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

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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:


(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 or on Twitter @TheMediaIsDying.

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11 Responses to “Why the startup Wibbitz could wipe out some publishers’ video businesses”

  1. Ruth : I believe they are thinking about Android. Watch this space!

    Dan : I think it’s for the people that don’t want to read, can multi-task, like their news audio… the list goes on. Not for everyone but I suspect with the graphics etc, they have a winner on their hands… look at Qwiki.

    Jeffrey : No algorithm is perfect but as auto-image selection goes – it’s up there with the best of them. Not saying it couldn’t be improved – everything can – but I am impressed with the way they have woven it all together. Also not sure 50,000 sources is a small number… just starting out – that’s pretty good!

  2. At the moment it is simply another news source with a very limited number of stories selected for you. The only difference being an iphoto-ken burns-style slide show along with the words, often using irrelevant or inappropriate images. Until you can choose your own topics and have them matched in real time, this is bit of a yawn.

  3. If consuming, reading, news is a chore, then Wibbitz is a perfect way to listen to a story while maps and generic photos float by. I can read much faster than the Wibbitz app can present an article, so unless I lose my sight what is Wibbitz for? I don’t think professional news video producers have any fear of losing their jobs if their job is produce videos for a sophisticated audience. I used to teach third graders and Wibbitz would be helpful for them so they could skim a topic quickly before actually doing research.

  4. Reblogged this on Pause for Clarity and commented:
    This is another example of a company re-imagining the way we do things. This app pulls from thousands of news websites and gives you the top news. Except it cuts down no the reading. It presents the article you clicked in a slideshow. Each slide is a key snippet from the article. Visually, it’s a very pleasing app.

    I downloaded it and took it through a test run. It’s not quite there yet. Some slides are of snippets that aren’t key points. Also, they should avoid describing the app with the word video. It’s more like a very news slideshow where each slide was professionally designed by a graphic artist.

  5. Thanks for the comments. I’m pretty sure the tool will be expanded so you can make customised versions. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty close (in my opinion).

    Michael : Deffo room for improvement but Qwiki was worse than this when it launched its product – I’m impressed by both mind you.

  6. Michael Brill

    Hmmmm, reminds me a lot of qwiki from 2009… before they ultimately pivoted to semi-automated personal content. I know it’s early but without more structure on the content-production side, I can’t imagine people will consume news like this. Pictures of people with Ken Burns effect, popping up maps when a location is mentioned and beautifully-formatting quotes does not make news any more comprehensible. On the contrary, the eye candy is distracting because most of the imagery that’s displayed really isn’t core to the story.

    BBC and others are starting to get better about authoring content so it can be rendered smarter… without that, this seems like it’ll be a novelty.

  7. Meanwhile :

    « Free cash flow of Continental Resources, a big player in the Bakken, has dropped from ($430M) to ($2.4B) since 2010, all of it negative. And Continental is not the only one. Devon Energy’s free cash flow has dropped from ($1.2B) to a significant ($3.5B) over the same time frame. Range Resources, who are drilling primarily in the Marcellus, booked a negative free cash flow of ($556M) in 2010 and this has deteriorated to ($1.0B). Kodiak Oil and Gas, another Bakken player, had negative free cash flow in 2010 of ($170M). It has now deteriorated to ($1.0B). Chesapeake is interesting because its free cash flow for 2012 ($3.3B) is now roughly equivalent to its level in 2010, ($3.4B). But over the last two years Chesapeake has liquidated approximately $13 billion in assets with no commensurate gain to free cash flow. Management still needs to move outside the company to generate cash to continue operations. And yet, shareholders have had their underlying assets disappear to the tune of $13B to pay down debt.

    Clearly there is a pattern here of severe deterioration. But that is not all. CAPEX has exploded during this time which means that companies have spent enormous sums of money drilling wells that are not providing enough cash to continue drilling operations on their own. Not even close. For instance, Continental’s CAPEX grew from $1.0B to $4.1B. Devon’s CAPEX grew from $6.4B to $8.2B. In total, these 5 companies spent approximately $56B in capital expenditure since 2010 while the free cash generated from this $56B spending spree is non-existent. In fact, it is worse than non-existent because it is alarmingly negative.

    This is not sustainable. It could be argued that it is not even moral. It is a failed business model of epic proportion. While companies could make the argument at one time that this was a short term downtrend, that no longer holds water because this pattern is long term.

    The most troubling aspect of this is that we are fast tracking exportation of this commodity in spite of the glaring financial anomalies. It is extraordinary that some members of Congress proclaim whole heartedly for fiscal responsibility while turning a blind eye to fiscal irresponsibility among their campaign donors and promoting exportation. »