Web Video’s New Buddy?

Top YouTube channel aims to become backbone of video ad sector

Does the exploding Web video media business need its own Buddy Media?

Surely, with 50 more YouTube channels coming down the pike, joining the 100 or so funded channels rolled out this year, there’s an opportunity for a tech and services company to come along and help all these new networks navigate this world—a world where 'if you post it, people will watch' hardly ever proves true. Indeed, a company specializing in helping these content purveyors pull all the available levers to get people to watch their stuff, while also helping them make sense of all the ad opportunities available, would seem to be out in front of a huge business opportunity.

However, you might not expect software/support-oriented offering to emerge from one of YouTube’s top entertainment channels But that’s Zefr’s plan.

Right, so what is Zefr? That’s the new brand name for MovieClips, a fast growing startup venture that just pulled in $18.5 million in series C funding. To date MovieClips has built a huge YouTube audience while acting as something of a Vevo for movie clips. The company licensces movie clips from six major studios (The company doesn't name them, but Disney is said to be the major holdout so far), and packages them in quick shareable bites for fans. Think video greeting cards featuring funny snippets from Wayne’s World or Galaxy Quest.

Zefr also enables studios to monetize all that copyright-protected movie content fans post on YouTube.  For example, you post your favorite scene from The Godfather, and instead of getting yelled at by Paramount Pictures, the studio can let you become and advocate for their 40-year-old movie—and maybe even run an ad for The Godfather on DVD.

“We are like the Pandora of movies," said co-founder Zach James. "This is the most professional content on earth, and there is a massive amount of inventory out there. A lot of studios have these undiscovered, unused assets. Instead of chasing these fans down, everybody wins.” As of Wednesday, the MovieClips YouTube channel had over 390 million views.

With the new funding, Zefr wants to expand into sports, TV and music—enormous, though highly competitive categories. For example, the battle for music content rights could prove tricky, as major record companies might end up favoring their own property (Vevo), while sports leagues could be reticent about letting another company’s YouTube channel outshine their own.

So with that expansion in the works, why get into the YouTube tech consultant business? Well, as James and his partner Richard Raddon have built MovieClips, along the way their team has built several proprietary tools for brand advertisers and programmers; tools designed to help content get discovered on the ever more crowded platform, and to crunch all that YouTube data. Might as well use this stuff outside of the company.

“We are hearing that other producers need help,” said James, who compared Zefr’s ambitions to that of firms like Buddy Media, which helped many a brand build its presence on Facebook before being acquired by Saleforce earlier this year. “We think we can take the learning from our channels and help other brands.”