Viewbix puts call to action apps right into online video

Viewbix graphicSelling a car, home or even an old turntable from 1967? Video is unquestionably an advertiser’s best friend, allowing the seller to show off all of a listing’s best features. But it’s also a slippery slope – it’s all too easy for a viewer to click away to another enticing clip, especially if the listing is cross-posted to a social media or video sharing site, where its origin gets murky, to say the least.

A new Israeli startup called Viewbix hopes to counter web video viewers’ low attention spans. The company has developed a technology that adds call-to-action tabs into the video itself, making it more likely that users will stay engaged without ever leaving the page.

The functionality is seductive for classified advertisers: a home listing can show local area maps, floor plans, contact links and unlimited pictures right within the Viewbix YouTube player. A vehicle listing could do all of the same plus allow an interested buyer to download a spec sheet.

While Viewbix is ideal for third party hosted video, the company’s skinnable player means a classified advertising site can integrate Viewbix-powered videos directly into its online offering. An entirely white label solution is on the drawing board too.

We spoke with Jonathan Stefansky, the company’s CEO, who explained how it all works. There are three steps. First you either upload a video or select an existing one. Viewbix will display all the existing videos you’ve posted on YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo. Next, you customize how your player will look and start adding the types of actions you want.

Every video by default includes a title at the top of the screen; it can be linked to any site you want (the text is fully changeable).

You then add interactive features (Viewbix calls them “apps”). These appear as tabs on the right side of the video and slide out gracefully on mouse over. The apps (there are 21 so far) include calls to a Flickr or Picasa photo gallery; a Skype button for free calling (presumably back to the seller); a text app where you can describe your offering in as many words as you want; a Google Map app; a sign up form for your email list (integration currently with iContact and MailChimp); a Yahoo Weather app; and even a QR code (we guess for using Viewbix on your smart phone).

Keeping users on target is what it’s all about, Stefansky says. “Once they leave a video, or are distracted by something else on the page, all bets are off.”

The technical side of Viewbix is a bit convoluted, but it seems to work. A video that appears on a classified or other website will look as if it’s coming from YouTube, but the actual video and the call to action apps are constructed on-the-fly by Viewbix from its own servers.

This is important, Stefansky says, because the real time build allows Viewbix to track everything users do while viewing a video: how long they stay in the video before abandoning it (or how much time elapses until one of the apps is clicked); which apps they click on; how long they stay in a particular app – you get the idea. Technically, the Viewbix player can track mouse-overs, hover duration and keyboard clicks, though Stefansky says the comapny don’t do this now.

One neat trick: every video view is registered on YouTube even though it’s really coming from Viewbix’s servers.

Here an odd caveat though: even though Viewbix racks up YouTube views, the player doesn’t actually work on YouTube itself. It must be embedded into another site (any site that accepts embed codes will work). That’s fine – maybe even preferable – for classified advertising sites partnering with Viewbix, although FSBO sellers on, say, Craigslist, may be peeved unless they build their own landing page (Viewbix doesn’t help with that).

With video by now part of the basic package most classified advertising sites offer their customers, Stefansky envisions some of Viewbix’s more interactive functionality as a possible premium service upsell.

While Stefansky says that he’s ready to speak to classified sites to discuss how to put together a deal, so far the only pricing Viewbix is promoting is its pure play offering and it’s not unexpectedly freemium. “Pro” apps include integrating EBay listings into a video; the ability to link to other videos within the same player; the Skype and QR code apps; and allowing users to download documents from within the player.

Viewbix’s powerful analytics are also only available in the pro version. In addition to tracking what users do while viewing a video (and delivering total impression numbers, of course), Viewbix analytics can tell where a user viewed a video – for example, was it viewed on a specific website, on a mobile device or on a social media page? This can be useful for doing A/B testing and making decisions about where to allocate advertising spend.

Viewbix can’t yet plug into legacy tracking systems like Omniture or Google Analytics and flow data automatically – that’s coming, Stefansky said, by Q3 or Q4 of this year. For now, the process is still manual – Viewbix can generate a CSV file of all user activity, which can then be imported.

In terms of conversions, Viewbix can track what happens within its player, such as signing up for a newsletter or filling in a form. Tracking conversions where a user clicks a link to go outside the player would require working with third party companies (they’re talking to a few, nothing to report yet).

Other benefits of the pro version: you get up to 100 players (the free version allows two), the “powered by Viewbix” link is removed and the advertiser’s logo can be added. Viewbix charges $19.95/month to go pro.

Viewbix grew out of another Israeli interactive advertising business called Qoof. The overall aim was the same: create videos that can be made interactive. But the business model was very different. “Qoof targeted very large companies. Their customers included Cuisinart and Kimberly Clark,” explained Stefansky, who joined the company only after its transformation into Viewbix. The problem was that these big box advertisers wanted everything totally customized, down to the pixel. “Qoof quickly became a body shop. There was no self-service model,” Stefansky said.

Qoof lasted three years until 2010. Viewbix launched a year later in mid 2011.

Despite his relatively young age (he’s 40), Stefansky has some serious chops. He was in charge of Goldman Sach’s global Internet infrastructure before leaving to join Akamai, where he had a $100 million budget and a staff of 70 (the chairman of Akamai is now on the Viewbix board). A former New Yorker, he moved to Israel nine years ago while still working for Akamai.

Stefansky wouldn’t share with us any exact numbers, other than Viewbix has “thousands of users” with a “growth rate of over 20 percent month over month.” Quantcast indicates the site had just over 50,000 visitors in March 2012.

Stefansky says that their internal tracking shows that more than 20 percent of the viewers who watch a video in the Viewbix player engage with at least of the apps. “Compare that with other videos,” he says, “where the click through rate is, well…0.”

While Viewbix is still relatively fresh out of the oven, the venture capital community is on board – the company just landed a $2 million investment from Canaan Partners and Longfellow Venture Partners in May, 2012. That was on top of some left over cash and a tech foundation from Qoof.

Yes, it’s always risky to get into bed with a still new site. But the service seems tailor-made to the needs of classified websites and the advertisers they’re striving to attract in an ever-competitive landscape. Take a test drive and make your own call-to-action. Viewbix has an app for that.

This article appeared originally in “Classified Intelligence Report.”

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