This story is about an entrepreneur who does NOT want you to read this article about his new start-up, he’d rather you let a cat read it to you instead. We’re not kidding! Freddie Laker is the CEO of Guide, a tech start-up filled with talking animals, from a panda to a puppy that can all read Web pages to you. Laker’s cute talking animals are no joke; they’ve helped him raise over a million dollars from some big-name investors.
Anticipating you’d find it all a little bizarre, we included a video so you can see the animals that read and talk with your own eyes. The CEO thinks his furry Web page readers are the start of something big. “We believe this disruptive technology is going to transform how people consume online news,” said Laker.
CNBC gave him just 60 seconds to prove it. Can he pull it off? Watch the video and judge for yourself.
“Our goal is to try to have you watch your favorite news instead of having to read it,” said Laker.
Guide is a tech start-up specializing in virtual news anchors that come in every shape and size you can think of and some we’re pretty sure you never imagined. If you want your news read to you by furry anchor-animals you have your pick from domestic to exotic, kittens to tigers. You can even have your online news read by Lady Liberty, as in the Statue of Liberty.
If you prefer canvas paintings over copper statues, than an anchorwoman by the name of Mona Lisa may strike your fancy. Leonardo Da Vinci would probably love to know his masterpiece painting can now part her lips and read you Yahoo News headlines.
“It's easy to look at Guide and say ‘Oh, it's cats reading you the news, or something like that.’ The reality for me is that this is real-time generation of video content. Our ambition level is literally nothing short of television,” Laker told CNBC.
Simply put, Guide has designed avatars armed with text-to-speech technology and unleashes them on the Web to read online news from more than 70 websites, including Yahoo, The New York Times (NYT), GQ, E! Online and Gawker. Currently the company has 21 different avatars, a third of them human, the rest are animals, animations, and fantasy/pop culture characters.
To see a cat read this Power Pitch article-click right here
“We believe in a future where video content will be created in real time leveraging all of the new technologies emerging today like text to speech, avatars, voice recognition, facial recognition, social media, semantic analysis and big data,” Laker told CNBC.
After Laker presented his Power Pitch, CNBC host Mandy Drury expressed some concern over the avatars moving in on her territory.
“I’m going to try to be really objective because clearly an avatar reading the news like this is going to put me out of a job one day in the future,” said Drury.
Power Pitch panelist Allison Goldberg of Time Warner Investments expressed concern over how users would react to virtual news anchors.
“Will they sound like a credible journalist? Or will they really sound like a robot just reading you the news?” said Goldberg.
Power Pitch panelist Rick Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated and an avid news watcher, was a bit harsher on the news-reading avatars.
“Personally after about a minute it got more annoying than interesting for me. And I think the pace of the read was very slow compared to a normal speech pattern, which became a little bit annoying to me,” said Caruso.
How do you make money on puppy news anchors?
Laker explained his company’s business model is built on three revenue streams. First, app users can purchase premium virtual anchors and news backgrounds, which in the future, Laker told CNBC, may include famous actors and Internet characters licensed by the company.
He believes the service can also generate advertising revenue.
“Sponsored anchors and sponsored newsrooms, product placement, advertorial content, video/pre-roll ads and brand overlays,” explained Laker.
And third, enterprise revenue, which Laker told CNBC holds the most promise.
“We license our technology to publishers interested in creating video at scale from their existing text-based content. Pricing models are similar to those of companies like Brightcove who charge an install fee and then charge for every thousand videos served,” said Laker.
The company, which was founded in 2012, is headquartered in Miami and has 10 full-time employees. Guide has raised $1.5 million and key investors include the Knight Foundation, Sapient, Bob Pittman, founder of MTV and current CEO of Clear Channel, and Omar Epps, actor and producer.
See the avatars in action and judge Laker’s Power Pitch for yourself along with CNBC host Mandy Drury @MandyCNBC and Power Pitch panelists: Allison Goldberg @alligoldberg and Rick Caruso @RickCarusoLA.
--Additional reporting by Joanna Weinstein
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