As startups go, Airtime probably wouldn’t be getting all that much attention if it wasn’t for its two founders, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning.
At its core, Airtime is a video chat service, with a nice touch — it uses Facebook’s API to connect users, which means you’re more likely to chat with someone you know than some random person. Of course, as Chatroulette proved, random strangers on the Internet, while creepy, can help a service scale. So its not a forgone conclusion that people and their Facebook friends will flock to Airtime. Nor is it necessarily written in stone that Airtime will pull video chat into the mainstream — a topic The Washington Post speculated on when the service launched this week.
But over at CNET, there were doubts about the appeal of video chat:
Chatroulette wasn’t the first or last video chat play. There have been lots of them, and none has caught on for any length of time. Cool technology or not, the demand for this kind of service has yet to emerge.
That’s fair. But it’s also fair to say that their wasn’t much of a demand for smartphones before Apple changed everything with the iPhone. Cool services have a way of creating demand.
But what’s most interesting about Airtime isn’t something the startup is putting front and center. For me, the most intriguing aspect of Airtime is that it reportedly integrates quite well with YouTube — the idea being that you can share a video with a friend and watch it together. Of course, there are currently a lot of tools that allow you to set something like that up, but if Airtime can make shared YouTube viewing a seamless experience that could be huge.
Believe it or not, watching YouTube with friends is becoming a popular activity. In social settings, I often hear people say, did you see that YouTube video where…?
On many occasions, I’ve found myself huddled next to my friends around a laptop watching a “hilarious” YouTube video. Less common, are social functions where a friend has the tech savvy and the tools to put that video on their television, but that’s rapidly changing.
The point is that watching YouTube videos together is becoming a part of what we do. And if Airtime can capitalize on that, then it certainly has something good. Of course, having something good and monetizing it are two different things. But down the road, it’s not inconceivable to think that YouTube, Hulu, or some other video platform wouldn’t want to buy Airtime. But that’s way in the future… like 18 months in the future.