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Joe Sumner: Synchronizing Crowdsourced Movies

Joe Sumner: Synchronizing Crowdsourced Movies

Photograph by Ysa Perez for Bloomberg Businessweek

While touring with his rock band Fiction Plane in 2010, bass player and vocalist Joe Sumner woke up one morning to discover 450 videos on YouTube (GOOG) of the previous night’s show in Lithuania. Uploaded by fans with mobile phones, the footage was mostly grainy, shot from awkward angles, and had horrible sound. But it gave Sumner an idea. “What if we could link all of these videos and make a compelling movie?” he remembers thinking.

Vyclone, a company Sumner founded two years ago with friend David King Lassman, attempts to realize this vision. Its free program debuted in Apple’s (AAPL) App Store on July 18 and lets two or more people in close proximity shoot video with their iPhones, upload the clips, and view a movie automatically spliced together from different angles. To recognize that multiple users are filming the same scene, Vyclone tags each video with the location where it was shot using GPS. To synchronize the clips, it lines them up by the date and time they were shot, regardless of when they were uploaded. A simple-to-use video editor lets users play director, toggling from one angle to the next with the tap of a finger.

Last year Sumner, 35, began showing off a prototype to music industry bigwigs. “Within 50 seconds, I said, ‘We’re in,’” says Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager, who invested after a short demo. The pair later met with actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher, who impressed upon them that the opportunity was bigger than live music. “Ashton said, ‘It’s a billion-dollar business,’” recalls Lassman, 47. “He said, ‘This is going to allow people to film life from every angle.’” His show-business connections may have opened some doors: His dad is Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting.

The startup is based in Los Angeles and London, and has 13 employees. Lassman is chief executive; Sumner, chief creative officer. They’ve raised $2.7 million from Oseary and Kutcher’s fund A-Grade, along with movie studio DreamWorks, concert promoter Live Nation (LYV), and VC firm Thrive Capital.

Sumner and Lassman see Vyclone as a tool for citizen journalists, allowing them to weave together a documentary of a live news event. Lassman hopes it will become a killer app for home movies: “I can film the kid blowing out the candles and I can have my buddy filming my wife, who’s sobbing, and I can have somebody else filming grandpa and grandma with their arms around each other enjoying the moment,” he says. “I get Vyclone to stitch that together in a multi-angle movie that tells the full story of the moment.”

While the app is free, Vyclone may begin charging for extras, such as longer movie times and higher resolution. Lassman says he’s been approached by record labels and media companies about co-sponsoring concerts or other events where a lot of people shoot video with their smartphones.

Sumner’s band is on hiatus while he builds his company. “This is much more fun,” he says. “This is the new rock ’n’ roll.”


An app that melds multiple clips of an event into one video


Son of Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting


Ashton Kutcher, DreamWorks, LiveNation, Madonna's manager

MacMillan is a reporter for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco.

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