The innovative start-up is a potentially market-changing spinoff of SRI Ventures
Entrepreneur Atul Phadnis saw the future of global video licensing transactions.
He then teamed up with SRI Ventures, the venture arm of SRI International, to build proprietary AI-infused technology that’s poised to create that future.
The result is Vitrina AI, a global video content platform that targets worldwide content transactions to make them faster, vastly more efficient, and intelligent. Set to launch later this year, Vitrina AI will serve as an online SaaS platform designed to help content buyers, sellers, indies and ancillary services buy and sell video content across geographies.
“Even though the video content industry is increasingly global, there is no worldwide system or platform to connect buyers and sellers, let alone to enable buyers to source content that meets their needs,” says Manish Kothari, president of SRI International. “Vitrina is the only company applying AI technologies to solve major transactional problems in this industry in this manner.”
An insider’s vision
Phadnis is a born entrepreneur and innovator who has focused his ample talents on using metadata and advanced tech to pioneer innovations in the entertainment field.
In 2006, he founded What’s-ON. The venture-backed startup was one of Asia’s biggest electronic program guide and TV content search companies until 2014. That’s when Phadnis sold to Gracenote, a global provider of entertainment metadata and search technology. Three years later, in 2017, Phadnis was part of the Gracenote leadership team during that company’s acquisition by Nielsen (NLSN, S&P-500) for US$ 560 million.
While next serving as chief content officer at Gracenote, Phadnis realized a seachange occur in the marketplace. Digital and streaming became mainstream methods of content distribution. As a result, prime and popular content was no longer bound by geography, as the restraints of cable and telecommunications territories were removed. Now, content could be accessed almost anywhere worldwide via the Internet.
But even as video streaming has overtaken other forms of distribution, the process of licensing video content across borders has remained complicated and inefficient — an expensive, time-consuming, labor-intensive process that can sometimes take more than 100 days, Phadnis says.
“As I witnessed the incredible global streaming wave in the entertainment sector as an industry insider, the ‘idea-penny’ dropped,” Phadnis says. “I realized there was an amazing opportunity to reduce the timeline of licensing transactions to a fraction of their current realities, while also increasing the variety of options for buyers and expanding the client base and client access to the creators and sellers.”
SRI Ventures’ essential input
To turn that opportunity into a viable business, Phadnis teamed up with SRI Ventures, where he became a resident entrepreneur in May 2019.
For more than a year now, Phadnis has collaborated closely with experts in different disciplines at SRI Ventures. The upshot is that Vitrina’s proprietary platform is being powered with the help of SRI intellectual properties in the areas of text analytics, search + recommendation engines, and video analytics.
“SRI Ventures provided a great environment to debate the initial ideas and to meet other entrepreneurs and early-stage startup experts,” says Phadnis, who was attracted, in part, to SRI Ventures by its history of launching spinoffs with a total market capitalization that exceeds $20 billion, including household names like Siri. “SRI also gave access to their scientist teams, who in turn showcased different IPs and software systems that could be cross-utilized or cross-purposed for use in the Vitrina stack for the entertainment industry.”
For instance, Phadnis praised SRI’s San Diego-based John Niekrasz, Advanced Analytics Technical Manager at SRI’s Artificial Intelligence center, whose work on natural language processing is proving vital to powering the Vitrina platform. There’s also been excellent input from SRI’s Princeton-based Ajay Divakaran and his team; they’ve provided instrumental contributions on multimodal recommendation engines and video analytics.
“That’s the really clever part of being partnered with SRI Ventures — that we’ve been able to use the great work that’s being done by different teams in different locations and bring it together into one venture, one platform,” says Phadnis.
‘The real secret sauce’
As Phadnis explains, all the backend innovation will empower revolutionary improvements in the realm of video licensing transactions. Using AI, machine learning and natural language processing, Vitrina will greatly simplify the difficulties and complications of transactions that arise from nomenclatures, legalities and processes that vary in different parts of the world. Searching and finding content/content partners will be made easier.
“AI and NLP can be applied to each of these issues using our access to industry pain-points, algorithm training aids and domain experts as trainers,” Phadnis elucidates.
But just what might Vitrina look like in action?
Here’s an example: Say there’s a studio that creates video content, but it’s a small enterprise that doesn’t have a lot of details about the content — a data-scarce entity. That hinders the studio’s ability to get its content distributed and for buyers who could benefit from distributing that content from finding it and efficiently licensing it.
Vitrina proposes to erase those problems, however, by combining techniques from natural language processing, machine learning and video analytics to stich up gaps that exist in such studios’ data, thereby by better showcasing the studio to buyers in search of what it produces and ultimately helping to facilitate a licensing transaction.
Says Phadnis: “That’s the real secret sauce — a very exciting and fascinating aspect of what we are doing with SRI on video analytics and how we are using our domain expertise to create something uniquely valuable.”
The COVID consideration & beyond
Vitrina appears to be coming along at a particularly timely moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted societies across the globe, both increasing consumer demand for streamed content and preventing a lot of the face-to-face interaction that might typically have transpired in licensing transactions. Vitrina presents a remedy for overcoming challenges presented by both phenomena.
“The crisis has really put the pain points and inefficiencies in traditional transactions in your face,” says Phadnis. “Streaming is up. Large user groups are consuming more and more content, but the rate at which content is being consumed is exceeding the amount of content coming onto platforms. Vitrina can help bring those numbers in line.”
Clearly, people in the know think Vitrina is doing something special. Angel investors include Shutterstock founder/executive chairman Jon Oringer and Thomas Hughes, an experienced entertainment executive specializing in international distribution at both Lionsgate and MGM.
“Global streaming giants are slugging it out for user acquisition and subsequent growth with localized, original content,” explains Hughes. “Simultaneously, majors are holding back content for their own D2C efforts. Smaller, indie, and boutique studios are ready, willing, and able to satisfy the demand, but connecting sellers with the right buyers is an issue. Vitrina is poised to solve this challenge with an incredibly unique product that I cannot wait for the industry to see.”