Rounds Live, a new social media
service, is the latest venture that
seeks to enable viewers to gab
along with TV shows or, as the company
describes it “turn any website into a
live video chat party”—complete with
participants’ own webcam videos dotted
around the screen. Rounds Live’s
software creates “video bubbles” on any
Web page, in essence a transparent layer that sits independently
on top of the content, regardless of whether the
content is static, live or on-demand.
The system can be used with streaming video content,
but not with linear broadcast or cable programs. Since considerable
sports and reality content is now available online
in real time (such as event programming/concerts on YouTube and sports league-run websites), the company behind
Rounds sees considerable opportunity among its initial target
audience of young viewers who watch such shows on
portable and handheld devices. Eventually, such programs
could be seen on smart TV sets.
Tel Aviv-based Rounds developed the “Live” function as
an offshoot of its original social platform that combines live
communication and social activities, letting groups of people
watch videos, play games and share photos while video-chatting
across networks, operating systems and devices.
“The development of Rounds Live was a direct outgrowth
of our experience creating Rounds Mobile, providing
our team with unique insights into how to best
merge communication and media into one unified social
experience,” said Dany Fishel, CEO and co-founder of the
company. “The combination of exclusive content partnerships
and the ability to turn any website into a viewing
party gives users a truly dynamic experience that we believe
will change the way people consume online content
Viewers can invite their own friends
to watch and comment on shows simultaneously
or join other “fans” of a show
(with some degree of anonymity) to
chat during a streaming video telecast,
explained Natasha Shine-Zirkel, the company’s
chief marketing officer.
Rounds is negotiating with U.S. content
suppliers to establish program alliances
for marketing campaigns. Although
Shine-Zirkel declined to identify prospective
content allies, she said that she expects
some deals to be completed soon.
“We’re currently working on partnership
deals with multiple partners in a variety
of verticals including sports, music,
gaming, talent and reality TV,” she told TV
Technology. She expects “the most likely” first deals will be
with “upcoming artists looking to engage their users in a fun,
Shine-Zirkel said the company is working with a major
talent agency to recruit content and shows for the platform.
CHATTING WITH FRIENDS VS. OTHER FANS
The company’s first TV alliance was with
the Israeli version of “X Factor,” where users
spent more time engaged with a show
when video-chatting. Viewers who were
online with real “friends” spent 53 minutes
per show with an average of five other people
during the program. Those who joined
a group of other anonymous “fans” spent 35
minutes with an average of 6.5 other people
in the virtual “rooms” that are set up for
such viewing sessions.
Rounds uses its patent-pending technology,
which Shine-Zirkel said can handle
up to 12 simultaneous viewers in a “room”
connected to a single show and “millions of
viewers” overall. Currently, about 10 million
users have signed up for the free service in
the United States and England.
While watching a program, users can
create a personal video “bubble” (actually
a circle with their photo or video stream
in it); by hovering over a stream, they can
move, resize or interact with other people
in the room.
Rounds’ monetization plan is still amorphous.
The majority of revenue will come
through partnerships, although they “might
have micropayments,” said Shine-Zirkel.
“Partners are looking for ways to engage
with fans and will pay to be able to build
relationships,” she said, citing the “scope of
integration” available through the platform.
She said the objective is to help programmers
“extend the narrative of their content—before, during and after it goes live.”
Rounds is currently on servers at three
vendors: Amazon Web Services, Digital
Ocean and Rackspace. All of them have
hosting facilities on the east and west
coasts of the United States as well as in
Europe, said Shine-Zirkel. “We try to be as
agnostic as possible to cloud providers so
that we can basically run everywhere.”
Late last year, Rounds and Vidyo Inc.
signed a strategic agreement to integrate
technology into the Rounds platform to
combine shared entertainment with multiparty
high-definition video conferencing
and mass scaling capabilities.
Shine-Zirkel called the Scalable Video
Coding solution developed by Vidyo
an “impressive compression” service with
the ability to adapt to bottlenecks and give
users “a non-intrusive experience.”
The Rounds Live patents focus on the
initiation of a room; every room has a
unique identification that consists of two
keys: the current URL for the user and the
social identity of a user.
Initially, Rounds Live will launch as a
Chrome browser extension; Rounds’ current
mobile app is available for iOS and
Android devices. By summer, the company
plans to add multi-user capabilities for
its mobile apps and then connect mobile
and Web solutions. Support for additional
browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer
and Safari are all in the works.
Since its 2009 debut, Rounds has
morphed from a “speed-dating/matchmaking”
site to a “communitainment” platform,
combining video chat and social apps. Using
the platform’s intelligent “Meet New
People” feature, participants can “pair up
with new people for a meaningful chat
discussion,” with the “advanced system
[helping] users by suggesting conversation
topics and tips based on their mutual likes,
interests and social graph,” according to the
Rounds has raised a total of $10.5 million
in funding from investors, including
Verizon Ventures, venture capitalist Draper
Fisher Jurvetson’s Tim Draper, Israeli funder
Rhodium and other private investors.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications
LLC, a research and consulting
firm. He can be reached at www.ArlenCom.com.