SnapStream's founder on how 'The Daily Show' uses his business and how the news business is changing

This Oct. 18, 2012 file photo shows host Jon Stewart during a taping of "The Daily Show with John Stewart", in New York.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)
This Oct. 18, 2012 file photo shows host Jon Stewart during a taping of "The Daily Show with John Stewart", in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

Rakesh Agrawal's favorite Jon Stewart moment didn't happen on screen, but Agrawal was in the studio audience for it. Agrawal, founder and CEO of SnapStream, was sitting in the first row when someone asked Stewart how staff sifted through all those TV clips. Agrawal wrote about the experience on Facebook last April.

Jon starts out with this explanation about Lexis Nexis blah blah and I'm thinking, "Great, he's not going to mention us."

And then he says, "...but that's how we used to do it. A few years ago, we started using this tool called SnapStream and it's revolutionized how we do TV at the show..." !!! so at this point I blurt out from the front row, "that's my company!!!" He says, "That's you? You created SnapStream? Are you here every night? Because we use it all the time, every day. Hey, how about hookin' a brother up with a discount?" Ha! And he went on to talk about it a little more and closed with, "Wow, I feel like I'm doing a kind of weird infomercial right now."

Agrawal spoke with Poynter via email about SnapStream, (which is what he calls "a DVR for business,") how the news has changed in Stewart's time and where it could be headed next. Answers have been edited for length.

I know SnapStream has been written about before, but can you give us a quick refresher about the work your company does for The Daily Show?

SnapStream is a DVR for business. SnapStream allows organizations to record lots of TV ("The Daily Show" has the ability to record 30 TV shows in high-definition, our largest install is well more than double that), watch those recordings from any Mac or PC over the LAN and then search inside those TV shows, like Google lets you search the Internet. SnapStream also lets organizations quickly share TV moments to Twitter and Facebook, so we're an important part of the social + TV trend.

SnapStream has been used by "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" since 2010 and they are in the process of refreshing their SnapStream install -- so they plan to continue using SnapStream for recording and searching TV with the new host, Trevor Noah.

Who else uses your services?

We have a few hundred organizations that use SnapStream, across companies, government, television networks, radio and education. Some of the SnapStream customers that we can name are "Last Week Tonight" (John Oliver's show on HBO), "The Soup" (on E!), MLB TV, Talking Points Memo, Gawker, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Fire, and the United States Senate.

What (if anything) have you learned about journalism from working with "The Daily Show?"

TV is historically "ephemeral" -- it gets broadcast and then disappears into the ether. All other forms of media have followed a pattern of being universally accessible, searchable, permalink-able, and copy/paste-able (if you'd allow me the liberty of creating a few new words). For example, print media -- there is almost nothing that goes out in print that I can't send someone else I link to or excerpt the text from in a blog post. We bring these qualities to television for organizations that use SnapStream: we make TV searchable, making it copy/paste-able (with our clipping), and we make it permalink-able (with our deep video links).

We know that a lot of people get their news from shows such as "The Daily Show." Have you seen mainstream media pivot at all to try and recapture that audience?

We have seen other organizations, some attached to traditional networks like ESPN and Hearst, try to leverage some elements of the Daily Show's formula-- namely very precise acquisition of clips and concise commentary on those clips. Here's an example of where Hearst is applying this formula.

There is one company that I think has cracked a code with some elements of "The Daily Show" formula called NowThis. They reported 1M monthly views in May 2014 and then reported 200M views in May 2015. They feature short clips with overlayed text commentary to tell news stories, and in the format that they've pioneered, I think there are distinct elements of the Daily Show formula. Note: they are not a SnapStream customer, I just think they have figured out something unique and in their success are some elements of what "The Daily Show" does.

What's next for "The Daily Show" and SnapStream? Are you heading onto more of the platforms where journalists are headed, like Periscope and Snapchat?

Well, "The Daily Show" will continue to use SnapStream -- they just recently made the decision to refresh their entire SnapStream setup, after their initial purchase 5+ years ago. So while the host is changing and with that, a lot of things about the show will likely change, it seems that the role of TV clips on the show will not be changing.

Some trends for us at SnapStream:

- As more live TV content finds its way onto the Internet (in part, for viewing through devices like Apple TV), we are doing more recording from IP streams (a feature that we already have in SnapStream) instead of traditional broadcast (antenna, satellite, cable).

- Social TV is becoming a bigger and bigger thing for us and in general-- and we think this phenomena is still in the 1st inning. We think traditional TV networks are still struggling to understand exactly what the best practices are and why Twitter and Facebook matter to their business.

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