John Legend currently sits atop Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart with the ballad “All of Me,” but he’s also making a splash this week as a tech investor.
Legend is among the backers of newly-launched web video start-up Adventr, co-founded by his former schoolmate, roommate, producer, and fellow songwriter Devo Harris, also known as Devo Springsteen. Adventr is in the field of so-called “hypervideo” -- a type of interactive video whose narrative sequence changes when the user clicks the screen.
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Grammy Award winner Harris, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and holder of an MBA from Columbia Business School, helped his cousin Kanye West found the label GOOD Music and was instrumental in signing Legend a decade ago. He’s a co-writer and producer of West’s “Diamonds (From Sierra Leone),” as well as several of Legend’s songs.
Adventr -- pronounced “adventure” -- is descended from Springsteen’s interactive video experiments with his production company Liquor & Ammo. That company created a non-linear video sequence for hip-hop/alternative rock band Riot !n Paris, using annotations that prompt users to choose the next clip.
Rather than re-directing to an entirely different YouTube video as that 2010 clip did, however, Adventr’s videos flow seamlessly as single streams, with the next “chapter” appearing just after the user clicks on a choice. For example, the company has produced a demo video featuring Legend teaching the user to follow along on the piano as he plays “All of Me.”
In an interview, Harris said Adventr’s proprietary technology essentially loads multiple videos simultaneously in the background, then delivers just one after the user chooses an option. “It’s a cumbersome thing to figure out and put together,” he said, “but we’re trying to make it simple and portable.”
Established under the company name Ochre during its stealth days, Adventr has already produced videos for partners such as AOL, the Sundance Channel, and WebMD, the last of which used its platform to develop this instructive clip. Adventr’s video files can then be hosted by Adventr itself or transported elsewhere; partners may embed the clips into their own content management systems.
Hypervideo has been around in one form or another for almost 20 years, but has never made the leap to become a mainstream web technology. Rival company Interlude, for example, is backed by blue-chip firms Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates, among others; it landed $16 million in May 2013. Interlude produced an interactive clip for Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” last fall, and released its self-service consumer product Treehouse in November.
Adventr has also opened up its platform for anyone to create and distribute videos, although Harris said he expects most users will have some media production experience -- “prosumers,” as he called them. Its consumer-facing product will be free, while enterprise customers can pay for an advanced production toolkit; the company also collects a cut of advertising revenue once ad-supported clips are distributed.
Moreover, Harris said, the company’s data set will prove to be a resource for content developers as well. Advertisers, in particular, will be able to see how consumers engage when presented with specific choices within an entertaining or informative video format. The company is toying with making access to the data part of its business model as well, with a paid reporting tool.
Harris said Adventr is still working out whether its videos can be incorporated into existing platforms such as YouTube, which uses its own proprietary file format and delivery system. In the long run, he said, It could become either an interactive-video rival to YouTube, or use YouTube as a distribution platform.
Legend invested in the company’s seed-stage round, alongside executives from TOMS Capital, the hedge fund operated by Israeli billionaire Noam Gottesman. TOMS is also an investor in Lyor Cohen’s record label 300.
Harris said Adventr is currently holding conversations with other venture investors in the hopes of nailing down a Series A round.