After a five-year application process, online video publishing and distribution platform WellcomeMat has been awarded a U.S. patent for the process it uses to chapter videos — a technique the company expects will revolutionize the way consumers find, watch and share videos.
Streaming video is often touted as an ideal medium for marketing homes for sale. But few real estate listing portals are set up to take full advantage of it, said WellcomeMat co-founder Christian Sterner.
Of the major third-party listing portals, Sterner said Realtor.com is the only one he is aware of that’s set up to accept video and serve it up to consumers. Other sites offer "virtual tours" that are built using still photos, he noted.
"If you talk to consumers and industry pros, the No. 1 complaint with video as a marketing tool is that (viewers) are not able to find, or return to specific portions of videos that interest them," Sterner said.
Streaming video has become ubiquitous since YouTube launched in 2005 and was acquired by Google a year later. But search engines still have difficulty ferreting out specific content within videos, and viewers are often left to slog through long-form pieces to find snippets they’re interested in.
Chaptering — dividing long-form videos up into shorter segments, each with its own title and description — "solves this problem plain as day," Sterner said.
Chaptering allows homebuyers interested in seeing video of specific rooms — a master bedroom or kitchen, for example — to find the relevant sections of videos of homes for sale in particular markets, he said.
Although Google and other major search engines don’t currently recognize chapters, WellcomeMat is advocating chaptering standards that Sterner says would dramatically improve the relevance of video search results — particularly when content creators choose chapter names and descriptions wisely.
"Chaptering, when in use at a really large scale, is going to solve so many problems," Sterner said. "The general idea is that if you use chaptering, you don’t have to be as concerned that your content is too long form to get engagement."
In the meantime, Sterner noted, news sites and other websites that serve up video often employ "a completely inefficient" workaround — chopping long-form pieces up and posting them in a series of separate posts so that search engines will see their titles, descriptions, and thumbnails.
Some have also resorted to automated transcriptions of dialogue within a video into searchable text that can be posted along with videos, but that approach doesn’t always produce the best results. A narrator talking about countertops may not help a homebuyer find footage of kitchens, for example.
"It’s not one of those things that can be automated," Sterner said.
Chaptering not only allows content creators to use terms that will connect viewers with what they’re looking for, but enables viewers to direct others to specific points of a video using links in emails, Web pages or social networks.
In most cases, he noted, more than one person is involved in real estate searches.
"Let’s say I stumble on great backyard, and my wife is psyched about gardening — I can send her a link to that particular chapter."
The human filter, Sterner said, "is the most important element on the Web."
Sterner is one of three inventors named in Patent No. 8,170,395, granted May 1 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after a five-year application process. (The other investors are WellcomeMat co-founders Phil Thomas Di Giulio, who recently co-founded a mobile video and photo broadcasting service, Pegshot; and Haider Zainy, now with Level 3 Communications.)
The patent — which covers the use of cue points to build video montages — has been assigned to WellcomeMat.
Sterner said WellcomeMat is "100 percent focused on gaining the most wide-scale usage of the video chaptering and search tools, both inside and outside the real estate industry."
In addition to hosting chapter-enabled video for clients, WellcomeMat is willing to license its technology to others who wish to host their own video, he said.
In recent years, Realtor associations, multiple listing services and real estate listing portals have been the targets of a number of lawsuits involving alleged violations of patented search technologies.
Zillow Inc. recently paid $850,000 to release the company from any claims that it infringed on two patents held by CIVIX-DDI LLC, an Alexandria, Va.-based company that’s sued more than a dozen operators of websites that offer location-based search capabilities to consumers.
Some critics have questioned whether the patents involved in such disputes should have been awarded in the first place, since they may have relied on "prior art," or practices and techniques already in use.
Patent disputes have become a major concern for businesses in all industries, as "patent trolls" — companies formed with the sole purpose of obtaining patents and licensing them to others — have taken advantage of the system, critics say.
Sterner said the U.S. Patent Office has become more sophisticated at determining the existence of "prior art" before granting patents.
WellcomeMat is not a "non-practicing entity that’s going to sit back and not use" its technology, Sterner said of general concerns about patent trolls.
"We view being good stewards of our patent portfolio as a huge responsibility and, in this case, the technology is way bigger than just WellcomeMat," Sterner said.
Obtaining a patent was also a defensive move for the company, he said, because "there are companies that have similar but much different technologies."
WellcomeMat currently claims more than 14,000 real estate professionals and 3,000 real estate video production companies are using its platform, making it the most popular in real estate.
Sterner said the company is growing "really quickly," growth that’s fueled by the addition of individual users and site licenses for entire firms.
In March, WellcomeMat announced a partnership with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, a network of 550 independent real estate brokerage firms, to provide each of its members with a free video channel and professionally produced videos.