- Sean Parker’s video chat app Airtime is attracting a following in its second incarnation. The company’s president says millions of people are using the app to virtually hang out and watch content together. Original shows are a “gigantic opportunity” down the road.
The video chat app was launched by Napster cofounder and former Facebook president Sean Parker with massive fanfare in 2012, only to disappear just as quickly.
But it was reborn last year as a group video viewing/social product, and Airtime now has “has millions of users,” according to president Daniel Klaus, who joined the company in 2013 following the initial product’s shutdown. According to Klaus, every night “thousands or rooms light up with three to five people, and they hang out and sit and watch videos together.”
That’s the basic idea of Airtime. Think of Skype or Facetime, but with groups of friends talking to each other, and seeing each others faces in virtual rooms all via their smartphones. And besides talking, friends can share videos from YouTube or playlists from Spotify on Airtime, letting everybody hang out and experience the content together.
Since rebooting last year, Klaus told Business Insider that Airtime has proven particularly popular among teens and college kids, though he predicts the behavior will soon become universal. Currently the average user spends more than 15 minutes a day on Airtime and roughly an hour a month co-consuming content. The biggest Airtime fans come back seven times a day.
“Sean Parker has always had this vision that the next wave of the internet was going to be about being together,” said Klaus. “The next whole phase of growth we’ll see is that you can be in real time with real people.”
Parker – famously portrayed by Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network” – may have been a bit early in his vision. Back in 2012, the original Airtime rolled out with a splashy, celebrity-filled launch featuring the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Snoop Dogg. But the product, which was at the time was likened to Chatroullette, fell flat among consumers.
Klaus said that 2012 was so long ago in terms of the evolution of social media, and more importantly mobile, that it’s a completely different era.
Now he thinks the world, particularly young people, are ready. “Humans have sought to replicate real world communications on digital since the beginning of time,” he said. “They crave that.”
And they’re not getting that from existing social media, he added. “I think Facebook is one of the great social products of our time, and one of the great social tragedies or our time. Kids feel bored and lonely. You have 500 friends and you don’t really know anyone.”
But as apps like the popular Houseparty have proven, group video chat is gaining steam. So much so that Facebook is actively looking to co-opt the trend, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Denisia Milas, a 21-year old college student from Arizona, said she spotted an ad on Instagram for Airtime two months ago and decided to download it after another group chat app her friends had been using proved glitchy.
Now, roughly twice a week she and her friends watch YouTube videos on Airtime, including one featuring her getting her head shaved. Milas said watching her friends reactions are sometimes as fun as the videos themselves
“It’s almost like we are all together,” she said.
That’s the idea.
Airtime still doesn’t have a revenue model. The company is kicking around ideas for monetization, including potential subscription offerings and microtransactions, said Klaus.
“We have the most sophisticated video engineering team that exists outside of Facebook and Google in North America,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time watching how people use video. I don’t believe anybody has figured out an ad unit in live mobile video.”
Still, Airtime is also exploring original content. “We think that’s a gigantic opportunity,” said Klaus, who noted that MTV is trying to revive its former live music show “Total Request Live.” “Our platform is where that kind of show should exist,” he said. “Those kids don’t even know what MTV is.”