Surf’s up--even without the Wi-Fi

A new app plans to deliver channel surfers their own personal “Endless Summer” of video. Like the seminal surfing movie, the Endless TV app offers the promise of perfect conditions that always allow you to surf.  Instead of chasing the sun, or in this case an internet connection, Endless TV claims it is the first company to bring the solution to surfers: allowing users to seemlessly watch personalized, downloaded content without connectivity.

“We offer two things that no one else does,” asserts Endless TV co-founder and CEO Mike Weiksner, “Offline downloads--that’s never been possible before.  And the second is a demo that skews towards the younger generation, the “cable nevers”.  It’s a way for advertisers to build up reach beyond people who watch TV.”

The app had a soft launch in May, but the offline video option went live on Wednesday evening.  The early returns have been positive.  Analysts say they like the ability to watch video on Endless TV without any data reception bars.  “I love the idea of turning on-demand (video) into a near-linear experience,” says Rich Greenfield, a media and tech analyst with BTIG Research.  “Endless TV is quite early stage, but definitely interesting to watch.”

Endless TV is itself a spinoff from Tip or Skip, a social shopping app Weiksner and co-founder Nathaniel McNamara launched in 2012.  While that idea didn’t take off, the entrepreneurs had created useful technology and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

 “First, everything in mobile revolves around taps and swipes,” Weiksner notes, adding, “Second, you can dramatically improve engagement through personalization, hence our emphasis on the video genome.  Third, swipeable video is very compelling—much more than shopping.  And fourth, most people want to consume content—much more than curating.”

Here’s how it works.  The app is free and currently available for iOS and Android devices, with plans for other platforms as well.  It has a clean interface and the intuitive app requires few instructions.  Simply touch Subscribe and select up to eight different “channels” from a wide array of content providers including BuzzFeed, CNN, Food Network, Fox Sports, Mashable, and Wired with many others already available and more expected soon.

Next go to settings and turn on the Offline Mode and sync the app (which will begin downloading videos for playback later).  You can manage the size of downloads up to 200 MB (Weiksner estimates that could hold up to 20 minutes of videos depending on compression, quality and length of the clips).  You can also turn off the download feature, which otherwise adds new content every four hours, although company officials say it will not download if the device’s battery level is below 20% full. 

A word of warning while downloading, however: make sure you turn off the download feature when you leave your Wi-Fi hot spot, as Endless TV proved to have a boundless appetite for the data plan in tests using 4G. 

Return to the main menu and select a channel (there is also a Trending channel to discover viral videos and a favorites to find your top choices).  Simply tap on a channel and start watching clips. 

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of clutter or controls, video is chromeless or truly full-screen on your device.  In a demo of the beta version, the video played instantly with Wi-Fi and in airplane mode, which many travelers may enjoy between take off and inflight connectivity.  The only hiccup occurred when skipping ahead 5 or more clips while connected to LTE and Wi-Fi, which led to some delays and occasionally necessitated a restart.  Playback of downloads was glitch-free.

Touch the screen to pause, it will tell you the name of the clip and source and allow you options to “favorite”, share via social media, or start the clip over.  The genome works similar to music service Pandora’s technology and Endless TV will eventually learn your favorite channels and preferences down to your favorite sports team and serve up highlights for a specific player.   The video rights are global, which Weiksner says will help boost the bottom line and has already drawn followings abroad.

 Pause mode is also key for the company as that’s where the ads are placed, which can be less disruptive than other video services that make you sit through an ad to watch or take up valuable screen real estate with a banner. 

Endless TV has already brought on AdMob to help with advertising and the company is talking to sponsors as well.  Weiksner says the company is already generating “meaningful revenue”, adding, “Our revenue per hour rivals broadcast TV—and we don’t have any video advertising yet…We think the global market for free, personalized TV is enormous.”

As the eight-person Endless TV cast prepared for the offline video premier, Weiksner says they are well-funded but are beginning to explore funding partners “to accelerate growth”.  No announcements are imminent he said, but they are in early discussions with potential investors.

Endless TV may need a bigger war chest to remain independent or to compete against tech industry giants. “This is an interesting app, though it feels like a feature for something bigger (Google TV or Chromecast for instance),” says tech analyst Rob Enderle, principal analyst for Enderle Group.  “It works off-line which is critical if you are traveling, often this is where most streaming video apps let you down.  But it feels like this should be a part of something bigger, which loops in other types of videos—paid content for instance—so I think their risk is that they become redundant if they aren’t purchased and integrated by a larger player.”

Weiksner insists Endless TV wants to remain independent and that the disruption in video consumption makes it possible for “new, large entrants”.  The startup CEO adds, “Endless TV can lead both consumers and video publishers to make the transition to the era of taps and swipes.”