Yoni Bloch is a rock star in Israel, a former judge on the Israeli version of American Idol, and the first person in the world to land a major record deal based on Internet fame. Doesn't ring a bell? This will: Back in November, Bloch's interactive-video start-up, Interlude, released the first official music video for Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," a novel interactive experience that allowed viewers to channel-surf through a bunch of television personalities (HGTV's Property Brothers, Drew Carey on The Price Is Right) mouthing the words to the song in perfect sync. Watch the video 500 times and each one will be different.
Just before the video dropped (and went viral), Interlude released a consumer version of its technology, Treehouse, which allows anyone to stitch together so-called branching videos and create Choose Your Own Adventure viewing experiences. Bloch calls it as big an advance over regular video as TV was over radio.
Bloch got the idea for Interlude when his band ventured to make an interactive video for one of their songs in 2009. It became an Internet sensation, prompting venture-capital giant Sequoia and others to invest $19.7 million in Bloch's brainchild. Last year, Interlude opened a new HQ in Manhattan and got serious about building a business—not just for creatives but also for corporate clients.
Subaru, Lincoln, and ESPN have already used the technology; Madewell created a video in which you can direct a model on how to put together an outfit. Meanwhile, the Tribeca Film Festival has created a nonlinear-film category for Treehouse videos that will debut this month. And Interlude is working on a video made in partnership with an eye-tracking company in which viewers don't even know they're making choices; the video detects where you're looking and adjusts accordingly. "There hasn't yet been a new format that really takes advantage of the Internet," Bloch says. "This is an entirely new medium."
Trent Reznor (left) and Ian Rogers
The Main Streamers
Trent Reznor (48) and Ian Rogers (42)
Chief creative officer and CEO (respectively) of Beats Music, San Francisco and Santa Monica, California
In a tech world that sees the algorithm as God (an article of faith held not only by Google but also by iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify), Trent Reznor and Ian Rogers' streaming app, Beats Music, is heresy—it gives humans dominion over the almighty computer. "It's kind of a John Henry thing, man versus machine," says Rogers, a pioneer in digital music who got his start in the nineties, when the Beastie Boys brought him on tour to tap into his knowledge of the Internet, and later launched Yahoo! Music's streaming service. Pointing to a recent Harvard Business Review finding, Rogers says: "The algorithm works best when it has human input, and our premise is that you've got to start with really expert human input."
Enter Reznor, who's spent several years overseeing product development, tweaking the design, tone, and user experience of the 20-million-plus-song subscription service. "Everything we serve to the user has been touched by somebody who has good taste," says the Nine Inch Nails frontman, who won the 2011 Best Original Score Oscar for The Social Network. "This uses algorithms to present you with things that actual human beings said are worth being presented—'Here's the track from that album that's better than the other 10'—so that you start to sense that there's somebody on the other end of this."
Those somebodies include a network of curators ranging from Pitchfork to the Academy of Country Music to Q-Tip and Bruce Springsteen (artists will be increasingly involved in presenting their own work as additional features roll out). Then there's Beats' team of tastemakers, assembled with the help of music impresario Jimmy Iovine (CEO of Beats Electronics and a cofounder of Beats Music), filtering personalized recommendations and contextual choices through a highly addictive feature called The Sentence—you just enter your setting, mood, company, and genre of choice. (Example: "I'm on a rooftop and feel like drifting off to sleep with my bff to pop" delivers J. Cole's "Land of the Snakes"; choose seminal indie and you hear Belle and Sebastian's "She's Losing It.") "Our goal was to bring the joy of discovery and the joy of having just the right song for the right moment," says Reznor, who likens the process to scoring scenes in a film. Since Beats' January launch, the response from critics and consumers has been overwhelmingly positive, and it was a hit with the music cognoscenti at the Grammys (Rogers calls helping Sir Paul McCartney download the app "surreal"). So far, more than 60 percent of Beats' users are streaming curated material—including its famously intense creative head. "I'm actually looking forward to driving today, 'cause I can listen to music that's in context," Reznor says. "Living in L.A., I haven't felt that way for a long time."
Matt Rogers (30)
Founder of Nest Labs, Palo Alto, California
It's almost absurd: One of the world's hottest tech companies, recently purchased by Google for $3.2 billion after three years in business, makes . . . a thermostat? A smoke alarm? Then again, consider that Nest Labs founder Matt Rogers was one of the first engineers to work on the iPhone, helping hone Apple's approach of tightly integrated hardware, software, manufacturing, and design. He did this alongside Tony Fadell, who led the team that invented the iPod and who partnered with Rogers in 2010 to create Nest. The company has reimagined two formerly overlooked home devices, elevating them to objects of beauty that exhibit something like sentient behavior: Not only is the thermostat controlled by an app, but it learns your schedule and sets itself accordingly, saving energy and money in the process. Nest's long-term vision is much bigger: reinventing the entire home. Rogers is coy about the next step. A refrigerator? Plumbing? "Let's just say we're going to be busy for a very long time," he says.