Nowadays, ad blockers are used by approximately 10% of desktop users. And who can blame them? There are enough distractions today that even something as trivial as an advertisement blocking a portion of a YouTube video can dissuade a viewer from watching the video in its entirety.
Uru, a startup founded by three Cornell Tech students, aims to create a less obtrusive native video advertising experience for both brands and users.
Using computer vision to find surfaces and spaces inside of a video, Uru seamlessly blends advertisements onto them for a more organic experience. Picture a popular YouTuber sharing their latest video: Uru's algorithms will find a wall, a table, or the sky in that video and overlay brand advertising, leaving the overall video experience uninterrupted.
“Computer vision is basically a way to teach the computer how to see things the way we see it," explained Bruno Attorre, Masters in Computer Science '16 and one of Uru's founders. “It uses machine learning models to teach computers to understand the world based on visual stimuli like videos and images."
Uru's co-founders — Bill Marino, Johan Adami, and Attorre, all Masters of Engineering Computer Science '16 — initially collaborated on a legal tech product at Cornell Tech's Startup Studio. But Marino, who had been a lawyer before turning his attention to computer science, said that while the team immediately clicked, they weren't as passionate about that project.
Then, inspired by Ernest Cline's Ready Player One — a dystopian fiction set in a world reliant on a virtual reality universe — they started looking into ways that they could leverage the VR trend into advertising.
"We thought : 'Advertising won't go away. When VR gets here — and it will — we have to think of new ways to advertise in these spaces,'" said Marino. “We had the idea of automatically detecting and filling surfaces like billboards and walls inside VR with dynamic ads,” continued Marino, “and it didn’t take us long to see that if you just shift the gaze slightly, from VR to video, there’s enormous demand for something like this right now, today.”
The current video ad experience is viewer-unfriendly. Aside from overlays that block portions of what viewers see on the screen, advertisers rely on short, 10- to 15-second commercials interspersed throughout an online video. Uru ultimately wants to change this expectation when it comes to video content.
The company's more immediate goal is to offer their API to companies like Twitch or Instagram to give users on those platforms a way to monetize their content (with the hope of bringing on major brands on the other end).
“We want to empower content creators," said Adami. “I grew up making music and we feel like we're [all] creators on some level. It's really important for us to empower those people to fund their art.
Uru's cofounders are hard at work to release a beta product by September (Attorre and Marino are working on the company full-time), and they're taking Uru on a roadshow to present to brands and ad agencies. The company is also in the process of raising seed capital.
In addition to winning one of Cornell Tech's Startup Awards, Uru won the AIA Vision Show Startup Competition this past May. The company was also recently selected to participate in Friends of eBay and IBM Global Entrepreneurs.