A startup called Zeality is taking a different approach to 360 video distribution from the titans of the industry. The app was released in the app store with very little fanfare in late 2015 and gives producers the choice up front whether to offer content for free or as a premium paid experience. The company recently made waves by producing and hosting a 360 press conference for the San Francisco 49ers.
Dipak Patel, Zeality’s co-founder, explained to me over the phone that he believes his company is ready to make a name for itself by providing an ecosystem for 360 content creators to release, and monetize, their content that is fundamentally different from Facebook and YouTube in one major way.
“What makes us different is that Zeality is only available to people who log in,” Patel said. “The content is premium….With that comes a spotify model and the ability to havem followers. To see what friends are watching and to evolve social features over time.”
By asking his users to believe that content is more than the easy-access offerings of sites like YouTube, Patel is hoping to challenge an industry that may have become too complacent with that single model.
“If you take the stance that content is premium then that is the single most important premise to have…Why have we all become convinced that everything we create needs to be given away for free,” Patel asks.
Despite his commitment to premium content, Patel leaves the decision of whether or not to actually charge for content up to the creators themselves.
“Zeality gives anyone the option to create a channel for their content. We have also built the technology to lock and unlock content. If a creator wants to give their video away for free that’s their choice. If they want to charge then that’s okay, too. It doesn’t have to be money either. They can ask for newsletter sign ups or some other form of engagement for their content…We just provide them with the lock and key and leave the choice up to them,” Patel said.
Zeality is currently a seven employee company, with Patel and his co-founder serving as the sole investors so far. The company is tentatively exploring investment opportunities but is cautious about who it chooses to join in the mission.
“There’s no shortage of money here in the valley, what we’re really looking for though are investors that believe in what we are doing,” Patel said. “We want to talk to Hollywood people who understand story and production and also to Silicon Valley people that appreciate tech and innovation.”
Patel is currently an executive with Western Digital and is therefore no stranger to the world of content creators and the technologies that make their work possible. For him, the goal going forward is to forge meaningful relationships with those content creators wherever he can.
“Our goal for the near future is to try to endear ourselves to the content creation community. We’re not going set the rules for them. We’re going to create the tech and challenge the creative community to determine how they want to make money for themselves,” Patel says.
From the moment Facebook began putting them in your news feed, 360 videos became validated as a legitimate next-wave for online media consumption. The ability to choose your own perspective, to experience the story that you desire, elevates 360 videos beyond their static counterparts. 360 cameras are becoming more more common and significantly cheaper which means the barrier for entry to create this content is lowering all the time. The only problem is where to put it.
Distribution for 360 video is the question of the hour and platforms like Zeality are hoping to be the answer. Where can both the college kid who shoots a snowboarding video with his friends in 360 and the music label that films an immersive music video upload their content once it’s finished? There is a myriad of options right now, but so far there is no definitive solution to the distribution dilemma.