Startup VUniverse Looks To Guide Streaming Viewers Overwhelmed By Algorithms

EXCLUSIVE: An emerging startup called VUniverse is setting out to answer an increasingly vexing question in the go-go streaming age: How do you find something to watch?

While most viewers rely on a patchwork of digital solutions, VUniverse, which has just concluded a beta release, aims to be a more approachable and comprehensive “channel guide for the streaming universe.” It will use AI tools, but will also rely on word-of-mouth and human recommendations, aiming to provide an independent voice in what it sees as a cacophony of agenda-filled promotions by tech platforms.

The team launching the company brings an interesting cross-section of experience to put behind the launch. CEO and co-founder Evelyn Watters created the Golden Trailer Awards with her sister, Monica Brady, who is COO and co-founder of VUniverse. They are joined by Chief Data Strategist Julie Rieger, who held a number of senior exec posts at 20th Century Fox from 2008 to 2013; and Chief Product Officer and co-founder Ryan McManus. Before getting involved with VUniverse, McManus was a product specialist at MoviePass, the now-defunct subscription moviegoing service.

VUniverse, whose funding comes from angel investors, will start as an app available on Apple and Android devices. It will surface subscription titles available on services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO and AppleTV+ and transactional offerings on Google Play and iTunes.

In the early going, the service will be free to consumers, generating revenue from affiliate sales and advertising, with a premium version a possibility down the line. It also anticipates rolling out in app form on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon fire. Personalization will be an important component — McManus drew an analogy to the audio world. “I often spend half my day listening to my friends’ playlists on Spotify,” he said. Film and TV titles are organized into idiosyncratic categories like “Weird and Violent Crime Thrillers” or “Thought-Provoking Magic Realism,” an effort to position VUniverse as an updated version of that now anachronistic pop-culture stand-by: the brainy video-store clerk.

Enabling frictionless discovery of satisfying films and TV shows is a bedeviling process for players large and small. (Hulu just rolled out a revamp of its user interface, conceding it had plenty of room for improvement.) Major distributors of streaming services like Comcast and Roku have invested resources into building search tools, particularly voice recognition. But the search process remains, on the whole, unwieldy.

“We created VUniverse because we were tired of hunting through endless titles of movie suggestions and toggling between services,” added COO and co-founder Monica Brady. “Finding what to watch has
become a chore. VUniverse eases that pain and empowers users to get the full value of both their time and subscription fees.

McManus said the company is looking to help users navigate through an era of the “age of asynchronous content watching.”

Watters said the “independent voice” and community of users will be key traits of VUniverse. Rieger noted that while affiliate deals and partnerships with content companies will be a component of the business, “We are on the side of the customer, the streamer.”

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