WellcomeMat positions itself as real estate’s ‘anti-YouTube’

Sterner: Upgraded platform 'triples down on reach'

WellcomeMat, a video solution specifically developed for real estate, is rolling out a significant upgrade to its platform that sports a bunch of new features.

I caught up with the company’s co-founder, Christian Sterner, to get the rundown.

The following is my Q-and-A with Sterner:

Q: First and foremost, tell me a little bit about WellcomeMat. What does the platform offer? How large is the user base?

A: WellcomeMat launched in 2006 with the goal of making real estate much more awesome via video. Strangely, our tagline — "Videos connecting people and places" — has stayed relevant throughout the life of our company.

We provide simple, yet powerful, video software for agents, brokers and brands to emotionally connect with consumers and help them find new places to live or work.


Christian Sterner

Today, WellcomeMat has nearly 20,000 individual users (not all are regularly active), and our enterprise partners include such brands as Keller Williams International, Leading RE/Luxury Portfolio, Weichert, ForSaleByOwner.com, Exit Realty, and many Sotheby’s affiliates.

Q: WellcomeMat Version 2 seems to be completely reworked from the ground up. Talk about what’s new in the upgrade.

A: "Reworked" is a good way to put it! WellcomeMat has competed against countless amounts of video offerings and billions of dollars in venture capital. The first era of our company was about building differentiated products that solve big problems for real estate professionals, brands and filmmakers. Staying ahead of video trends meant we were amassing what some refer to as "technical debt" (legacy code). 2012 was the year that we took advantage of all that we’ve learned and rebuilt WellcomeMat almost entirely from scratch.

Through our focus on real estate, WellcomeMat has always been able to generate more views per video than any other platform, but WellcomeMat2 triples down on reach. We’ve further optimized viewing experiences on all devices, implemented more targeted (and unique) distribution choices, made our API even more powerful/flexible for developers, and are providing more accountability through better analytics.

Q: Why does WellcomeMat seem to embrace an "anti-YouTube" role?

A: YouTube is great but not for real estate companies or consumers. The industry loves that video has inherent SEO benefits and social appeal. But, just like any other content on agents’ and brokers’ websites and mobile apps, video can be used to build traffic and audience. It’s easy to statistically prove that YouTube eliminates this ability, pulling viewers into YouTube.

YouTube is still a check box among our distribution choices, but it’s becoming well known that it’s affecting everyone negatively. An overwhelming percentage of views are generated through search engines (the kind that distribute traffic to other websites, not YouTube) and social sites. This means that consumers are watching real estate videos on a website that is not at all set up to serve their needs, and the industry is missing huge opportunities to connect with consumers on their turf.

Q: WellcomeMat was recently awarded patents for video chaptering. How can video chapters improve the viewing experience? Should there be chaptering standards?

A: When we came out, we knew that real estate video would be completely dysfunctional without a way for consumers to find, watch and share certain segments within videos. We also knew that industry professionals would need to highlight their videos so that busy people would see the most important parts of their content.


Screen shot of WellcomeMat video player.

As soon as we completed the video chaptering prototype (in 2005), we realized that it would completely change Web and mobile video for the better. Chaptering is about making sure consumers (many of which are on mobile devices with slower connections speeds) can download and view only the most desired portions of video files. Another benefit is related to search: If viewers wanted to see only "backyards" in North Boulder or "kitchens" in Soho, chapter search enables them to watch only these scenes in a sequence and share relevant scenes with others.

Playing a role in the standardization of chaptering is extremely exciting. You’ll hear more from us in regards to video standards for real estate because video is much bigger than just listing tours.

Q: Has video finally tipped in the real estate industry?

A: You know, WellcomeMat has run a million marathons, thinking every year is the "the year of real estate video." These predictions are false peaks. We saw triple-digit revenue growth again in 2012, and video is growing a lot.

However, the industry is still largely trying to iPhone app or slideshow its way out of quality. What we reaffirmed by launching Pegshot in 2009 (our video-sharing app) is that user-generated content is more about communicating and less about marketing. As Phil Di Giulio, co-founder of WellcomeMat, says, "Cutting your own hair is fast and inexpensive. Does that mean you should do it?"

Consumers want more video and we have open arms for people creating their own. However, there’s no question that high-quality, professionally produced filmmaking is pushing video into the mainstream of real estate. We also acknowledge that most brand-centric people (from personal to multinational brands) want nothing to do with user-generated content.

I guess you can say that our kind of party is one with lots of filmmakers!

Q: The data I’ve read indicates tremendous growth in the consumption of video on mobile devices. Can you talk about the popularity of video in terms of mobile?

A: As most of us have heard, mobile is the largest opportunity for those looking to capitalize digitally. Spending for mobile video ads is the largest growth category in mobile advertising, and Cisco recently reported that more than 52 percent of all mobile data is video content. WellcomeMat’s viewer stats fall right in line with industry averages.

Everyone, everywhere is saying and statistically proving that mobile is a massive opportunity. But, agents and brokers are likely to have very poor results in getting consumers to download real estate applications of their own, unless they find ways to solve very specific (nothing all encompassing like search) problems for consumers in their applications.

We believe mobile application trends are purely in favor of Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and large brands. And, although WellcomeMat can build video into anything (websites, mobile apps, mobile websites, TV — you name it), we are providing and integrating the very best mobile Web experiences possible for agents and brokers, because mobile Web is where we think our customers are most likely to engage viewers.

Q: With big companies pushing HTML5 and Adobe’s ceasing Flash development for mobile, is there a future for Flash?

A: Big companies love playing the video format game. It is likely that Flash has a limited future, but we are really thankful that it existed when we launched WellcomeMat because there was no better way to serve video as progressive downloads (where there is more video file downloaded than a video’s playback requires). Companies like Google and Apple have taken pretty bold stances against Flash (many times in favor of HTML5, which has its own set of hang-ups), but formats can sometimes take a long time to fade away, and Flash is going to be around for a minute or two.

The coolest thing going on right now in terms of high-quality video news is H.265. It can reduce file sizes up to 44 percent, and bit rates by an average of 51 to 74 percent. It does all of this without any loss in quality. Right now, H.265’s main limitation, other than licensing, is hardware related. It requires a lot of the devices’ processing and battery power to render on their screens. But, if it makes it into the mainstream, H.265 will change everything!

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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