New Dimensions in Video: Deepstream.TV

By Rachel Hentsch and Sally Coldrick

David Anderton — Co-Founder and CTO of Deepstream TV

How many videos do you watch each day? News, sports updates, memes, online training — the quantity of video most of us consume is growing by the day. Globally, video continues to evolve as the richest media format and Deepstream TV is focused on taking it to the next level. Deepstream is a web platform that enriches livestream or on-demand video with additional layers of interactivity. Users and viewers can quickly and easily add related content to videos to create deeper connections and add to the viewing and commenting experience.

Deepstream is a story of life going full circle for Co-Founder and CTO David Anderton: Deepstream TV spun out of the MIT Media Lab accelerator program Delta V, and now David is returning to the Media Lab as a Research Assistant and doing his Masters in Media Arts and Science.

David was recently named in 2017 Forbes’ Europe 30 under 30 in the Media category. Here we share more about what drives him at the ripe age of 28; global trends in video consumption globally, and their vision for Deepstream becoming a verb.

How was your team formed and how did your project idea come into being?

The Deepstream TV team: David Anderton, Gordon Mangum and Vivien Diep

Our team of three people (Gordon Mangum CEO, David Anderton CTO, Vivian Diep Lead Designer) formed around a shared passion: the need for more meaningful news media. Through research we were conducting at the Center for Civic Media in MIT’s Media Lab, and at a news media conference at the lab called “Beyond Comments,” we found each other and started working together on this shared passion.

Individually, we have each been interested in news media for a long time, and we have all previously worked in the news industry and/or built media tools. We are motivated by the fact that there are a few trends in the news industry that are creating major challenges for both consumers and producers, and we want to build tools that help address these.

News video consumers can deep dive into topics of interest.

On the consumer side, the increasing prevalence of video means people are watching short video segments more frequently. We think that’s a terrible format for news. A three-minute video on the Syrian refugee crisis, for example, will not only provide only the barest of information, but it tends to disempower viewers. We wanted to help newsrooms easily create an annotated video experience that embeds other media they have produced on this story in a slick interface viewers enjoy.

In this experience, if a viewer is interested or concerned they have an immediate next step: learn more about the situation. It’s about empowering news video consumers to dive into topics of interest to become more informed.
Newsrooms can make annotated videos to be embedded on the company’s own website.

On the news producer side, the problem is a lack of a sustainable online revenue model, especially with the widespread expectation of “free” content, generally received in exchange for large amounts of personal data. Sites like Facebook and YouTube just can’t be monetised at sustainable rates for news companies, despite the potential for a large audience. So we made sure the annotated videos that newsrooms can make with our tool can be embedded on the company’s own website. Because people watch annotated video longer when they explore the extra content, and because this traffic can be monetised at a higher rate, we help news companies find a workable model online.

A third trend that has been a big motivator for us is the increasing use of live video by citizens to broadcast from newsworthy events. There are many real-world examples of the power individual citizens now have to share important events with other people through live-streaming platforms like Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube. While livestreaming is a profoundly immediate experience of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, it’s also a really challenging medium for context, background, and connecting these live broadcasts to a larger narrative. Our tools help people make those connections and tell richer and more meaningful stories that include live video.

Viewers can contribute interactive context around the videos.

Our hope for the future of news is that newsrooms will experiment with ways to establish their brand as a trustworthy source and start to think about engagement, which is more than counting the number of clicks and views. Our goal is to help drive this turn toward engagement because we believe it is a civic responsibility to spend a few precious minutes learning about major news events and getting deeper into the context and background of a story. Our product helps newsrooms and individuals achieve this goal by increasing the amount of interactive context around video.

These are some of the challenges we are tackling, and it has been really inspiring to see some of the results people are getting. We helped the human rights organisation WITNESS cover favela eviction protests during the Rio Olympics. We helped the NBC affiliate in North Carolina experiment with a live interactive online sports show. And there are more exciting developments coming soon!

Describe your business in 10 simple words.

Easily create annotated live or uploaded videos to engage viewers!

How is this different from Facebook Live or YouTube Live?

The difference is you are able to add context to video and create rabbit holes of information for viewers to dive into.

How did you move from idea to execution?

We went through a major research and design process that included interviewing many people who make and watch news videos and livestreams. We also entered several entrepreneurship competitions at MIT and did well in those. We were very fortunate in that there was some funding available for our research, which allowed us to move from design and prototype into the development stage. Our team was rounded out in March of 2016 after a conference at the MIT Media Lab called “Beyond Comments,” and shortly after that things kicked into high gear. We were accepted to MIT’s Delta V accelerator a few months later, and have all been working full time on the project since then.

Deepstream.TV team presentation at the MIT Delta V Demo Day 2016

How has the entrepreneurial journey been so far?

It’s been quite a learning process on our entrepreneurial journey. Our ups and downs in part are a result of having large media organisations as customers. It usually takes a long time to get large companies on board, and surviving that wait to get to the point of earning revenue is a major obstacle for a new company. I don’t think there is a magic formula to overcome this.

It’s a matter of grinding out a long sales cycle, making sure your business and personal expenses are as low as possible to survive financially, and keeping faith in your knowledge that you have a good product.

What helped us get through this period was some amazing examples of people using our tools, and this inspired us to keep going. For example, a Torontoist editor used Deepstream to annotate livestreams of Toronto city council meetings. This is such a great example because the real business of a city happens in these meetings, and while a livestream helps increase access, it is intimidating for a citizen to tune in and not understand the rules and procedures in play, or to feel sufficiently informed about the issues being discussed. So Torontoist added all this information in real time, including links to their own coverage of significant issues and commentary on what was happening. And it was the best city council meeting I ever watched! Honestly, media outlets in all major cities should do this because we live in a time where it is more important than ever that people feel connected and informed about political processes that can have a major impact on their lives.

Tell us about your time-juggling tips and strategies.

One of our core challenges as a team is that we are no longer in the same city, so we all work remotely. We’ve found that a good strategy for us as a team is to have calls three times a week, where we employ a version of the agile scrum methodology to talk about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and any help we need to do it. This has helped us stay efficient, on-task, and accountable to each other despite not being in the same location.

Advice to someone just starting out?

Do something you are passionate about! I don’t subscribe to the theory that entrepreneurs should look at every opportunity and assess it on whether it will grow into a billion dollar company. If that’s the case, there are easier ways to just try to get rich. I think entrepreneurs need to do things they are deeply passionate about. Yes, there has to be great research on market opportunities and clear thinking about monetisation, but if your heart isn’t in it, what’s the point?

Your greatest learning since starting your journey?

Since the start the one message that has become increasingly and inescapably clear is that

people matter. Above all.

What inspires you most in life?

What inspires me most is seeing groups of people create amazing things together. Overcoming adversity and thriving no matter what their lives throw at them.

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