Snagfilms, the Anti-YouTube?

When it comes to online video, YouTube is the unquestioned volume leader.

Nielsen ranks YouTube as the top U.S. brand ranked by number of video streams. In October alone, Nielsen counted more than 6.5 billion video streams on YouTube, and more than 105 million unique viewers in the United States. Hulu was a distant second with 632 million streams and 13 million uniques.

Upstart Snagfilms is nowhere to be found on these lists, but then it’s not looking to be the next YouTube. Rather than user-generated, short videos, Snagfilms thinks there’s a ready market beyond the stereotypical, attention-deficient Web user.

The lineup includes some familiar titles, ranging from Morgan Spurlock’s famous “Super Size Me” about eating an all-McDonald’s diet for 30 days to “The World’s Best Prom” about a Midwest town obsessed with the senior prom and “Blind Spot,” about the current oil and energy crisis.

For those who follow or are interested in all things Apple, Snagfilms offers “MacHeads” and “Welcome to Macintosh.”

“We believed early on, from when we started July of last year, in the proposition that audience behavior was changing,” Rick Allen, CEO of Snagfilms, told “YouTube has done a great job, but consumers are also interested in long-form, professionally created films. We think there’s a terrific thirst for long-form content of very high quality.”

But it does share at least one thing with YouTube — free content. Snagfilms now has more than 1,000 films available for free viewing in its database. Revenue comes from advertising sold by partner AOL, and a revenue split from DVD buy offers found on many of the videos.

“There’s no advantage to owning short-form content. We’ve found a lot of viewers are using (online streaming) as a sampling mechanism to decide whether to buy the DVD, which is a great way to experience the content,” said Allen.

Snagfilms also has a nice holiday gimmick. Users can bundle a bunch of its free films into a widget for viewing that they can send out as gifts.

Snagfilms is also not just a destination site. It has distribution deal with Hulu and Comcast’s Fancast to build out their online documentary channels. It’s also partnered with YouTube.

“We think we’re a long-term play and believe we’re creating a significant business. That’s what all the founders are expecting,” Allen said.

Those founders include Ted Leonsis, who is serving as chairman of the venture. Another key investor is Steve Case, who sits on Snagfilms’ board. Leonsis is a former vice chairman of AOL, while Case also served as CEO of AOL and later chairman of AOL Time Warner. Allen previously served as chief executive of National Geographic Ventures and the Sporting News.

What’s to watch? MovieMatcher’s got you covered

Snagfilms offers a wide range of documentary films from the serious to entertaining. The “snag” in the title refers to the ability to take and embed the films in your own Web site or blog. Allen said more than 55,000 Web sites have snagged films to date. Films make the Snagfilm cut based on acceptance to any of more than 100 recognized film festivals.

“I think the take away here is that there is always value in some level of editorial selection and professionalism,” said analyst Ben Bajarin with Creative Strategies. “Just like Hulu, there’s a market if users know they can go there for a certain level of quality.”

Snagfilms is divided into What’s Hot, Topic and channels. You can also search for films by title and A to Z listing.

A unique MovieMatcher lets you click from categories like: biography, science, light, technology, quirky, inspiring, women, etc. and then pare down your choices.

For example, clicking on technology shows a menu of 17 films to choose from. “Controversial” is among several categories that remain after clicking Technology. Click “Controversial” and you can pick from a list of six films deemed controversial and related to technology:

“Closer Encounters: Proof of Alien Contact”; “The Future of Food”; “The Final Frontier: Explorers or Warriors?”; “Clone”; “Design: e2 – China: From Red to Green” and “The Outsider.”

Allen said Leonsis coined the term “filmanthropy” to describe part of Snagfilms mission, which includes tying every film to some kind of charitable effort.

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