Mobile video startup tout inks deal with Digital First Media

As many a frustrated PR person will tell you, I typically don’t write much about product or partnership deals. Then again, it’s not every day that my own company inks one.

Digital First Media, the corporate parent of the Mercury News, and some 800 other newspapers and Web sites, on Tuesday announced a partnership with Tout, a San Francisco startup that makes a Twitter-like platform for bite-sized videos. As I wrote a while back, Tout spun out of venerable think-tank SRI and is bankrolled by the likes of Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing and NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal (who announced his retirement via the video platform).

“When we took a look at what was out there, it seemed Tout was really the best of its class,” Digital First CEO John Paton told me from New York.  Paton –  not to sound like I’m sucking up – has been one of the loudest voices urging newspaper companies to embrace the Web or risk extinction, and he sees online video as a key piece of the equation. Digital First CEO John Paton

“Video has become a compelling part of the Web experience,” Paton said. “And to be frank,  it’s much more monetizable.” That echoes what Tout CEO Michael Downing told me a while ago, when he said that while the Web has remained a largely static, text-based experience, that’s rapidly changing. (Twitter itself recently unveiled Vine, which lets users shoot and post six-second videos. Of course, it’s hard to say something meaningful in such a short window. Touts, which can be posted on Twitter and other social networks, can stretch out for 15 seconds — a veritable eternity in comparison.)

Paton envisions Digital First’s more than 2,000 journalists using Tout to beef up the company’s Web sites and social offerings – much the way the Wall Street Journal has done with WorldStream, launched last summer in partnership with Tout. He likes that the product is device-agnostic, so users can post Touts from a variety of different smartphones and other gizmos.

Downing, for his part, tells me that 27 million users have interacted with Tout in the past month – a number he expects to quadruple thanks to the Digital First partnership.

Paton politely demurred when I asked if Digital First is taking an equity stake in Tout as part of the deal. “We agreed not to disclose terms,” he said, calling the arrangement a “strategic partnership.” He did, though, say the relationship was initially brokered by his company’s investment arm, with input from newsroom honchos who’ve already been field-testing Tout in some markets.


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