Prepare to lose yourself down the rabbit hole that is vvatch.tv. Trust us, once you start flicking through it you might as well write off at least the next hour, it is crazy addictive. vvatch.tv is a platform that allows anyone to set up and curate their own video channel. Currently in ‘teaser mode’ the site is an endless stream of intelligently cut video clips stitched together to create the feeling of flicking through TV channels. We caught up with founder Marc Kremers to find out more…
Describe vvatch.tv in 140 characters or less
Our teaser site describes it as “A fun and easy way to curate and collectively watch streaming channels of your favourite videos.”
Through the prism of other platforms: “Tumblr for streaming TV channels.”
Where did the insight for the concept come from?
Searching for good video is a time-consuming and fragmented experience. The amount of time I’ve spent trawling through Netflix’s tailored recommendations has always bewildered me. The user experience of platforms like Vimeo and YouTube has really stagnated, but the content coming out from them has always been incredible in its variety and quality. But the only way I’m able to discover that content is haphazardly, through my social feeds or inconsistently maintained playlists.
And then, there’s traditional TV, currently marred by commercials and very mixed quality. But the basic user experience is genius and universally understood: You flip channels, you jump into the stream. It’s frictionless, even lo-fi. On top of that, it’s a shared, connected activity: everyone is watching the same thing at the same time. I’m really interested in democratising and amplifying that serendipitous, collective experience.
One of the biggest insights thus far came from early on when we asked some friends to come up with channel concepts. The most popular channel on the teaser site, “YouTube Haiku”, which is a never ending sequence of under 30 second viral clips, was actually conceived by an early beta tester. So we quickly realised this will really scale if we open this up as a platform. Let everyone create their own channels. We’re super curious to see what people will come up with.
One final insight worth mentioning is also related to the YouTube Haiku channel. The funny thing is the video was mined from a subreddit of the same name, so it’s not even an original curation, vvatch simply repackaged it and turned it from a fragmented, clicky experience into a frictionless, crack-like one. We are imagining a scenario where content creators like ShowStudio, Vice, or Freunde von Freunden can have channels on vvatch, but they don’t even have to be the channel creators. because I could make my own channel called “Marc’s Nowness Faves” tomorrow and enjoy their content on my own terms.
When can we expect to see the full version of vvatch.tv officially launch, and what additional features will have?
In about 2 – 3 months we’ll have the web version for beta testing. It might be worth mentioning at this point that we are going to be device agnostic, we’ll work on TV and mobile apps next. The teaser has the DNA of what vvatch.tv will be, which is brilliant content served via carefully curated channels. But channels on the full version will be streaming simultaneously around the world, like Vine or regular TV. That innovation alone will open up new ways to engage with content, both socially and commercially.
For the channel creator’s, we’re creating a browser extension which will allow them to easily populate channels with video from multiple sources. In terms of UI, there’ll be other view modes where one can explore channels. We have a remote control, and it won’t require you to download an app, we’re really excited about that one!
What have been the biggest challenges with this project so far?
We’ve been iterating on a working prototype for the last 15 months, trying to crack that goldilocks combination of a lean-back, television-like experience and the typical features one is used to when consuming internet video. The Holy Grail is to make something that’s just obvious to use. Anything other than that will be a failure.
To combine the concept of live streaming channels (i.e. TV), with online video viewing (i.e. YouTube) has been a surprisingly complex design challenge but I’ve really relished it. The reason is that the expected user interface for TV and digital video platforms like Youtube contradict each other. For example, if users see a vertical side bar of video thumbnails, the first thing they think of is “Playlist” or “Chronological list of videos”, because that convention has been taught by YouTube. Where in vvatch’s context, this design pattern would actually represent a list of channels which show the currently playing video. So finding a way to make this obvious has been really tough.
What have you learned throughout this project?
The value of minimal viable product. We knew we were onto something but didn’t expect such a global response. It reaffirmed that sometimes the seemingly most trivial tweaks can make the difference between excitement and meh-ness. For example when the teaser loads, it just randomises each channel’s schedule and throws the viewer into a random point in the video’s timecode, that small detail really helps make it more exploratory and television-like. Without that it’d just feel like a glorified playlist.
