Amongst the young companies building apps and services at the Startup Bootcamp accelerator in Copenhagen is something you rarely see in such schemes – a startup focused on content.
BalconyTV is devoted to the idea of music being performed on balconies. It sounds like a simple, if oddly specific, concept, but its one that has become a franchise that sees volunteers in cities around the world filming performances and sharing them with the world via a central website, clocking up over 20 million views of over 5000 videos in the process.
From humble beginnings
As co-founder Stephen O. Regan explains, this worldwide network has humble beginnings in a Dublin apartment five years ago. “It’s quite a bizarre startup story. Me and my flatmates were sat in our apartment, and we joked that we should really use our balcony more.” Over cups of tea, an idea evolved to create an Internet TV show on the balcony.
Regan says that the initial idea was that the show would be an art project, filming the rain or the traffic passing in the street below and uploading these snippets of life in two-minute chunks. In 2006, in the early days of YouTube, this was still an idea that made some sense, as people experimented with what was possible with video sharing online. Shortly after the show got up and running, a local band was invited to play on the balcony and the clip became a success. “After that we were inundated with requests from bands,” says Regan – the unusual blend of bands and balconies was a hit.
As more musicians took part in videos, the Irish team helped a few bands on their way to greater stardom. An early example of this was a newly signed but as-yet not widely known band called The Script, who performed on BalconyTV in June 2007. This was the band’s first video performance and in the following four years the band has released two platinum-selling albums. The band’s BalconyTV performance of ‘We Cry’ has been watched over two million times.
Resonating around the world
The BalconyTV idea began to resonate around the world, with Hamburg in Germany hosting the first performance outside Dublin. Today, the franchise covers 22 cities in countries as diverse as the US, Mexico, New Zealand and Poland. “People just contact us and say ‘Why isn’t BalconyTV in our city?’,” explains Regan. The only requirement is that volunteers produce regular videos of music being performed on balconies. “We send them guidelines and a template. They don’t have to be fantastic – if they have potential we’ll work with them to improve.”
The BalconyTV idea is undoubtedly a success. The site was shortlisted in the Viral category in the 2008 Webby Awards, and Regan says its 5500 videos from around the world have accumulated a total of 24 million views. In addition to The Script, other well-known acts that have played for the site include Mumford & Sons, Temper Trap, Jessie J and the Buzzcocks.
Accelerating and building a business
Despite the success though, the site doesn’t make any money. “It doesn’t cost a lot to run except time, and the domain and hosting costs,” says Regan, noting that its main goal up until now has been to cross cultural boundaries, offering a taste of different music from around the world.
Even if it was started purely as a hobby by people with a passion for music and video, surely something that has captured the imaginations of so many could become a viable business? That’s why BalconyTV is taking part in the three-month Startup Bootcamp program.
Content startups rarely find their way into accelerators, but BalconyTV got into Startup Bootcamp on the recommendation of some established Dublin Internet entrepreneurs. Regan isn’t a traditional ‘startup kid’ either. “I studied film and radio broadcasting. This was just a fun idea – if you were going to ask me to come up with a great business idea this wouldn’t be it.”
Still, there’s clearly something in the BalconyTV concept, and Regan quit his dayjob to join the program in Copenhagen. He says that working every day with more traditional tech startups has been a real benefit. ”We can draw inspiration from the tech startups and vice versa – it’s a healthy mix. I think that even with the most technical business, a lot of creative thought has to go into these things. A bit of creative zeal can really improve tech ideas and businesses.”
The accelerator has given Regan and the team the opportunity to focus on developing a business model for the media mini-empire they’ve created. While he doesn’t want to go into specifics yet, ideas around apps, ticket sales, music sales and merchandising are being explored. The real strength of BalconyTV though, Regan says, is its brand which has been built around the world on enthusiasm and good will. He hopes to be able to bring in investors who see value in the brand in order to improve production values.
Internet connections on TVs have the potential to transform the types and variety of content we consume on the largest screen in the house, and BalconyTV could be well placed to capitalize on this development if it can get the right kinds of deals in place.
In the meantime though, the videos keep being uploaded and the franchise continues to expand – another three cities are set to launch within the next month. Whether it can be transformed into a profit-making business or not, it seems that BalconyTV is an idea simply too big to die as long the people running it have the passion to keep it alive.