Visible Measures Rides Susan Boyle’s Coattails to Viral Video Fame, But It’s Got Something Even Bigger Planned

If you followed news articles mentioning Visible Measures, you might get the impression that the Boston startup’s technology is devoted entirely to tracking viral Web videos. An article in Sunday’s New York Times, for example, cited Visible Measures’ statistics on singing sensation Susan Boyle; it turns out that clips of her performances on “Britain’s Got Talent” are the fastest-spreading videos in the history of the Web, racking up more than 220 million views in the last month alone, according to the company’s Viral Reach database.

But in reality, “The viral statistics are actually a small part of our business,” CEO Brian Shin told me earlier this month. “It’s just what we talk about all the time, because we don’t want to talk about the other stuff we’re doing. When we do our pitch to VCs, the viral stuff has one slide.”

Brian Shin, CEO, Visible MeasuresSo what’s on all the other slides? Shin’s not joking—he doesn’t want to talk about it. All he’ll say is that the company’s developers are hard at work on a new product that will come out later this year and that will allow customers to see more of the information Visible Measures collects about the rapidly expanding world of online video. Listings like the Ad Age Viral Video Chart—a rundown of the week’s most-viewed videos, based on data provided by Visible Measures—represent only a tiny portion of the company’s picture of the video universe, he says. “We have gobs and gobs of information we’re not showing there.”

Whatever the new product does, though, it’s not likely to stray too far from Visible Measures’ core business proposition, which is that publishers and advertisers’ digital media efforts are more likely to pay off if they understand how their content is being used. General Web readership is notoriously difficult to measure, with analytics companies like Comscore and Quantcast producing wildly varying traffic estimates for major websites. But it’s a slightly easier problem to count how many people watched the latest Susan Boyle clips—assuming that you’ve figured out, as Visible Measures has, how to identify those clips once they’ve been virally shared and remixed.

And that makes Visible Measures a key part of the Boston area’s growing digital entertainment cluster, which spans production, distribution, marketing, and, now, measurement.

“In this economy, advertisers can’t put their money somewhere where they can’t measure it,” says Shin. “They have to know what they’re getting. And publishers, in order to maintain high rates [for ads], have to be able to offer transparency.” (Shin will speak more about many of these themes during the “Entertainment Economy” breakout session at the June 24 Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.)

Visible Measures’ top-secret new product is the main preoccupation for a big chunk of its 38 employees, who work, Being John Malkovich-style, in a space that spans both the fifth and the fourth-and-a-half floors of an old office building in the increasingly startup-heavy neighborhood near Boston’s South Station. The office’s exposed-brick walls are decorated mostly with big posters for newly released movies, courtesy of the Hollywood studios who are some of the startup’s biggest customers (movie trailers being one of the biggest genres of viral Web videos).

Founded in 2005, Visible Measures has raised just shy of $30 million in venture funding from General Catalyst Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and a group of angel investors, including a $10 million Series C round that closed just two months ago.

For the moment, it has only two main products. The first, called VisibleCampaign, is built around the Viral Reach database, which is the Web video equivalent of Google’s vast search index. Matt Cutler, Visible Measures’ vice president of marketing and analytics, says the database consists of information on over 100 million videos culled from more than 150 video sharing websites such as YouTube, MySpace, AOL, and dozens of lesser-known sites. The company uses it to give advertisers and marketers a better sense of who’s watching their videos and who’s making copies, remixes, and parodies.

“As far as we know, it’s the largest collection of viral video in the world,” Cutler says. “It allows us to have really broad coverage of what’s going on in the world of viral video, so that we can track not just specific companies but their peers and competitors and how videos have performed, going back in time several years.”

That’s very useful information for advertisers and publishers, who can spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars producing an Internet video campaign for their own sites, only to find that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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