Great content is not the magic ingredient, actually, the channel curator’s are. Just like a good music mix, art exhibition or Tumblr, a channel’s quality will always come from the sensitivities and experience of the curator. We aren’t going to promote generic “Latest and Greatest” playlists. You can go anywhere else for that. We want vvatch to be defined by interesting, opinionated people and networks, and we’ve started that with our own network on the teaser already. Just a few upcoming examples which I can’t wait to watch: an acid house channel by the founders of the Numbers record label, and an ambient/conceptual art channel by the guys at Are.na.
In this regard, we want vvatch to be a creative platform, so we’re deliberately not doing things like creating import scripts for users to copy their YouTube playlists, we want them to treat this as a new medium and way to engage with video.
Personally, the project has reaffirmed my belief in making things that I need. Make things for yourself first, then for your friends, and then for the world. I literally can’t wait to use vvatch and that is really important too, it’s kept me focussed and driven.
What other insights about online video viewing did you uncover while you were researching?
Users really want less UI, and controversially, less choice. Personally speaking, I want to go to a destination on my phone, tv or laptop and know that for 30 minutes while I’m cooking, or 2 hours while I want to chill on the couch, I’m guaranteed amazing video, with zero effort, and no UI bullshit to wade through. Please, just throw me into a beautiful, meandering stream!
A lot of people get really excited about being able to create their own channel, not just view them. More than 8,500 users have already reserved accounts for the beta launch. When we talk directly with testers, the conversation often veers into whether we have this or that channel yet, and suggestions of who to get on board and what they’d like to curate themselves.
Coming back to the choice thing, if you think about it, we are very picky clickers. Every time you force a user to click, it actually represents a choice that the user had to ponder on and make. I’ve always been impressed how with TV, I end up watching shows I’d never have chosen, or would have known about. It’s such a simple but effective thing that we can elegantly replicate with the platform.
What do you think the future of online video viewing looks like?
In terms of delivery, it will continue to splinter into different modes of consumption. There is plenty of space for new ideas like vvatch to grow. We don’t need to compete with Netflix, or Youtube or TV for that matter.
Advertising is broken. My daughter learnt how to skip ads at the age of 2. This is already clear.
In general I think there’s so much room for growth in social video. Look at what Twitch achieved by simply making things live and adding a 90s-throwback chat room. Recently a chrome extension which allowed you to watch a Netflix show at the same time with a friend got a lot of traction. vvatch will have this kind of stuff built in.
On a content note I think the whole vlogging thing is depressing, the levels of narcissism make me worry for humanity. Maybe it will implode once PewDiePie hits 10 billion subscribers and we all realise we’ve been in a Minecraft simulation all along.
What else is making you think ‘F**k that’s good!’ at the moment?
I really love the San Francisco font from Apple. The audacity of redesigning Helvetica and not via arrogance, but necessity. I respect that and think it’s a really great looking font.
As a designer I’m really impressed by Google’s Design resources, it’s just so holistic, ambitious and generous. Their demo videos are gorgeous, in particular the one on colour theory.
Sketch, the app. Honestly, it’s made me fall in love with designing again. Such a pleasure to use.
What are the most interesting things happening in London right now?
The fact that it still gets boatloads of young, talented creatives coming in on a daily basis to make their career. It’s too expensive and every inch of its character and likeability is continuously being attacked by aggressive gentrification programmes managed by guys with bad haircuts at Foxton’s and lazy developers. £3.40 lattes, extortionate rent for tents under staircases, the impossibility for many to think about owning a home.
Maybe the hardships of living here is what makes the quality stay so high? You have to work fucking hard otherwise it’s Zone 6 for you. Londoner’s have to earn their place. Tough love. And because it’s so hard, we stick together. We don’t have the luxury of being snobby to each other like Parisians do. I still love London but it feels like L.A. and even N.Y.C. are more dynamic, fluid places right now.
What’s the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
It’s a weird thing to say to a 5 year old kid, but my dad said “Marc, no matter how good you become, someone out there will always be better at it”. I don’t think he meant it to motivate or discourage me, but actually to explain how big the world was, and not to take anything for granted, which has always stuck with me.