Magic solution for video overload

Magisto, created by an Israeli PhD, aims to make video editing drop-dead simple so you can actually watch all those homemade movies.

 Magic solution for video overload


Magisto’s founders Oren Boiman, left, and Alex Rav-Acha

By Ariel Blum

When Israeli Oren Boiman’s first child was born, he ran out and bought a camcorder to capture her first words, first walk, first day in kindergarten. But the myriad hours of video sat on the shelf, never to be touched again.

“It was just too hard to go through the process of editing all that footage,” Boiman says. Without editing, “the video is too boring to share even with my family. It’s unwatchable! People will fall asleep. You can only share one minute before your friends say, ‘Okay, let’s go on!’”

Magisto, Boiman’s hot new startup, aims to make video editing drop-dead simple. If the recently released beta version is any indication, the 36-year-old Israeli has nailed it.

Magisto requires just three steps: choose the clips you want to edit, give the project a title and choose a sound clip (either one of your own or from Magisto’s library of licensed pop and classic tunes). Click “Create” and in a few minutes, Magisto sends you an email saying your video is ready. 

Out of the virtual dumpster

By Boiman’s estimates, only about one percent of video shot by non-professionals ever gets shared by mail or upload, and not many recipients (other than doting grandparents) have the patience to sit through an hour of raw footage.

Social video, he quips, lives in a virtual dumpster. “You put it into one folder inside another folder and never see it again.”

The problem has multiplied a hundred-fold with the proliferation of smart phones, which can take high-quality video (in the case of Apple’s new iPhone 4S, even in HD), comparable to much larger and more expensive dedicated camcorders.

Magisto’s productions are fast-paced and professionally edited. The software adds transitions and split screens, highlights the important faces and lowers the volume of the music track when someone on screen is speaking. (On our test run, the video seemed a bit dark and in one case, the music soundtrack overwhelmed a third-grader playing saxophone, although the result made the boy seem like a pro belting out a rap song from Linkin Park).

Most importantly, the Magisto videos are short enough to share on social media. The company released its alpha version in April last year; the public beta went live in September, and iPhone and Android app versions will be out next year.

Easier to use than iMovie?

Boiman and his partner, Magisto CTO Alex Rav-Acha, are both award-winning Weizmann Institute of Science PhDs with degrees in computer vision and video analysis.

Their technology simultaneously combines facial recognition with object and action tracking to create “a semantic understanding of what’s happening in the video,” Boiman explains.

“For example, if the same person appears over and over in the video, Magisto concludes that person must be important. We select the best parts, post-produce them, and add effects and transition to tell a coherent story,” he says. Boiman calls it “rocket science” and he’s not entirely boasting.

What if you don’t like what Magisto has created? The company plans to release a “tweaking” feature in the coming months. “It won’t be typical video editing. You’ll be able to quickly make choices, the Magisto way,” Boiman pledges.

Magisto is entering into a head-on collision with companies like Apple, whose iMovie software is specifically marketed as easy to use for the average Joe. Boiman dismisses iMovie as way too complicated and “just impossible to use” on the small screen of an iPhone.

Magisto is free, but new premium features will be released in 2012. These will include the ability to download videos and upload more and longer clips (currently Magisto limits you to a maximum of 16 clips or 600 MB, which it edits down to less than two minutes). There will also be different flavors of the tweaking tool, free and paid. Cash could also be raised by creating branded Magisto tools for businesses (right now, every video ends with the Magisto logo).

YouTube and Facebook use Magisto

Others obviously agree Boiman is onto something major. An initial round of $2 million from Israel’s Magma Venture Partners came as the company set up shop in 2010. In August last year, the company raised a substantial $5.5 million from Hong Kong-based Horizon Ventures.

That may be in part because of a deal announced in September where Magisto is now embedded directly into YouTube. Choose the Magisto option, upload your clips and the result will be instantly on YouTube without any extra steps.

The Holy Grail, however, may be Facebook’s upcoming Timeline feature, which can include clips. The market for creating short video productions will be fierce, Boiman suggests. Magisto already has Facebook baked in. If you’re on the social media site, you can tag faces in the video itself using Facebook’s API.

Boiman wouldn’t say how many people have used the service (“when we hit our first milestone, we’ll share that”) although he allowed that there are videos on its site from 120 countries.

Magisto clearly has the baby and bar mitzvah market in mind, but there are other uses: classified ads for items for sale on Craigslist, product demos — even love letters, Boiman says.

If Magisto takes off, Boiman may receive a few video love letters himself –undoubtedly tightly edited to be quick, lively and with all the sappy parts magically removed.