Exactly a year ago we wrote about Justin Kan, then the live-broadcasting frontman for his seed-funded startup Justin.tv, going out on a date. Herein lied the question on everyone’s minds: Would Justin go that far for his company? Would he leave the camera on? The answer, it turned out, was no.
At this point, Justin has taken his hat, and the camera attached to it, off. I email producer Michael Seibel one line: “What are your ratings like right now?”
He calls me right back. “You’re watching this!?” Yup.
“3,000 people are watching, and they’re watching a camera in the dark with the sound turned off,” he says, “Just cause they know Justin’s having sex with her.”
And what is Seibel doing? “We’re trying to figure out a way to overlay a porn soundtrack.” I tune back in a few minutes later, and that’s clearly what they’ve done.
As part of our new NewTeeVee Rerun series, we caught up with Seibel, now CEO of the company, to talk about how far Justin.tv has come. Turns out it’s good timing, as two other live video companies, Qik (actually a partner of Justin.tv) and Ustream.tv said this week that they’d secured additional funding. Seibel said Justin.tv isn’t seeking funding at the moment, but he also gave us mixed messages about how broad the live video market really is.
NewTeeVee: So last year at this time the big news was Justin went out on a date with his headcam on, which caused record traffic for both you and NewTeeVee. Do the stunts continue to be key?
Michael Seibel: I wouldn’t call those stunts; they weren’t planned. Back then we were in the business of putting one live stream out there, and I think the personal experience of how it is to broadcast live video online was very important for us.
NewTeeVee: You don’t see Justin streaming much these days.
Seibel: He’s actually our tech team lead. Before Justin.tv he was a programmer. It brought this whole new world of him being an actor, but when we started allowing everyone to broadcast live he went back to being a project manager.
NewTeeVee: In terms of product, what’s the biggest thing you’ve done in the last year, and what’s next?
Seibel: I would say launching the open network in October was most important. Coming soon is internationalization; we’ll be translating soon.
NewTeeVee: I know you’ve been able to get the costs low, but how soon will live video be a profitable business?
Seibel: You’re going to make me give up my secrets to my competitors. I will say that I don’t think that advertising is going to be the way that live video will become profitable online. We have other ideas.
NewTeeVee: There’s a lot of competition in your space. When do you see things shaking up?
Seibel: I don’t have a greater sense of when consolidation is going to start happening. I think this is still very new, I think there’s going to be a lot more growth and opportunity to come out of the pack.
NewTeeVee: Are you raising more money?
Seibel: I think Justin.tv has moved from the phase where we’re trying to figure out our feature set to scaling. There’s 20 things to do and 10 people to do them. We’re starting to look at potential avenues for raising money. We’re not actively pitching.
NewTeeVee: OK, but if you don’t raise money you become the little guy. Can the little guy get ahead?
Seibel: I think the little guy is ahead, if you look at Alexa, we beat Ustream, we beat Stickam, we beat Mogulus. We were the first in the space and I think we’re the best.
NewTeeVee: What do you think of efforts to differentiate between all the live video competitors? Is there really a difference between broadcasting people and broadcasting events and all that?
Seibel: I think the market is so early that carving out niches right now is a little suspect. This is a classic case of you build the technology and then respond to the community’s requests. Veodia seems to be going for an enterprise play, so that is different.
NewTeeVee: I know that these products aren’t huge yet or even out yet, but how does the introduction of live video by Yahoo and Google change your space?
Seibel: I think that companies forget why startups are the ideal place for innovation. For example if your stuff doesn’t work from day one, Justin.tv doesn’t have to live up to that reputation. Startups are making their name and doing good work every day.
NewTeeVee: What’s this about illegal sports footage driving a lot of traffic on your site?
Seibel: We’re seeing all kinds of different traffic on our site. The social lifecasting category, the entertainment category and the sports category are really popular use cases and have a lot of parity.
NewTeeVee: OK, but what about illegal sports footage?
Seibel: We are completely DMCA compliant. We have received takedown notices and we are very quick to take stuff down.
NewTeeVee: So where is this headed?
Seibel: I see two real use cases for Justin.tv. One is a YouTube case — putting stuff online — the other is a social networking case. We certainly aren’t as much in the lifecasting case anymore. When I look to the future I want to make this something that everyone can feel comfortable enjoying.