Fairfax-inspired start-up creates video, AI media technology

By Marek Miller


Lodz, Poland


During the European News Media Conference, Ricky Sutton, founder and CEO at Oovvuu, shared a story about how journalism led him to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help repatriate billions of dollars from Facebook and Google to journalists and broadcasters whose content can be found there.

In 2009, Fairfax Media was already deep into video, Sutton explained. It had 22 journalists on board, was delivering thousands of videos, and brought in millions of dollars. Unfortunately, at that time video didn't make sense commercially -- the cost was higher than income.

Ricky Sutton, founder and CEO at Oovvu, describes how his time at Fairfax Media spurred his passion for video, AI.
Ricky Sutton, founder and CEO at Oovvu, describes how his time at Fairfax Media spurred his passion for video, AI.

When Sutton joined the team, his only goal was to make its short-form videos profitable. He agreed to the job on one condition: If successful, he would be allowed to experiment with long-form videos.

Two years later, short-form video journalism broke even for Fairfax, and Sutton could finally focus on what really interested him. It would mean venturing into new territory: neither he nor anyone at the company knew whether people would watch long-form videos embedded in articles, nor did anyone know how an audience would react to the form.

In 2014, the numbers were still growing at Fairfax. Every year, 4,000 shows were being produced by 144 providers in 63 genres, Sutton reported. A total of 250,000 viewers were generating more than US$1 million in revenue. Though 80% of videos produced were short-form, it was the long-form structure that guaranteed 100% profitability.

This is when a pivot happened, he explained. Impressed with the company’s success, video providers started to call Fairfax. Global brands like CNN and Al Jazeera reached out to ask for Fairfax’s expertise, and the company realised there was a  demand for its services.

Oovvuu was born. The company started delivering video to audiences -- regardless of location. Statistics showed the average time spent with a video was more than 12 minutes, which meant some viewers would watch a 50-minute documentary to the very end. Ultimately, Sutton said he realised people will invest time if the content is contextual and of good quality.

With nine million viewers, 5,000 shows, 144 providers, and 68 genres, the revenue kept growing in 2015. Ooyala, which offers online video analytics and monetisation solutions, and Brightcove (another video start-up) became partners, and Oovvuu built technology to easily distribute its content to any online platform.

Then the second pivot happened, Sutton said. Oovvuu created technology that could “read” the stories and “understand” the videos so the two could be merged at the potential rate of 500 per hour. A Fairfax employee responsible for the task had been able to process 40 a day, generating US$1.5 million. Sutton asked the attendees to imagine the revenue potential.

In 2016, word spread further. Videos from Oovvuu came from 143 countries. The revenue kept growing and new partners like IBM, Amazon, and Facebook appeared. IBM gave Oovvuu money to tech its Watson technology how video works. Amazon and Facebook were interested as well.

“We were not sure if Facebook is a friend or not. We let them in just to learn what they are doing,” Sutton said.

Another milestone happened this year when became part of the process, allowing the technology to speed through stories from 143 countries and 100,000 publishers at a rate of 300,000 per hour. The potential revenue over two years is US$105 billion.

According to Sutton, four things are true:

  1. One billion people are consuming video every day, and they want more.
  2. Publishers need more video to meet current demand, and there will be a need for more in the future.
  3. Broadcasters have great shows and want global, instant, ubiquitous distribution.
  4. Advertisers want brand safety and scale they don’t get from Facebook or Google.

AI is free to consumers, publishers, and broadcasters alike, with broadcasters having already committed to it on an unprecedented scale. In closing, Sutton commended its potential for helping them all, but particularly those who publish journalism, distribute their content in better and more immersive ways. 

About Marek Miller

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