Maven Makes Inroads With New Video Platform

How would you feel if, after spending millions of dollars producing a high-resolution movie trailer or music video, you discovered the majority of its viewers saw only a tiny, rather blurry version of it?

That’s a scenario faced by numerous entertainment companies that are compelled to deploy video assets online. Film studios, recording labels and TV networks can no longer afford to ignore the online demographic, and in fact are allocating more money to interactive campaigns than ever before. But even as broadband adoption slogs ahead, entertainment companies often have very little control over how their content is viewed online.

Among the companies vying to address this problem is software developer Maven Networks. Maven has launched a platform that proposes to greatly improve video quality, while boosting the interactivity possible with the Web medium. The company’s offering, which launched last month with several big media clients, is a downloadable application designed to integrate full-screen “DVD-quality” video with high levels of user engagement, including e-commerce functions.

“In our conversations with agencies, it’s become clear that major brands do not want to put their video into something small and jagged,” said Maven CEO Hilmi Ozguc. “Streaming isn’t bad, but it doesn’t work well with full-screen video, and it’s not interactive.”

“People with broadband connections want better video and audio,” Hilmi added.

Ozguc says Maven’s platform can fulfill the needs of both the agencies that rep entertainment brands and the consumers with underused broadband connections.

But first the 30-employee company must overcome the ordinary Internet user’s reticence to download unfamiliar desktop applications.

Ozguc says this won’t be a problem. He believes most broadband users will readily accept a 10-second download to access quality video on their PCs, especially if the download is offered through a trusted media brand. Only time will tell if he’s right, but the potential obstacle isn’t stopping several clients from jumping onboard with the platform, among them Virgin Records, Twentieth Century Fox and National Geographic.

Rich Media, Then and Now

A two-year-old company that just launched officially last month, Maven has its roots in Ozguc’s early experience as co-founder and CEO of Narrative Communications, which eventually became Enliven.

“That was very much a dial-up world, and the best we could hope for was to bring animation to banner ads,” he said. “The Holy Grail since then has been to combine high quality video with the interactivity of the Web, and I believe we’re getting close to that.”

Well, we’re certainly closer than we were. Maven’s current and upcoming client deployments are impressive, bringing higher measures of both quality and interactivity than has previously been found in Internet-downloaded video.

This is evident in Virgin Records’ recent use of the Maven System to promote recording artist Ben Harper‘s new video for the song, “Diamonds on the Inside.”

To draw attention to the offering, Virgin dropped a mass mailing to opted-in Ben Harper fans and VH1 sent out one of its own. The email campaigns, and Ben Harper’s own Web site, encourage fans to download the broadband version of the video.

On top of this, Virgin used the Maven platform to create a noteworthy viral incentives program. For every five friends to which each user forwards the video, the system unlocks a new audio single. The singles are, for the time being, exclusive to the Maven platform. Ozguc said the video’s sky-high forward rate owes everything to that feature.

Unfortunately, Ozguc was forbidden by Virgin from sharing download statistics, so it’s impossible to know how well the pitch went over with the broadband crowd Maven’s counting on for its success.

Twentieth Century Fox is using the platform to promote its upcoming epic adventure, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” starring Russell Crowe. The studio’s campaign with Maven begins by letting users download a full-screen trailer, which is then followed with features such as behind-the-scenes video clips and interviews with the film’s crew and talent.

The “Master and Commander” offering will include an e-commerce component as well, allowing users to order movie tickets within the trailer. It’s a way of bringing an element of tailored direct marketing into the mostly branding-driven process of promoting films. Should Maven’s platform take off, film studios may soon have a way to reach out to its repeat customers on a one-to-one basis.

“Something like $30 million is spent promoting every major motion picture release, and that money is used to acquire the same customer over and over again,” Ozguc said.

“Combining commerce into marketing campaigns was a very important consideration when we designed the system,” he added. “The whole idea is to make the ticket buying experience seamless and as simple as one click, so you can take advantage of people looking at the promotion.”

Building Interactivity

Maven faced several challenges building interactivity into a full-screen video interface. One issue was how to deploy features such as ticket sales and viral incentives without interrupting the video experience.

The solution for Maven lay in using semi-transparent overlays that allow people to interact while they’re still watching the video.

Other challenges included building measurement and tracking capabilities, as well as a digital rights management system that would allow viral sharing of video, but prevent users from burning it to a CD.

Ozguc says the Maven platform will eventually serve companies in sectors other than media and entertainment, and he points to BMW Films as an example of how it could be used in the automotive sector. However, it difficult to imagine how this would work with any but the most extravagant of viral campaigns. After all, most consumers are not terribly interested in the video assets of vacuum manufacturers or cellular carriers.

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