The chaos of Covid-19 has spawned a Kiwi business idea that could help content creators make money from the videos they produce.
Launched amid the mass of event cancellations in the middle of New Zealand's current lockdown by mother-and-son team Kimberley Ramsay and Cameron Ramsay-Gibbons, Vidzing allows event organisers to sell virtual tickets to performances, classes or shows that they are putting on.
The platform is free to content creators, who have full control of how much is charged per ticket.
The company earns its revenue by charging an 18 per cent service fee for the overall number of tickets sold.
Having endured the personal trauma of losing her husband to suicide, Ramsay has also made the additional commitment to donate 17 per cent of the service fee for every ticket sold to the charity Lifeline.
The entire platform and website was built from the ground up – an onerous task, which Ramsay says was driven by necessity in another business she runs.
"I run an event company that puts on cheerleading and dance competitions," says Ramsay, who also played a key role in formalising cheerleading as a sport in New Zealand.
"We started teaching the cheerleading classes on Zoom and then looked for a video platform to put on live events."
Ramsay said that they found a video site that allowed for live event streaming but faced a number of challenges when it came to putting a payment gateway in front of the content.
They tried a number of workarounds by selling through third-party providers, but a number of tech problems made the experience difficult for both the content owner and viewers of the stream.
"Live-streaming is easy. You can do that through Facebook, YouTube or Zoom, but creating a payment gateway is difficult," she says.
"So you often end up having to pay white-label solution, which is really expensive, ranging from about $300 to $1500 per month. There isn't much for someone who just wants to run one or two live events and doesn't want to create their own Netflix."
It's this gap that Ramsay is hoping to fill with her business. But filling this gap didn't come cheap.
"We've already put half a million dollars into it and we've got another million set aside, which will see us through to next April," she says.
The company already has nine staff members and they are looking to bring on a further three in the coming months.
So far, Ramsay hasn't sought external investment which means they retain full ownership of the business.
"We haven't gone there yet, but we are looking to do that in the next couple of months," she says.
She says the idea was for the service to focus on larger live event operators such as theatres, the opera, the ballet and concert organisers, but she realised there was a much wider pool of people who could use the service.
"Our ideal customer is someone who has a built-in online audience of a thousand that would buy a ticket at say $10 or $20 apiece," says Ramsay.
"But there are also many people who don't have those large audiences, so we'd like to make it possible for anyone to start a video business and build their audience."
After testing the service on her own business CheerzBrandz, she offered the services to NZ Opera after it had to cancel the Wellington season of The Marriage of Figaro last month. The idea was to bring its first Christchurch performance at the Theatre Royal to a wider audience that was either locked down at home or had missed out on the Wellington performances.
Ramsay didn't provide details on the number of tickets sold for that event, but it offer the proof of concept that the service could work with professional events companies on live streaming.
While content creators can make decent money on services like YouTube, this is normally calculated in accordance with how many views they tally up. Given the high level of global competition on the site, you need to command a large and consistently engaged audience to make any real money on the platform. For serious content creators, it can become a full-time job to create videos that actually earn any money.
Ramsay is essentially offering something that New Zealand's comparatively niche operators can use to earn a more reliable source of income – provided, of course, that enough people are willing to pay for it.
"We are for anybody who has content and wants to get paid for it,." she says
"For example, we're enabling Girls in Business to extend their reach and revenue by providing virtual seats at their upcoming business conference. We will be offering a wide range of video content and channels – from the performing arts to business webinars and niche sports."
The only well-known service that's really comparable to this on the international front is the multi-billion-dollar business OnlyFans, which has become steeped in controversy as the website of choice of adult film entertainers.
"Vidzing is exactly like OnlyFans, except that we are the Disney version," jokes Ramsay.
One major threat that will affect the business is the fact that lockdowns will eventually become a thing of the past. Even this week, the Government conceded that lockdowns couldn't be used indefinitely to fight against Covid-19 outbreaks.
So what does that mean for a business that's been shaped and built in the age of the pandemic?
Ramsay argues that Covid-19 has changed our relationship with the internet and she excepts this to endure well beyond this or any future lockdowns.
"Covid has opened up that virtual world to make things a lot more open and economical," she says.
She says that events hosted in Auckland in the future could be attended virtually by people regardless of where they are in the country.
If you have a big artist coming to town, you could live stream the concert for all those who weren't lucky enough to secure limited seats on the night.
"It's revenue that you wouldn't normally get. There's that in-person revenue that you normally get, but this is an entirely new stream of revenue, which I think is really exciting."