Watchitoo Opens Video Chat Playground to Take on Google+ Hangouts

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a freemium model; up to 11 users can chat with the basic videoconferencing features for free. Customers pay $3.80 per user per month to give access to up to 25 participants and to unlock the file sharing service.

By keeping prices within reach for small businesses and making the controls simple, Zarom hopes Playground can win over users from Google+ Hangouts, which lets up to 10 friends video chat together for free and share their conversations. Though Playground does not have its own social network, the platform can connect to Facebook and Twitter and is integrated with YouTube.

Taking on Google may sound overly ambitious, but Playground’s big brother Watchitoo has been used by “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Dr. Phil” television programs to communicate with the shows’ fans. Zarom says the focus on commercial use helps set Playground apart from its rivals. Google+ Hangouts “competes against us in different segments,” Zarom says. “We are geared more towards business than consumers.” Playground also has cash and experience to support its efforts.

Zarom previously founded eXalink, a developer of a platform for delivering Web content to mobile devices, which he sold in 2000 to Comverse Technology in a stock deal worth some $500 million. He established Decima Ventures in 2001 and then founded Watchitoo in 2007 with $10 million from that venture fund. Zarom says he is considering raising another funding round to help Watchitoo hire more staff and expand into new territory.

The idea for Watchitoo, and by extension Playground, emerged from Zarom’s dissatisfaction with the incumbent videoconferencing services. He wanted to improve the interaction between the people communicating onscreen with each other. “I was trying to use Skype but it didn’t have features to share things in real time like watching the same YouTube video,” he says. “I was trying to create a platform that served this purpose.”

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