Why the startup Wibbitz could wipe out some publishers’ video businesses


Every so often you stumble upon a concept or service that makes it clear that major change is afoot. In this case, if you’re a publisher, Wibbitz just sent your entire video department pink slips.

Via a stunningly accurate algorithm, the text-to-video service takes any lovingly written article or blog post and turns it presto-magico into a very appealing, 60- to 120-second vignette, complete with images, quotes and animated infographics (and potentially other video in the future) viewable on your iOS device. And it does it all on the fly, in seconds.

Here’s a taste for a fuller idea of how it works:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/69117494]

(Note that I have no affiliation with the company or any of its employees–I simply read about the company and checked out their product on my own.)

Speed aside, when you see the mouth-watering stats about the CPM of video and video consumption habits on mobile and tablet devices, it’s easy to see why so many publishers are scrambling to create video and why the platforms are readying ad products to help amplify video content that’s already out there.

But what you don’t often see is a product like Wibbitz that’s so far ahead it could disrupt an industry so entirely that whole departments could – for smaller outlets, at least – disappear almost overnight.

What news would look like if Apple made it

Launching as iOS-only, the service is free and simple to set up (in fact, it comes ready to rock and roll, the user adds their preferences later on). It’s a compelling package from the outset. Beautiful imagery, a content algorithm that shines, a computer voice that isn’t creepy (thought admittedly it’s not perfect either) and a bevy of sharing functionality.

Wibbitz is seamless and really does show where other apps that use algorithms and curation mechanics to determine output – such as Summly, Watchup, Rockmelt –  need to improve. For example, if a user wants more details they simply swipe up to go to the full article, which notably includes any mobile ads. It’s intuitive, streamlined and, as they say, just works. And considering the magic it conjures, its simplicity is pretty staggering – although perhaps not surprising when you have investment from the folks who got in early with Facebook, Spotify and Waze.

Wibbitz certainly isn’t without its issues. For one it is based on an algorithm, and even the best ones are imperfect and can miss things that a human would catch.  It also still relies on a lot of single thumb swiping and setting up your preferences after you start using it, which isn’t ideal (although this is considerably easier than other apps).

Still, there’s no question this is disruptive stuff, but does it ultimately represent a grave threat or the great white hope? 

It’s automated all or nothing

Currently more than 50,000 sites (including Reuters, AP, TechCrunch, Businessweek, BBC and Forbes) are partnered with Wibbitz for content, and generate around 20 million video views each month. Just one line of code and your site is Wibbitz friendly – they do the rest, for everything you create. Though one downside is that currently there is no CMS to pick and choose which videos are created (although surely there must be workarounds).

The cost savings of this product for publishers, and what it could mean for smaller outlets that couldn’t even dream of getting into such media rich content before, is undeniable. And all the more so when you factor in that it is made on HTML5, which makes it easy to serve up content on any internet connected device, including connected TVs.

It’s engagingly restrictive

I’ve gone on record before saying news is a chore. Wibbitz is a powerful tool that could really aid people’s understanding because of its bite-size nature and its mobile-first strategy.  There’s no panning, annoying double tapping or pinching to see different elements – one package, one focus.  Perfect for the attention-poor folks of everywhere.

It isn’t eating everyone else’s lunch (yet)

Wibbitz is smart – they know there’s money in “them thar hills” but crucially it doesn’t want to control everything (for right now, at least). Publishers have ad departments and, truth be told, ad-serving is not scalable or viable for the current Wibbitz setup, or business model, for that matter. Instead, Wibbitz’s team connects to the publisher’s ad server and allow pre-roll, mid-roll and overlay of in-stream ads so it can be used as premium inventory.

Wibbitz has also said it will provide publishers with its technology at some point in the future so that they can incorporate Wibbitz’s service  into their own apps; the London Telegraph is set to do this next month. Understandably all this is unlikely to thrill the broadcast industry.

What Wibbitz does extremely well is similar to what a lot of emerging apps and companies like Flipboard, Airbnb, eLance, and LendingClub are also attempting – to readdress a waste imbalance in the amount of work it used to take to do everyday things. And, in their case, to create content that people are willing and even hungry to consume. That’s an attractive concept  — unless of course your business model is in its path.

Now what I’d really like to see is a Wibbitz for my social feeds. And my much talked about alarm clock feature.

Paul Armstrong is owner of Digital Orange Consulting; follow him at paularmstrong.net or on Twitter @TheMediaIsDying.

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