By allowing brands to harness the creative power of the crowd, Seenit is helping to democratise the production of branded video content
Images courtesy of Seenit showreel
Given almost every member of the public carries a high-quality video camera on their hip, there’s no question that the way media is produced has irrevocably changed. With 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, content creation is no longer controlled by the select few. Plenty of brands have tried to tap this resource but it has proved hard to commission and curate professional video content from the crowd. Fortunately, this is all set to change, thanks to video crowdsourcing platform Seenit.
Emily Forbes, Seenit’s founder and CEO, is certainly no stranger to the world of video. After studying film at the Chelsea College of Art and interning at Working Title, she moved to Cape Town to work for a company producing wildlife films and documentary shorts. The seed for Seenit was sown when Forbes was sent to cover a large-scale protest in South Africa. “As soon as I arrived, I very quickly realised that the whole community was already filming on their phones and GoPros,” she says. So rather than trying to muscle her way into the action and shoot her own footage, she asked members of the crowd to send her their videos.
Forbes couldn’t have imagined how this would proliferate: in the days that followed, not only did people start sending her film but they also began introducing her to others in their network with content of their own. “With no budget, camera equipment or network, I was suddenly pulling video from a whole country,” she says. “That was the start of Seenit.”
Forbes began to develop a model for a crowdsourced video production company on her return to London but she would be the first to admit that there were some kinks to work out. “I would charge people’s phone batteries in exchange for their video: it was the least scalable solution imaginable,” she laughs. Fortunately, these early experiments gave Forbes a lot of valuable insight into the nature of crowdsourcing content, whilst the initial relationships she formed with brands like Pepsi and Dunlop gave her an understanding of what clients might require from a user-generated video app. “I got to understand what they needed, what their budgets were like and what type of video they were interested in,” she says.
Armed with this experience, Forbes hired a developer to build a bare-bones app and then took it to Collider, the marketing and advertising accelerator. “Collider was instrumental in getting Seenit off the ground,” Forbes says.
Not only did the fledgling company’s time on the programme give it much-needed know-how of finance, team-building and business law but the nature of Collider’s brand partners meant that Forbes had mentors from Betfred, Unilever, Bauer Media and the BBC from the off. Inevitably this was something that proved utterly invaluable for the adtech startup. “In the really early stages, I wasn’t selling to these people; I was actually working and conducting research with them,” Forbes says. “When you’re such a tiny company and you’re trying to get as much validation as you possibly can, that’s phenomenal.”
As well as providing the business with its first injection of seed capital, one of the key benefits of Seenit’s Collider experience was the fact that it provided the young startup a built-in client base. “It meant we were able to grow pretty organically,” says Forbes. One of the most fruitful relationships that resulted has been with the BBC. Not only did Seenit’s relationship with the broadcaster lead to a place in the BBC Worldwide Labs programme but it ultimately led to BBC Earth coming on board as the startup’s first subscription client, something that has definitely stood it in good stead as it has grown. “When scaling up a network, a recommendation from somebody at the BBC goes a long way,” says Forbes.
Seenit has since come to work with a plethora of brands, including Grazia, British Airways, Bacardi and The FA, as well as covering the premieres of both The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
However, understanding why Seenit has proven so popular with its clients requires an knowledge of how it actually works. “Our tech offers a radically different way to thread the narrative together,” Forbes says. Using Seenit, marketers can send out a branded app containing briefs and example videos to a specific subsection of its customers, employees or advocates. Once users have captured video, brands can easily review it, offer feedback and reward the best contributions, before editing within the online studio and pushing it out over their social channels. “It’s all curated and crafted, meaning all of the video that is pushed out is on-brand, on-message and is something companies are proud to share,” Forbes explains.
By way of example, Forbes refers to a video produced by the National Lottery and British Athletics. They sent out Seenit’s app to eight athletes so they could document everything from what they’d eaten for breakfast to how their latest event had gone. This enabled the organisations to provide behind-the-scenes coverage of British athletes at major events like the European Athletics Championships without the hassle and overheads that come with mobilising a film crew. “The platform means you can collect video from anywhere in the world at any time,” she says. “It means the stories that brands can now produce are so much more reactive and relevant.”
Yet Seenit’s platform offers much more than just a cheap, ready-made film crew: the perspectives it presents can offer something far more personal than a studio might be able produce on its own. “You find stories and characters that you never would have otherwise,” says Forbes. For example, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has found serious traction through Seenit’s videos, thanks in no small part to the appearance of a security guard who has proven to be something of a hit with audiences. “Even if you don’t know about the sport, you immediately get pulled into it if you can relate to the person you’re watching,” continues Forbes.
Unsurprisingly, commendations have been coming in thick and fast for the startup. Not only has it won ad:tech’s Next Big Thing and Startup of the Year in the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) awards but, most notably, it was listed as a part of the Unilever Foundry 50 last June. “To be selected in the Foundry 50 was completely unreal,” Forbes says.
As a result, she was flown out to the south of France for Lions Innovation, the disruption mini-festival that forms part of the global creative and advertising conference Cannes Lions. Along with the other startups at the event, Forbes had the opportunity to speed-network and meet senior marketers from some of the world’s biggest brands. “It was a real stamp of validation on what we’re doing and we got some great work from it,” she enthuses.
And it isn’t just Seenit that is attracting plaudits:in October Forbes was listed in The Drum’s 50 under 30, with the judges describing the startup’s platform as ‘something extraordinary’. Being recognised as one of the most promising young women working in the UK’s marketing sector is something Forbes finds humbling. “[The 50 under 30] is championing women who are real forward thinkers and are disrupting the industry,” she says. “I’m so honoured to be on that list.”
But even though both Forbes and Seenit have garnered some serious recognition, the entrepreneur is unequivocal that the journey is far from over. Not only is the startup looking to scale up its team but it is also aiming to automate much more of its tech, making it easier for small firms to create high-quality video without the overheads that come with hiring a conventional studio. “People can now collect video from anywhere in the world: all of the barriers that traditional production set in place are being completely broken down,” she says. “We now want to help startups and small companies tap into that.”