Redlasso Rides Again

A King of Prussia company battles successfully to find its place on the Web.

Redlasso founders Al McGowan (left) and Kevin O’Kane. (Photo by Barbara Johnston)From afar, it looked like a one-punch KO that sent the upstarts from King of Prussia to the canvas. The mighty television networks screamed, “Cease and desist!” And the little guys at Redlasso, well, ceased and desisted. So much for the dream of filling blogs with TV news clips and providing platforms for broadcasters to get their news to broader audiences.

Apparently, what looked too good to be true actually was. And now it was time for Redlasso to abandon a business model that would help push blogging to a new level and increase exposure for advertisers, and return to being a TV clipping service for its public relations clients.

Last July, FOX and NBC got medieval on Redlasso, suing for copyright violations. For three years, the company had been providing clients with access to news clips to embed in blogs or for use on websites, radio shows and other applications. And for founders Al McGowan and Kevin O’Kane, lawsuits weren’t the answer. Accommodation was. “We were always aiming to work with broadcasters and be totally transparent with what we were doing,” McGowan says.

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So Redlasso worked on a resolution. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 bloggers lost access to, and media experts wrote their obituaries.

Earlier this year, an agreement was reached with FOX’s 18 owned-and-operated stations that produce newscasts. It wasn’t a universal victory, but Redlasso was back in business and able to move forward. “It was a terrific validation to get things done with FOX,” says O’Kane.

The coast is now clear for Redlasso to make a strong move into the future its founders envisioned in June 2005. With FOX playing nice, the hope is that NBC and the rest will follow suit. The settlement allows Redlasso to tell the others, in effect, “See, we’re not so bad after all. Come do business with us.”

And make no mistake—this is serious business. A not-so-distant future incarnation of Redlasso could include a platform that provides the world’s hundreds of millions of bloggers with an enormous inventory of content, all the while providing networks with demographic deliveries that get their product to highly targeted audiences.

“The [goal] is to have a single aggregated source that people know, so they can find, create and share these clips,” says McGowan.

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Redlasso’s fall relaunch will give bloggers access to any news content those 18 FOX stations create. It’s just a start, to be sure, because there is so much more out there, and Redlasso wants to make it all available—in a manner that benefits both provider and user, of course.

Twenty-five years ago, it was all about the printed word. Now, there’s little published that doesn’t find its way onto the Web. The business of providing a portal to the video world is newer and less charted. YouTube, Hulu and others are a start, but they’re generally entertainment vehicles. Those who really want to know what’s happening have fewer outlets.

That’s where Redlasso comes in.

“We want to help media extend the life of their products and monetize it,” says McGowan.

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Ah, yes, “monetize it.” Redlasso isn’t a charity organization, after all. It may not cost you anything to find the video of a guy juggling nine cats and a watermelon on YouTube, but there is a fee to use Redlasso. Better yet, there’s a way for advertisers to access its subscribers. “We can slice and dice the websites that use us into various demographics for an advertiser,” says McGowan. “We can go to advertisers, know exactly what content we have, and then tell them how to attach themselves to it.”

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And for the networks? That’s easy. In the old days (as in the 1990s), if a station in one city did a report, and only a small percentage of the possible universe of viewers saw it, that was it. It died on the vine. Now, not only can more people in its coverage area see the content, but people all over the country and the world can find it on Redlasso.

Sound like a pretty good deal? FOX thinks so.

“We want to get our content out there so it can be discovered by users,” says Ron Stitt, vice president of regional media and operations for FOX’s TV stations.

In being shooed away by the networks, O’Kane and McGowan came off like a couple of newbies in the media business. Actually, nothing could’ve been further from the truth.

O’Kane was with Philly 57 for more than 10 years. McGowan, meanwhile, was a founding member of and an executive with Shadow Traffic before that. He’d spent time in Saudi Arabia building refineries and oil storage facilities, their working in the nuclear-power industry upon returning to the U.S.

When O’Kane left his gig running Channel 57 in Philadelphia, he had to decide whether he wanted to sign on with another station or explore “entrepreneurial opportunities.” He chose the latter.

O’Kane saw that the sports teams in town had a voracious appetite for what was being said about them on TV and radio. And yet, they didn’t have any real way of capturing it all. “It was sort of telephone-down-the-lane,” he says.

O’Kane helped devise a product that let the teams know what was out there. That was nice, but it wasn’t enough—and it didn’t involve the broadcast outlets. Then O’Kane found a way to lasso the bloggers, who reach millions.

Web content searches are based on words, and that process doesn’t always lead users to video content. By organizing, sorting and distributing video, Redlasso’s technology has the potential to take users beyond traditional online methods. Even better, it forwards the prevailing “on demand” philosophy, allowing people to watch what they want, when they want.

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Redlasso affords the opportunity to access previously elusive video and audio clips. Need to find an expert addressing a particular political topic? It’s there. Looking for a clip of someone slamming a team or an athlete? Got it.

In the six months after its initial launch, Redlasso captured 20,000 bloggers. Those, in turn, were sold to advertisers to target specific audiences.

Everything was going great, until the networks became angry. What was in it for them? Suddenly, Redlasso was left with little to do but provide its PR clients with reports on what was said about their various clients. Worse yet, the door was open for some other company to fill the void now that Redlasso was offline.

Their agreement with FOX could well be the basis of future pacts with other broadcasters. And while it may not seem as if the universe Redlasso can deliver is all that large right now, it is expanding. McGowan estimates there are more than 100 million blog sites on the Web—a hefty number of targets, to be sure.

As the number of Redlasso users in the massive blogging community grows, two things will happen. First, advertisers will throng to the site, scrambling to have their products in front of so many content providers and their viewers. Second, more TV networks and stations will want to get with the program.

As the future continues to brighten for Redlasso, the challenges multiply. Along with building the subscriber base, cultivating more advertisers and expanding content, O’Kane and McGowan must discover new ways to modify the process so everyone involved makes more money.

Since this is all so new, Redlasso is in a perfect position to lead the way. That may be why McGowan doesn’t have any grandiose notions of becoming an actual content provider or of starting his own network, online or otherwise. Even so, he knows the Redlasso business model has plenty of room for growth—today and years down the line.

And since no one could’ve anticipated the need for such a service a decade ago, trying to figure out what the climate will be like for Redlasso 10 years from now is practically impossible.

“Eventually, we’ll have access to all news and information content,” McGowan says.

And, hopefully, no more ugly battles with the big boys.

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