Editor’s note: Aaron Cohen is co-founder and CEO of AnyClip, a startup that launched at TechCrunch50 last week and won the Audience Award. It is headquartered in New York and Jerusalem. This essay, in a longer format, appears on the AnyClip Blog. Cohen was formerly CEO of MenuPages, which New York Magazine acquired in 2008.
Movies are the world’s most influential communication medium. Films teach history, tell stories, and make people laugh until their bellies and faces ache. Moving pictures are for the young, old, rich, poor, educated, and the illiterate.
Etched in each moviegoer’s memory is a panoply of great scenes from tens of thousands of films. What would your next dinner, cocktail, or keg party be like if nobody could quote a movie line?
Unfortunately, to re-experience these moments is can be painful. Watching Humphrey Bogart kiss Ingrid Bergman or John Belushi scream “Food Fight” or Russell Crowe facing down tigers in the Coliseum is a challenge. These are moments that everyone wants to experience over and over again. But does anyone really pop in a DVD and patiently scan for their favourite scenes? No. We search the Internet. Mostly, we don’t always find what we’re looking for. And when we do, it’s far from a cinematic experience.
The Internet has so far provided a piecemeal solution to digital video. There are plenty of video sharing sites filled with user-uploaded content, but their selection is haphazard at best. You might find “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” but it will be seven minutes into a longer clip or with abominable picture and sound. As for quality, movie diehards do not hesitate to share shaky, unreliable videos of their televisions shot on camera phones.
So, while you might find what you are looking for, you had better be willing to sort through a lot of garbage and put up with subpar film quality. Notwithstanding, people love films, so they put up these problems. Over 12 million people have watched that clip from “The Lion King,” and there are billions more views of movie clips on YouTube every year.
However, neither the owners of these films nor the artists who make them receive any compensation from the display of their works. If it’s not illegal, it’s definitely unethical. This user-generated video industry combined with other public policy issues have unintentionally driven a wedge between Hollywood and the most dynamic and creative Internet companies. AnyClip wants to provide the most economically compelling platform to help movie lovers relive moments.
WHAT IS ANYCLIP
Six months ago, my co-founder Nate Westheimer and I joined an amazing group of Israeli developers who also happen to love movies. We wanted to build a Web service that would allow anyone to find any moment from any film ever made instantly. Our founding venture capitalist, JVP’s Erel Margalit, suggested we name the company AnyClip.
Everybody wants to relive scenes and AnyClip set out to make that possible. Creating the data and search technology to make that is challening. When searching for a scene from a movie, people describe moments in many different ways, from dialogue and plot description to hazy memories of shark attacks and flying cars.
This creates really engrossing and thorny computing problems. If someone searches for “dead shark,” do they want to see Roy Scheider blowing up Jaws (i.e. action on screen) or Woody Allen lamenting the “death” of his relationship with Annie Hall (i.e. dialogue)? The AnyClip project solves for these problems and creates structured data that will have many uses.
Early tests show our service can be a great discovery engine for films. A search for “I love you” produces countless clips from hundreds of movies. A brief visit to AnyClip may encourage a purchase (Amazon), rental (Netflix), or download (iTunes) of the entire film. AnyClip evokes memories and channels them to enhance the value of the world’s great film libraries.
We’ve also launched a public API for our data, and eventually for legally licensed content, so that companies like IMDB, Slide, RockYou, Netflix, Zynga, OMGPOP, Twitter, Facebook, Mahalo, and, most importantly, the insanely creative and brilliant independent developers around the world, can build great user experiences with movie clips on top of our movie data.
DISRUPTIVE BY DESIGN
If you closely examine the movie ecosystem, the only institutions that suffer from a legally available AnyClip are those that benefit from leaving the current system intact. First and foremost are existing Internet media providers that hide behind the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While nobody knows precise numbers, YouTube has served billions of movie scenes to audiences around the world this year alone. Overseas video sharing and P2P sites — Tudou, Megavideo, and BitTorrent — operate outside the reach of US laws. Naturally, content owners have been wary of digital distribution in light of these abuses and violations of the DMCA.
History shows Hollywood struggles with new formats and other technological innovation, and are understandably protective of their core businesses. 30 years ago, Universal sued Sony for creating the Betamax. Luckily, they failed and today we have a $25 billion DVD industry. The good news is AnyClip enhances every distribution window. Every one. We don’t compete. We complement.
And that’s important, because DVD revenue is dropping for the first time since the format’s introduction. Piracy and Internet video-on-demand from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and iTunes are changing consumption patterns. Economic realities have forced audiences to reassess their entertainment spending.
One way to stanch the bleeding in the Home Video Market is to reinvigorate the value locked in our memories.
Short of innovation, the motion picture industry will continue to see declining revenue and audiences will get fewer new magical moments. Why? Because Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott will be given smaller budgets. Does anybody really want to deprive Peter Jackson of the budgets required to make another Lord of the Rings?
Many powerful Hollywood people have told us that AnyClip is amazing but impossible. Some very smart industry executives are rooting for us to succeed but worry about the legal landscape. At its best, the digital rights marketplace is byzantine. These executives are right to be concerned. For the sake of the movie industry’s wonderful and talented people, and the billions of fans around the world, we certainly hope we can find a way to work within the law to create great opportunities for all.
Our fourth co-founder is the former CEO of Sony America Mickey Schulhof. Mickey knows the pitfalls as well as the upsides of media innovation having introduced the CD and Playstation to North America. He always tells me that if it weren’t for naysayers, we wouldn’t have revolutionary companies.
“Sometimes you just have to do things, Aaron,” Mickey told me when I first described AnyClip. It’s time for the curtains to open.