Picture this: you walk into Palmetto Brewery after a long day at work, want to sit at the bar, make small talk with the kindly, bearded beer-slinger, and not be bothered by anyone or anything. Above you, flat-screen TVs play short, mesmerizing videos of pro-surfers and skaters riding waves of water and concrete. An ad for Palmetto's Friday Loading Dock Series pops up, 'hmm' you think 'that could be fun.' The goal: In a few short minutes, Palmetto has hopefully lured in a customer who will sit and stay a while, and who may even return with some friends on a Friday afternoon. "We've created the Pandora of video streaming," says Pointa.TV founder and co-owner Cory Wilkinson, "businesses log into their accounts, choose their video 'playlist,' launch it, and then let it run the rest of the day."
Wilkinson, a laidback Lowcountry native through-and-through (and former CCP account executive) used to own Continuum Skate Shop on Spring Street and was introduced to video streaming the hard way. "We'd be looping DVDs in the store and, if you're busy doing inventory, talking to customers, you don't have time to swtich out the DVDs ... you'd end up listening to this 30 to 45 minute video eight hours a day six days a week. I would want to take out the discs and fling them across the room." After selling the shop to his business partner, Wilkinson became a sales rep, traveling across the Southeast to surf and skate shops dealing with the same frustrations of marketing. Because, that's what the videos are for, at least in the retail world. "TVs are the most valuable real estate in the store," says Wilkinson. Instead of flinging the little discs of hell across the room, Wilkinson decided to do some research: how does one capitalize on this prime in-store real estate without boring customers to death?
In 2013, when Wilkinson started his research, he says that if you wanted digital signage you needed to buy players and cable splitters, "It was a minimum of $1,500 just to get your foot in the door." Plus, there were no good content streams (ya know, the surf/skate/snow-type videos). "So I set out to create a company, to find a better way to do it." With a solid idea and confidence aplenty, Wilkinson scheduled a lunch date with Jonathan Abel, another local skate enthusiast who does network security for government contractors.
Abel was wary, at first, says Wilkinson, "He told me 'I know you're going to pitch me an idea and so far any ideas people have pitched me I've turned down.' I knew he was just in it for the free lunch." But Wilkinson was not deterred. A sales guy, he knew his pitch: he explained that you can plug in Chromecast, a $30 stick you can pick up at Target or Best Buy, to a Smart TV, connect to Wifi, then hop on your computer, find the device, and stream content from Wilkinson's hypothetical website. The TV will play those fun, funky surf/skate videos all day in random order, and you won't have to deal with those pesky old-school DVDs. "Let me think about it," said Abel.
The next day, Google made Chromecast open source. In techy speak, this means Google gave the code away to developers to create applications. "We started on [Pointa.TV] that day," says Wilkinson, "Within three months we had a working prototype and within nine months we had a working platform." Today local businesses — including Palmetto Brewery, Mex 1, Holy City Tattoo, McKevlin's Surf Shop, Burn's Alley, Big Gun Burger, The Americano, Moe's Crosstown, Rec Room, Holy City Taprom, and Zia Taqueira — stream Pointa.TV content for free or stream customized playlists for only $10 per month. The content providers, says Wilkinson, are various media outlets (like California's What Youth digital magazine), brands, and independent videographers. Local 843 Productions and Sea Island Media watermark their videos, and they get free advertising in exchange for their content (the brands and media pay hosting fees). All of the videos are between one and 10 minutes long, "We want to deliver as much content as possible in the average amount of time someone spends in a store or restaurant/bar."
While it sounds like some serious serendipity — Wilkinson can't even remember how he came across the Chromecast device — was at play for this to all come together, Wilkinson says it took some time for the video streaming/digital signage biz to catch on. "It's definitely been difficult to introduce something new," he says. "At the time I underestimated how early we were to the party. It's been a slow growth." The company has four partners — including the Recovery Room's affable owner Chris "Boston" DiMattia — and one small investor with "very limited financial resources;" they operate by bringing on "one new user, one new content provider, one new video at a time. We could have chopped it out to investors, our business model and revenue streams are pretty unique. But we want to build it up, we're enjoying the slow road, building growth organically." Slow by their own standards, maybe, but the biz was profitable in just two years. And the team was working with no template, no business model, everything on the "back end" created from scratch. The hardest part about the company's growing popularity is that "content providers want the views and the people who use it want content, so we've had to build both at the same time," says Wilkison.
Pointa.TV started out with about eight hours of video and now has upwards of 60 hours says Wilkinson, "130 videos were uploaded in the skate section just last month." Retail stores will have playlists with the specific brands they carry, but food and bev joints just want "cool content." The playlists are all customizable, so whether you're carrying specific surf gear or you're a bar that wants sweet snowboarding shots, there's something in Pointa.TV's database that fits the bill. "We're expanding our genres to include outdoor fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking," says Wilkinson. They're also expanding their reach. Right now Pointa. TV streams in the Lowcountry, Asheville, Baltimore, Miami, Va. Beach, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Boise Idaho. Wilkinson is hoping to secure a spot in California, the mecca of Lords of Dogtown, as well as places outside of the continental U.S. "We've been testing in Austrailia, England, Germany, France, and Canada," says Wilkinson, "Our strategy since we don't have the monetary resources is to diversify ... we started with skate and we knew we needed surf, then we went to snow — we're not just putting all of our eggs in one basket. We're open to anybody. Anybody can use Pointa.TV."