Apple (AAPL) iPhone users are a growing and vocal audience, that's for sure. But the focus of the companies being built around the platform is simply too marginal for them to become successful standalone businesses over the long term. Take mDialog, a Toronto-based startup that aims to help video makers share their personal and professional clips on various platforms, most prominently the iPhone and AppleTV.
The three-year-old company's strength is clearly its design—its iPhone app is lovely. But it's just that, an app whose use is limited to the iPhone; mDialog doesn't offer anything close to the feature set of a full video content management system. CEO Greg Philpott agreed with us during a recent in-person interview that any serious user would have to employ a different vendor to manage most of its Web video distribution, and mDialog as its iPhone distribution provider.
Originally, mDialog was formed to make interactive online fiction, but that wasn't a great business, Philpott said, so it took its polling software—which overlays onto videos while they're playing—and turned it into this platform. It also raised a hefty angel round of $3 million from Canadian investors Arthur Labatt, heir to the Labatt brewing fortune, and his wife, Sonia, in August 2007. The mDialog platform's special features include the aforementioned polling as well as geo-tagging for video, support for high-definition uploads, video encoding from a Safari browser plug-in, and detailed iPhone viewing statistics. At Macworld this month the company introduced ad insertion.
Real Revenue Out There?
So who does Philpott expect to buy this product? There's a $49.99 version that gives you 50GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth a month. But that's supposedly intended for small-time users who want to distribute their videos with family and friends. Anyone who wanted to view the videos would have to download the mDialog app onto their own iPhones—not exactly a low-impact process.
I don't think there's much of an opportunity there, but Philpott said he thinks there's real revenue to be made, especially with corporate clients. Customers range from Velez Capital Management to French Maid TV (which was presumably a barter arrangement, since the show made a commercial for mDialog).
Still, mobile video delivery is not something every white-label video provider offers, so I wouldn't say mDialog is completely crazy. Brightcove, for instance, pushes mobile delivery to partners like Azuki and Transpera. And last year, video provider KIT Digital acquired Kamera, a mobile video company.
But mDialog isn't focused on mobile video—it's focused on iPhone video. And that just seems like too small of a market sliver to ever find any real success.