Commentary

Co-Consuming Content Comes Of Age

It’s may be a hoot to watch Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, but it’s even better to be howling out loud over her antics with a bunch of friends, right? And who wants to take in a Presidential debate without the comfort of other like-minded — which is to say sane, of course — compatriots to provide banter and reality checks?

That’s the basic principle behind “co-consumption,” which is the driving premise of the Airtime social app that launched last spring and is now pushing to expand its user base and enhance its features. Up to six participants can video chat with each other — and up to 250 people (more to come) can concurrently observe them — while watching videos on YouTube or Twitch, for example, or listening to Spotify playlists real time.

“When you think about human communication and how people have always wanted to be together around an event or a piece of content, it makes logical sense that the next place all of this goes is to connect people digitally around this content,” says president Daniel Klaus. The founder of K2 Media Labs joined Napster co-cofounder and former Facebook president Sean Parker in early 2013 to relaunch Airtime, which had made an ill-fated debut as a desktop program in 2011.

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“It was ahead of its time in many, many ways. Video, especially on the Web, was pretty slow,” Klaus points out. “And that instantaneous nature of being on your desktop wasn't a concept that really existed beyond chat rooms.”

In the meantime, mobile has supplanted the desktop as the go-to digital device for the target Millennial and Gen Z audiences. Airtime might be used by people commiserating about “the night before,” as in this new promo video, or collaborating on projects — a song, say. Or a school project. Or, as is often the case in a physical dorm room, both.

“You see kids coming together … and they start off talking about the assignment, reading material, what they're going to work on, and then throughout the next couple hours someone starts playing music. Then it becomes ‘oh my god, have you heard this song by this new artist?’ Or, ‘this person's coming into town this weekend and has a show, check out their footage on YouTube from their last show,’” says Erik Martin, the former general manager at Reddit who joined Airtime as its VP of marketing in December.

As wonderful as Facebook and Instagram may be to share memories, Klaus says, Airtime is a place to create them.

“I have a great example to use,” he continues. “I have an 18-month-old and I have a room with my parents, and we are constantly dropping in and watching videos and just experiencing little moments with our son.”

The difference between Airtime and, say, Skype is that the room “persists.” Participants can go back to it and initiate a public or private conversation with their friends and family at any time.

Martin makes a point that Airtime doesn't monitor what’s going on in the private rooms. And, like Snapchat, the video chats are here and instantly gone — which fits in nicely with how people increasingly prefer to create and consume their content: no fuss and no concern about muss.

“I get on live video, I still have to think twice about it,” says Martin. “Make sure my hair look okay and everything. But to a lot of the younger generation it's totally as natural as me talking to a friend on the phone.”

Okay, I know what you’re asking at the point. I was wondering the same thing. Show me the monetization.

“We’re really focused right now on building up the user base,” says Klaus, which he puts at the hundreds of thousands. That said, they are thinking about revenue possibilities such as premium content and subscriptions down the road.

Advertising?

“I think advertising done in the right way can be really additive. I think advertising not done in the right way can be distracting,” says Martin. “And I'm not sure that we believe that we've seen a really good example of doing advertising the right way in these types of products yet.”

So the gauntlet has been tossed. Download the app for Android or iOS, create a room, poke your creative team and get cracking on doing it the right way.

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