Forget those 140-character Twitter constraints, a new social media application is permitting people to use literally hundreds, even thousands of characters: Jason Bourne, Steve Stifler, Jeff Spicoli, Marty McFly, Jake and Elwood Blues…
Former Mediacom North America CEO Doug Checkeris is one of three partners in the new Toronto-based digital venture Qwyrk Media. The app enables users to attach a 24-second (or less) audio clip to their Facebook status updates, Tweets and e-mails, as well as in messages to fellow users within the app.
Currently available for iOS (an Android version is expected in the next 60 days), Qwyrk offers users access to a licensed library of literally millions of clips culled from movies, hit songs and sound effects that they can use to spice up their digital communications. A Tweet or Facebook status about attending a high school reunion, for example, could include a brief audio clip from Back to the Future.
“If you think about Instagram or Vine or Snapchat, it’s all about finding new ways to be fun and engaging,” said Checkeris. “Clearly people are dissatisfied with just sending text, or why would they send all those things? We’re the people who own audio in that space.”
The app is currently available in the U.S. and Canada, although Checkeris and his partners want to expand internationally as early as next year. Europe and Southeast Asia are the most likely destinations, he said.
The Qwyrk model creates a “virtuous circle” for three key constituencies, said Checkeris: Content creators, consumers and advertisers.
“The creators and owners of the get a brand new and unduplicated revenue stream, a new way of making money on an existing asset,” said Checkeris. “They don’t need more stores or streaming services.” In addition, any full-length music track shared via Qwyrk can be purchased through the major online retailers iTunes and Amazon.
Consumers, meanwhile, get free access to premium content that lets them add what he called “sparkle and lustre” to their digital communications.
Advertising, of course, will be expected to provide the financial backbone. Qwryk is currently embedding banner ads and 15-second video within the app, but is also talking with leading brands about developing more engaging opportunities.
“We can actually create some opportunities for advertisers to find a way to go beyond just the video and the banners and be embedded in the conversations that go with some of these Qwyrks,” said Checkeris. For example, an advertiser could create a Qwyrk featuring an audio clip that perfectly articulates their view on a holiday weekend.
“There are advertisers in certain categories that are into music and have a group of mobile-engaged consumers, so if we are successful they’re going to want to be here,” he said. [Pssst, Coke and Pepsi: He means you]
Soliciting advertisers is a major role reversal for Checkeris, who spent 30 years putting vendors keen to work with Mediacom clients through the wringer. “I’ve faced all the things that I’ve done to people with good ideas, which is ‘You don’t have any users yet,’” he said with a chuckle. “I understand where they’re coming from: Time’s a really precious commodity to both marketers and agency people; there’s lots of good ideas around them and they have to pick one.
“If you’re in the agency business, you’re not in the risk business,” he added. “You’re not in the business of making bets on the future, so all I can say to them is that if it does work, I’ll make it worth your while to be here. I’ll give you a proprietary program that your competitors can’t have. I’m thoughtful of what makes it marketable.”
Checkeris and his partners were initially reluctant about incorporating advertising in Qwryk when they first began developing it 18 months ago. But they realized it was not only intrinsic to future success, it would not deter users. The venture must be funded either by advertisers or consumer – or VC partners willing to underwrite the initial start-up until a suitable monetization model can be created.
Becoming an entrepreneur seemed an unlikely route for Checkeris, whose career in the agency world saw him rise from a media trainee at the former Media Buying Services in Toronto in 1981 to CEO of Mediacom North America, based out of New York, before departing the company in March 2011.
“Not bad for a kid from Sudbury,” said Checkeris. “It was astounding, amazing journey, but by the time it was done I was quite happy to be moving on to the next thing.”
Leaving the agency world was a pivotal point in Checkeris’ career, requiring him to consider whether he wanted to spend the rest of his professional life reacting to disruptions or become a disruptor himself.
“I just think being a disruptor suits my personality better,” he said. “The weekly pay cheques aren’t nearly as good, but it’s a lot more interesting.”