puts user video anywhere

VIDEO REVOLUTION: A different kind of TV puts user video anywhere

Jessica Guynn, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007

Stepping off the elevator into the offices of, I came face to face with myself.

Literally, I was facing a mirror etched with the San Francisco startup's logo, a takeoff on the reflective Mylar on last year's "Person of the Year" Time magazine cover, celebrating "you" as the creator and consumer of your own content.

And that is the whole point of this TV 2.0 startup, which is being released today. Daniel Graf, 32, and Erik Abair, 27, want to take this form of self-broadcasting one step further by allowing everyone to star in, direct and produce their own live television channel that they can instantly share with family and friends.


They are tapping into the exploding popularity of online video, which first took off with the blockbuster success of YouTube, which Google bought for nearly $1.65 billion in October. Now dozens of spin-offs such as Joost, which airs broadcast-quality television content, and Revver, which shares advertising revenue with amateur content creators, compete for viewers.

The new medium got an electric jolt with the start of recently, a 24/7 San Francisco online reality show that has captured public fascination and turned its star into an Internet celebrity.

If's early success is any indication, the Internet may well reinvent television. Some observers anticipate an unlimited number of viewing options scattered across the Web. Fueling the trend: Young people spend more time in front of their computer or on their mobile phone than watching traditional television. All they need to produce a pretty slick product is a video or digital camera, a computer or phone, and some creativity. Think of it as public access on broadband, delivering everything from star power to amateur hour. Even the most obscure or narrow interests can draw an online audience.

All of the businesses in the crowded online television lineup share the same aspiration: that this cheap, new form of distribution will stream cash into their pockets as advertisers follow viewers. is joining the online rush to make big money from the little screen with a new interactive twist that Graf and Abair call "TV out of the box." They are bringing together two of the Internet's most successful concepts: online video and social networking. allows you to upload photographs or video, add music or text, then broadcast your show, all from a mobile phone or personal computer. You can also live "life stream," by programming your mobile phone to take pictures at regular intervals that create a stop-motion film on

Viewers can log on, contribute to your channel, and talk with you and others via live chat. They also can sound off in opinion polls that you set up. You can embed your channel on your Web site, blog or MySpace page, wherever you want people to watch.

"Wherever you are, you can check in," said Graf, a Swiss national. "Everyone is live connected. Everything is in real time."'s team of 18 employees worked out the technical kinks for the past few months by asking 1,000 people to test-drive the service. Now the true test: Will people tune in to this pilot project?

"The challenge is to move people to produce enough of their own content that it will create the kind of network effect I imagine they are going for," said James McQuivey, a media technology analyst with Forrester Research.

Despite all its promise, the Internet television lineup is due for a shakeup. Some stars will be born, others will be snuffed out, McQuivey said.

"Most of these sites will disappear over the next year," he said. founders and investors are undaunted by such gloomy predictions. They see vast potential in creating viral connections among people. They think of as more of a Twitter than a YouTube play.

"People want to generate content, express themselves, be connected to other people and have fun in the process," said Howard Hartenbaum, a general partner at angel fund Draper Richards, who sold Internet phone company Skype to eBay for $2.6 billion in 2002. "Kyte allows them to do that using better technology and framework with the metaphor of TV and programming that most people understand."

One very happy customer is Chris Balogh, a New York independent music producer. About a month ago, Balogh's label, Natas Records, was invited to test Balogh started a channel to showcase videos of its artists. Zack Weber, one of Balogh's young Midwestern artists whose melodic voice and guitar riffs are attracting online attention, is using his channel to air an eye-catching reality show series about his life, including an episode in which he plays the video game Mario Kart with his toes and another in which he inspires his adoring audience to clap in time to the beat of a love ballad, "In Your Head."

Balogh also uses in his production business that arranges tours for such top artists as the Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys and John Mayer. With his mobile phone, he can broadcast video he shoots while scouting concert venues and get instant feedback from his clients.

"Out of all the Internet features I have seen, this would definitely be the one I would pay to subscribe to," he said. "It's very important to everything we're doing. The music industry has taken a pretty good kick right now. Stuff like this definitely helps."

Graf and Abair first met in 1999 at a digital music company back East. Together they jumped to Philips, where they worked on the next generation of televisions. The notion of interactive television intrigued them. Both were convinced there was a way to move past expensive set-top boxes. It didn't occur to them that they could chuck the television, too, until February 2005 when, after relaxing for three days at the Iguazu waterfalls on the border of Brazil and Argentina, Graf was sipping a Quilmes beer on the flight to Buenos Aires.

"That was the moment when I realized, 'You can do interactivity online,' " he said.

Graf couldn't wait to call Abair. Soon they had quit their jobs and began to collaborate by laptop and Skype, Abair holed up in Florida, Graf hopscotching the world.

At first they planned to pitch broadcasters like MTV and HBO on interactive features for television, piggybacking on the "American Idol" phenomenon. But in March 2006, as user-generated content exploded, they switched their focus. They came to San Francisco and raised more than $2 million from high-profile investors who had a hand in changing the way people make phone calls.

The money men included Hartenbaum; prominent venture capitalist Tim Draper, also an early Skype investor; and Niklas Zennström, the legendary Scandinavian programmer now working on Joost, who created software to stream telephone calls over the Internet with Skype and swap music with Kazaa.

Draper and Hartenbaum held the team to their "written in stone" commitment that they would launch today in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland by delivering an actual stone inscribed with " launches April 23, 2007" to the startup's light-filled, airy offices that overlook Union Square. "We do what we can to keep our portfolio companies on track," Draper said.

Not only is Kyte keeping to its script, Graf is envisioning a "Must See TV" hit. To underscore their drive to reinvent TV, has filmed funny promotional spots that end with sledgehammers destroying old television sets.

"We want on every site and on every phone," Graf said. "Right now we are just trying to get critical mass."

How will fare in the ratings? That's what they call a cliffhanger. glossary


What is Kyte? New technology that allows you to create your own television channel via the Internet or mobile phone. You produce shows featuring videos or photo slideshows accompanied by music tracks that you broadcast in real time to your MySpace profile, personal Web site, blog or mobile device. You stay connected with your audience via live chat or opinion polls.

What is a channel? A channel is the technology that allows you to broadcast your show. You get a personalized URL for your channel and you can customize your channel with your logo and background.

What is a show? A show is what you produce using your content and the tools such as slideshows, interactive polls and video. You can then broadcast that show on your channel or someone else's.

What is a TV? It's an embedded Flash player tuned to a particular channel that allows you and your friends to watch shows. You can put it on your blog, Web site or social networking profile and interact with your audience no matter where they watch.

How much does Kyte mobile cost? It's free, but your wireless carrier may charge you. Also, not all mobile phones are compatible with In the future, may charge for premium services, such as creating a private channel, or for corporate promotions.

Where to find Kyte:

E-mail Jessica Guynn at 


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