Rounds’ Social TV Relies on Online Streams

Gary Arlen

Rounds Live seeks to enable viewers to gab along with TV shows, complete with participants’ own webcam videos dotted around the screen.

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 together.”

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, innovative way.”

Shine-Zirkel said the company is working with a major talent agency to recruit content and shows for the platform.

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 company.

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

Gary Arlen, a contributor to Broadcasting & Cable, NextTV and TV Tech, is known for his visionary insights into the convergence of media + telecom + content + technology. His perspectives on public/tech policy, marketing and audience measurement have added to the value of his research and analyses of emerging interactive and broadband services. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the long-time “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports; Gary writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs.