Many of the most successful or at least most talked about digital products and apps in recent memory are those that help users craft a story and share their experiences. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, Socialcam, and Viddy all fit the bill.
The newest entrant into the digital storytelling and self-expression space is Dreamworks Animation-incubated multimedia publishing platform Ptch. Ptch is an iOS app launching today which allows users to stitch together photos, videos, music, text, and effects to compose “living media” stories of up to 60 seconds in length.
Raw content can be pulled in from iOS photo and video libraries, as well as social feeds such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Viddy. When content is pulled in, existing comments can be pulled with it and displayed within the final Ptch. Users can select music from a built-in library of 100 licensed songs, with more promised to be coming soon.
The final compilations created by each user are highly customizable. Users can add, remove, or rearrange raw elements, crop videos, and add transitions, text, and music. The first version of the app also includes eight pre-constructed “styles” that when applied give finished “Ptches” looks such as that of a graphic novel, a vintage movie, or a Soho party — as cliche as these sound, the end result is actually quite impressive. Granular control of nearly every production and style element is available should the user choose to take advantage of it, but the experience can be equally as simple and effortless should users prefer.
Ptch is a lightweight experience compared to other video or multimedia products, with each rendered in real time in multiple resolutions. The downside of this is that functionality is limited in the rare case that users are without connectivity.
Once a Ptch is completed, it can be shared within the network, across Facebook and Twitter, or by email. Recipients of the Ptch can consume the content as the sender composed it, but also gain access to all of the raw elements to manipulate, modify, and personalize as they see fit. In this way, the platform becomes a much more collaborative experience.
“You might say to yourself, ‘Wow, this is really great content, but I’d really like to rearrange it a bit and change the style to tell a slightly different story,’” says Leonard. “Through Ptch, that’s absolutely possible.”
Ptch is available for iPhone 4 and higher, iPod Touch, and iPad, and is free to download. Leonard’s team is working on a custom iPad app and a comparable desktop web experience, both of which should be released within a matter of weeks. Thereafter, the startup has plans to expand to Android and possibly other mobile platforms.
Looking ahead, Leonard predicts the formation of a “Ptch marketplace” where users can sell or trade custom created styles or other content for use in creating their Ptches. Right now these are the company’s only discussions of monetization.
Despite its origins from within the Dreamworks ecosystem, Ptch operates as an independent “startup” focused above all else on creating a memorable and value-rich user experience. The team of 20 is led by former Dreamworks CTO Ed Leonard and consists of approximately one-third former Dreamworksers and two-thirds outside recruits.
The employees of the nine-month-old company own 15 percent of its outstanding equity following a fixed amount of “non-dilutive financing” from its studio parent. What this means is that Dreamworks pledged significant capital upfront, equivalent to multiple rounds of traditional institutional funding, hoping to assure team members that their stake in the the company will remain meaningful long into the future. Additionally, Ptch has its own on campus offices — it’s actually a converted storage closet, although a rather large one with a beautiful water feature outside.
It’s not easy to build a startup within a larger institution, a fact of which Leonard is well aware. Many similar corporation- and studio-backed ventures have been announced in the past with great fanfare only to disappear shortly thereafter, never to be heard from again. The newly-minted startup CEO is saying and doing all the right things to ensure that his venture maintains a culture and operating style that is scrappy and innovative along the lines of its less well-heeled competitors. That said, it never hurts to have a rich and well connected “uncle” waiting in the wings should the need for additional resources arrise.
As the photo sharing and social video category have evolved, with some established leaders such as Instagram and Socialcam having now exited, new entrants are forced to find areas for differentiation. Two of the biggest areas of white space seem to be in the simplification of professional-grade content production and offering collaborative creation tools. Ptch is positioned at the cross-section of these two categories and offers users the opportunity for simple, highly personalized, stunningly beautiful, personal expression.
“We are witnessing one of modern history’s most far-reaching and exciting waves of self-expression.” says Leonard. The CEO is well within his right to describe Ptch as a “category-defining mobile app…[that] will empower every user to create compelling, personalized content to share with their followers, friends and families.”