Listening to Automattic’s Paul Maiorana on a live podcast, Oovvuu co-founder Ricky Sutton took a punt when the show ended. Figuring that Maiorana, who these days is the GM of Automattic’s WooCommerce, was still in the car after his call into the podcast and that he would be free at that moment, Sutton picked up the phone and dialed.
Automattic owns WordPress, the giant open-source web publishing platform utilised by some of the world’s biggest media companies (and some of the smallest, like the site you are on now.)
Sutton told Which-50, “I called him on his mobile and said to him, we really need to do this because you’re trying to enable publishers to push back on Facebook and Google and we’ve got all the video and you’ve got all the publishing. We can put videos and articles together and we will win. His response was, ‘I’m a CEO and I have people that do this,’ I said I’m also the CEO so let’s do this together.”
Now, almost 18 months later, that conversation has turned into a potentially company-defining deal for the Australian startup. The parties announced overnight that Oovvuu will be integrated into some of the world’s largest news websites after being selected as a global video technology partner of WordPress VIP. The four-year-old Australia-based company uses proprietary machine learning technology to read news articles, watch videos, and match them together, to improve news reporting and generate billions in advertising ad dollars.
Sutton said the deal would be a boon for media companies. “My view is that the publishing industry has lost $4 billion a quarter to Facebook and Google for pretty much the last five years. The publishers have all competed to try and get the money back by fighting Facebook or working with Facebook, or fighting Google or working with Google and resoundingly failed every time. They then tried to go into subscriptions but subscriptions probably only account for 10 or 15 per cent of their earnings and that’s not going to be enough to sustain themselves, ” he said.
“Even if you’re New York Times you can’t build enough scale to compete with Facebook and Google as an advertiser. The truth is media needs advertising and subscription, and anything else they could come up with.”
However, he says that compared to the global reach of platforms like Facebook and Google, publishers are vanishingly small, “…even if they’re the New York Times, even if they are The Guardian.”
By aggregating 3600 of the world’s largest publishers into its platform and then doing a partnership such as the one just announced with Oovvuu, WordPress can help advertisers work with its publishers to match that scale, he said.
There’s no doubt that deal has the potential to propel Oovvuu into global markets. WordPress says its publishing platform is used by 37 percent of the world’s websites with WordPress VIP serving more than 36 billion page views for its customers in 2019.
Sutton told Which-50 the deal gives his business access to 63 million customers, “And it’s (WordPress) bigger than Facebook and bigger than Google by pageviews.”
With the announcement overnight, Oovvuu becomes one of the first companies added to the WordPress VIP Technology Partnership program since their parent company, Automattic, raised $300 million in a series D funding round led by Salesforce Ventures, valuing the company at $3 billion.
WordPress VIP CEO Nick Gernert said key criteria for technology partners included clear product expertise and innovative go-to-market strategies, adding that WordPress VIP vets every partner to identify companies with a proven track record of successful and forward-thinking implementations of WordPress integration at scale.
“WordPress VIP is experiencing significant growth and we’re poised to deliver transformational results for brands who require best-in-class digital experiences,” he said. “We’re excited to partner with Oovvuu to bring powerful video syndication tools to our customers.
Oovvuu, which currently has 14 staff in Sydney, New York and London, launched in late 2014, with three founders; Sutton, ex-Southern Star, and WIN Corp CFO Ross McCreath and former Fairfax video staffer Greg Moore.
Sutton says the company drew early attention from IBM Watson, Amazon and Intel, and later raised A$10 million from Australian investors Cygnet Capital and CP Ventures.
“We track news consumption habits daily and it shows us the future of news-telling will be video-led, but given recent scandals, it’s unlikely that will be built by Facebook or Google. Like WordPress, we recognise publishers and broadcasters have public trust and a burning passion to report the news. Now we are focused on building the tech to bind them together,” he said.
Automattic was launched in 2005 as a blogging platform, it now includes tools for images, membership, subscriptions, and online shopping. Oovvuu adds video to the mix. At the time of the $300 million investment by Salesforce Ventures, TechCrunch reported: “It’s not hard to see why Salesforce would invest such a gargantuan sum. WordPress currently powers one-third of the web.”