fortnight, 400 publishers contacted us wanting our service,” says Ricky.

The team claims its AI distributes over 10,000 broadcaster videos to a billion viewers on publisher news sites. It provides its $200-million content catalogue for free as content cost was a barrier to entry, which in turn denies the public, broadcasters and advertisers what they want - content, revenue and scale.

The team provides the catalogue to a customer through the online video platform for free in return for a 50-50 revenue share from the publisher. A publisher with 200,000 monthly viewers can expect to generate $1 million in gross ad revenue in the first year.

“We charge a manageable monthly software as a service fee for our AI content recommendation tool, Compass,” adds Ricky.

Changing the world view

The team aims to make all video available to the world. Compass is already using AI to shift hundreds of titles from broadcasters' hard drives to the cloud.

Also, Oovvuu is seeking customers in new markets, making India a priority. “We will be looking for publishers to distribute our video, and broadcasters and content providers looking for distribution,” adds Ricky. It also intends to expand content distribution beyond publishers.

Finally, they want to ‘repatriate’ billions of dollars from Google and Facebook to broadcasters and publishers who make the content. “The future of journalism, the sustainability of a free media, and the future of news-telling safe from fake news, relies upon it. It's a lofty aim, but it's the one that keeps us up at night,” says Ricky.

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