Creatively Speaking: Motionbox.com
One of the great things about doing this interview series for you all, is that I get to meet all kinds of interesting people busy creating all kinds of interesting Web sites, books, music, etc.
Today, I'm going to turn you all on to my new, favorite video sharing and video storage site, Motionbox.com, which, by my way of thinking, blows the competition away. Started by Chris O'Brien, Andrew Wason and Josh Grotstein, Motionbox allows you to upload/store as many gigs of video as you want, and stream it, as well. (Vimeo and YouTube only let you upload up to 1GB and their HD quality pales by comparison.)
If you saw the little mash-up/film I made and posted a couple weeks ago, that was hosted by Motionbox. (You can find it reposted at the end of the interview below.)
And now, on with the interview with Motionbox CEO Josh Grotstein.
DI: When did you first decide you wanted to create a movie-related site and where did the original idea come from?
JG: Motionbox co-founders Chris O'Brien and Andrew Wason are the true visionaries behind Motionbox. They met at Bellcore (a Bell Labs spinoff), and eventually went on to create two pioneering companies in the online video space: Softcom (in the 90's) and Motionbox (in 2005). Along with co-founders Douglas Warshaw and Jenn Houser, Chris and Andrew realized that broadband penetration and processing power increases - along with what's come to be called cloud computing initiatives - paved the way for a new type of service in which everyday home video users could upload, manipulate and edit, store, and share all of their personal digital video "memories" online. The desktop, while by no means dead, was no longer a limiting factor in the personal video value chain.
DI: How are you guys different from YouTube or Vimeo?
JG: Just as the Internet as a whole did back in 1994-7, video on the web is experiencing its "Big Bang" moment, in which a huge explosion is followed by the creation of differentiated galaxies and stars. YouTube, Blip, Veoh, Vimeo, Hulu, etc. are stars of different sizes and shapes and intensities existing in the Media Galaxy. Motionbox is forming in the newer Personal Video Galaxy.
Thought of from a more down-to-earth perspective, Motionbox is to personal videos what Shutterfly is to personal photos. We provide a very safe, high quality, and easy-to-use platform to upload, edit, store, and share your video digital memories. We are not targeted at professional or semi-professional videographers (however, many of them are attracted to us due to our high quality service offering), but rather to the "chief memory officers" of the family who don't want to learn what AVCHD means, much less learn how to properly transcode files rendered using that format.
Motionbox's real asset is that we have the best HD format support out there, along with spectacular HD quality. AVCHD, which is a common format taken by most HD camcorders, has been really hard to deal with until now. We allot people to simply upload their AVCHD files with no need to convert them first. The results are pretty amazing.
DI: One of your biggest draws, of course, is that you advertise unlimited storage space and users can upload files of any size. Where on earth are you storing all this data? I'm picturing a warehouse-size server.
JG: We use a mixture of cloud and "internal" storage, and our internal storage is hosted at network operating centers. Our "mixed" architecture allows us to achieve an appropriate trade-off between high availability and cost efficiency. This in turn allows us to offer a differentiated service particularly to our premium customers.
DI: When a user uploads a video, what's the conversion process? What happens on your end during the optimization process before we see it?
JG: One of the great strengths of Motionbox is our technological ubiquity. We support more video formats than any other online video service, including AVCHD, which is popular on many HD camcorders. The fact that we support these formats makes it extremely simple for all types of users to upload to the service. As a consequence, users don't have to pre-transcode any of their files before working with us (which is not the case with most other services, especially for the newer HD formats).
We ingest the video source code in its entirety and, in the case of our premium members, store 2 copies of that source code for as long as a person remains a member. At that point, we transcode the video (again, regardless of its source origin) to a "raw", expanded format which then gets immediately re-transcoded into several different formats depending on the user. In the case of the premium user, transcoding goes automatically into our "standard definition" format until the user chooses to play a high definition version of the video, at which point it's also transcoded into HD. The user can also select to have the file transcoded over to download formats useable on devices like the iPod. Net, net --we end up storing multiple copies of each video file.
DI: What about those huge HD files? How do you plan on handling that as more and more HD consumer cams and flips hit the market?
JG: We're big fans of HD, and truly believe that the Motionbox service shines most brightly (perhaps another allusion to the astronomy analogy) when we're handling HD content.
That said, as you point out, HD is not without its liabilities, including increased storage costs and protracted upload and encoding time. Fortunately, the economics of our "freemium" subscription trial model allows us to offer a very robust HD product to our premium users, and a "taste" of HD to our free users. Also fortunately, the cost of storage is dropping as fast as upload speeds are increasing. So, we feel comfortable that we can meet consumer demand without sacrificing on our profitability margins.
DI: How far away are you guys from allowing users to manipulate/alter the motionbox player?
JG: It's something a number of users have asked for, especially many of the more "pro" oriented small businesses and hobbyists using Motionbox. We're looking at a number of options here, including player color customization, and more control over the end screen, etc. We hope to have a solution later this year.
DI: What aspect of the site are you most proud of?
JG: There are a lot of different aspects of the site that are particularly noteworthy, including our very easy-to-use filmstrip mixing functionality, our large format HD player, and our various download formats. However, one of our most interesting recent developments has nothing to do with the "site" itself, but is rather a separate express uploader application running on Adobe Air. (www.motionbox.com/install/mxu) What's so cool about this app is that it allows users to queue many videos to be uploaded in the background without any need to monitor their progress or worry about changes to computer states. For example, if the connection to the Internet breaks, your upload picks up from where it left off and you don't have to start uploading all over again, which can be a particularly annoying issue when one is uploading large HD files. This "little" application enables us to overcome most of the effect of relatively slow ISP upload speeds.
DI: How many premium account holders do you have? How many free accounts?
JG: We don't release financial-related information on the company. However, I can say that we have over 1.5 million registered users and that this represents 6x growth over the past 6 months.
DI: What happens if someone doesn't re-up for a second or third year subscription? Do they have a way of getting their data off your server?
JG: Yes. One of the reasons we hold on to the source file for our premium users is precisely so that the user will be able to re-download that file at a later date should they decide to move their videos elsewhere. Obviously, we'd prefer that they stay with Motionbox, but we believe that if we can't continue to offer them a valuable enough business proposition then we shouldn't be in a position to hold their videos hostage. This is one of the factors that ensures we'll continue to innovate and offer added value to our current users over the years to come.
DI: What's up next for you guys?
JG: We will be announcing some very important developments in the coming months, both from a partnership and a product development standpoint. While I can't say much about either right now, I will say that in re: the latter, there is an extremely robust technology engine riding underneath the current Motionbox platform which has yet to be fully "turned on" as it were. Once we enable some of the application hooks into this engine, you'll begin to see some very exciting and novel video-enabled products emerge.
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