Friday, September 19, 2014
Driving User Engagement With FEM's Video Recommendations
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Can software algorithms help drive more user engagement and video views for publishers? According to Los Angeles-based FEM (fem-inc.com), video recommendations can make a significant difference in how long a user spends on a website or app. Rachel Payne, the CEO and one of the co-founders of FEM, is a veteran of Google, and is taking her experience there and applying it into the video recommendations and engagement area. We caught up with Rachel recently to hear more about the company.
What is FEM?
Rachel Payne: FEM is a video discovery platform that provides quality, relevant video recommendations for any website, app, or content network that is seeking to drive more engagement around video. The offering allows them to increase their number of video views immediately, and exponentially. It offers a way to drive more video views, in an automated way, at scale. What that means for a publisher, is as they add more video ads, the ad inventory can be more fully realized. Most publishers right now are selling out of their video inventory very early in the cycle, and are desperately looking for more ad inventory.
What's the story behind the company?
Rachel Payne: I was working at Google for about eight years, most recently in global strategic alliances. I was running the largest deals in the media and entertainment video area across many different Google products. I worked with the head of each product area, such as YouTube, on how to drive more value for our large partners. I also lead our media and entertainment vertical practice. In that capacity, I realized that there were huge opportunities to drive more optimization and monetization for content creators, as well as more opportunities for audiences. One of the challenges of online video, as you might relate to, is that there is so much of it. But, it's not necessarily easy to find what you're looking for, much less discovery what you're not looking for. We've taken the work and pain out of video discovery, by presenting high quality, curated video recommendations, which is relevant in the moment to a user based on what they are doing, the device they are using, and other targeting parameters. That drives deeper video discovery and merchandising of the best videos to the user.
How is your company funded, and where are you now?
Rachel Payne: We have been around for a couple of years, and have raised a round of funding. We're raising another one right now, an institutional round, which should be closing soon. As you can probably imagine, we are talking to top tier VCs. We have our product in the market, and launched our beta in January. We now have several revenue generating partners, and we're also working rapidly to expand across a wide variety of content verticals, such as health and business. One of our customers is Inc. magazine, for example.
Other people have worked on content recommendation before, how are you different?
Rachel Payne: That's a great question. A lot of people have done content recommendations before. However, I definitely see value in video discovery beyond what's already been built. Part of the difference is we use video recommendations as a starting point, not and end point. We are also thinking about how we can showcase the right branded content t the end user, instead of bombarding them with ads. We're not talking about pre-roll, we're talking about branded content. We're figuring out how to get that in front of a user when they are most likely to see that ad as relevant and valuable to their experience. Another thing about FEM is that all of our cofounders, all three of us, are women. Two of them are really technical, and I have a background in product management, and business management. I got my MBA at stanford, and got to work at companies like eBay, HotWire, and Google. My cofounders also have very strong technical backgrounds. One was a lead engineer at Google for eight years, working on Google Search, Google News, and google Plus. My other cofounder has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and electronics. They're both data scientists, and have done lots of work developing complex algorithms to target what videos would improve the user experience, and add value at the moment.
How did you end up in Los Angeles?
Rachel Payne: I'm originally from Los Angeles. When you work at Google, they often want you in Mountain View, and so I was in Mountain View for a long time. However, I got to set up and run the sales team in Venice Beach, and was running technology for cross platform at the Venice Beach office, because they relocated me back here at my request. I wanted to move back here to LA for a lot of reasons, because I missed it here, I had family here, and other reasons. That's why I decided to start my next new company here.
Finally, what's next for you?
Rachel Payne: We're going to close our round of funding, and focus on scaling. We've got a product that is working, that people are excited about, and where we are seeing great view rates and engagement rates. The metrics are very solid. On average, we're doubling the time on a site where our platform is embedded. We are also seeing really high retention. Users are coming back and watching videos, with multiple sessions in the same week. That tells us that the quality is there. What we want to do next, is rapidly expand the publishers we work with. Because we do auto customization, we're really tailored for each of their sites, and can be embedded in a variety of places. It's not just in the content or on the right rail, it can be in a video or image gallery, on a slideshow page, in the body, and more. It can also have a very distinct look and feel, because we based the UX on the site itself, and it auto adapts to the site it is embedded on. If you look at Inc.com and look at the article pages, you'll see our platform in use. That platform is driving significant volume increase at Inc. even though we're at the bottom of the page. It looks just gorgeous on mobile, and users are thrilled and keep engaging.