TechCrunch, the blog dedicated to all things Internet, has developed a reputation for pushing out breaking news so fast and hard, it occasionally snaps. Earlier this month, Facebook took advantage of the blog’s tendency to jump quickly on stories by posting a fake feature that only TechCrunch could see—"fax this photo"—and waiting for their unverified announcement, which was forthcoming. Earlier in the year Last.fm rankled when a story was published about the site providing the RIAA with user information which proved to be much more complex than originally stated. Even the NY Times quotes information from TechCrunch’s enterprising, muckraking posts that are often sourced anonymously.
This driving passion for being first on a story is also ingrained in the DNA of TechCrunch’s annual conference, TechCrunch50, which gives 50 brand new startups a chance to pitch to expert judges and investors. To qualify the entries must have essentially kept their product completely under wraps—no demos, screenshots or product descriptions can be public, and the companies can’t reveal that they’ve been selected until after the lineup is announced. It’s hard to tell this early on if the event is going to prove itself to be the launching platform that, say, the Sundance Film Festival once was for independent cinema. But just a couple of weeks ago several websites that might be of interest to the film community launched in private, invite-only beta at the conference.
When CEO Aaron Cohen touts AnyClip as "a service that lets you find any moment from any film ever made… Any moment from any film ever made!" he means it. At least, he optimistically believes that one day it will be the case. Or something roughly like it (he’ll never get his hands on my student films!). Cohen’s Hollywood broker is former Sony Corp. of America CEO Mickey Schulhof, who once rolled out CDs and the Playstation in the U.S. and is also one of two major private investors in the company.
AnyClip’s presentation at Techcrunch50
AnyClip is still in private beta for a reason, and let’s hope it stays that way until they’ve ironed out the bugs, which currently pervade the whole experience, across platforms. The idea is that you can search for any line or scene from a film, create your own "in" and "out" points, and share your clip through a URL, Facebook, Twitter or email. For instance, you can type in "the horror, the horror" or "use the force, Luke" and you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for—their search function appears to be extremely efficient. Then you can feature a link to that clip on Facebook or elsewhere. Those are some pretty impressive scenes, but for now you won’t get "We’re gonna need a bigger boat" or "fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy night" until AnyClip can surmount a pretty formidable obstacle: Hollywood.
A quick scan of titles already available on the site includes Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films and Annie Hall (already divided into scenes including the Marshall McLuhan queue scene, and Goldblum’s mantra phonecall). But with nine scenes from Annie Hall, it’s going to strike studios that users can essentially get the highlights they’re craving from a film they’ve seen before, without ever feeling the urge to purchase the whole film. I suppose, with enough five-minute clips, you could conceivably watch a whole film, though pretty unpleasantly. And while Cohen and new VP of Product Nate Westheimer both stressed the importance to studios of "reinvigorating" interest in their back catalogues, the upsell angle has become a stale trope in the online video world. Anyclip has also developed an API though, so that other companies can create applications, sites or tools of their own, using the AnyClip library—this might have commercial potential. If their hook is that they really will secure deals with all the studios, they’re facing an incredibly steep uphill battle, one that initially made me and others I know with much deeper pedigrees in the online acquisitions world laugh out loud. But you never know, maybe we’ve reached the tipping point. Cohen acknowledges the challenges they face in a recent blog post titled Why the World (Including Hollywood) Needs AnyClip, but he remains optimistic.
AnyClip won the audience award at TechCrunch 50, and was also one of three finalists for the big prize, so there is momentum around the idea. On the positive side, it’s fun to browse through some of your favorite movie scenes, and who can deny the pleasure of potentially posting the printer destruction scene from Office Space after a bad technology moment? AnyClip is also doing some interesting metadata work, synching searchable closed captions and transcripts with video, and potentially allowing users to tag scenes with entities such as location and character. This is data they could potentially sell to other online video companies to help them improve their search functions. They make it easy to find clips by both dialogue ("I forgot my mantra") and scene ("Annie Hall lobster"). However, as it currently stands, the interface looks nice on a Mac, but pretty average on a PC, and the editing tool is bad. Techies have real trouble building intuitive video editing tools, and this one has no timeline zoom, no snap-to the playhead for setting in and out points (the simple buttons "Mark In" and "Mark Out" would fix this), etc, so getting the clip to start and end exactly where you want is a massively frustrating task.
While Anyclip concentrates on the popularity of clip sharing via social networks and email—a very computer-centric activity—Clicker is much more focused on the "10 foot" experience—the distance between your couch and your TV. While Clicker is currently a website, they have an application in testing for the free and open media center program Boxee, which can be installed on any Mac or PC and is designed for remote control navigation via a TV or projector hookup. Your iPhone or iPod Touch can then be turned into a remote, or a standard universal remote can be used. AnyClip is also developing a Boxee app.
Unlike AnyClip, Clicker is entirely ready for its public closeup, and should be out of beta soon. This website is addictive for anyone who is watching their TV via the web, and it’s only going to get better. A self proclaimed "TV guide for the Internet" Clicker is a directory of online TV and film, completely agnostic of host site. For example, you can type in Lost, and Clicker will autosuggest that you mean Lost, the ABC TV series, which has 101 episodes online. Click on it and you land on Clicker’s Lost page, with a description of the series and a list of available episodes, starting with the most recent. This isn’t just video search, it’s structured data, so there’s no doubling up of records, or incorrect results, and you can also reach Lost through an alphabetical index or browse. You can easily sort the Lost list, or any TV show list, by season. Once you’ve found an episode you want to watch, rolling your mouse over the thumbnail will give you the option to watch it at Clicker, or at the owner’s site, ABC. Other shows might point you to Hulu, or even Link TV. If you want to mark episodes to watch later, you can add them to your own personal playlist. Or you can tell Clicker to add all new episodes from this series to your playlist, once they are posted online. This way you don’t need to track the date when new episodes are made available. And you no longer need to keep hunting the Internet for new video sources for the series—Clicker does the work for you. The whole experience is far superior than the current search or browse tools on Hulu or iTunes.
Watch Clicker in action at TechCrunch50:
The navigation is being made ever easier by Clicker’s support of user generated metadata, meaning that any viewer can submit changes to the information for any episode listed, including characters, tags, memorable quotes and cameos.
There’s some solid dotcom backing behind this start-up. Its CEO and co-founder is Jim Lanzone, former CEO of Ask.com, and $8 million has already been raised for the company. At launch there will be 300,000 episodes listed from over 5,000 shows, and there are plans to incorporate 14,000 streaming titles from the Netflix library.
Interested in trying out AnyClip and Clicker? You can apply for an invite at the sites, or try asking if anyone has any spare invites on Twitter. Now I’m going to go jump on the couch and watch some Clicker shows on my HD projector. Convergence, you have arrived.
Hannah Eaves is a periodic film journalist with a long, steady background in film, video and new media. Her writing has appeared in SOMA magazine, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary Film, and online at GreenCine, PopMatters, Grist and elsewhere. She currently tries to keep her head above water as Director of New Media at Link TV, a Peabody Award-winning national satellite television station. In her spare time she dreams about her old, "laid back" Australian life, and the healing qualities of Victoria Bitter.
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