2006 Hot List: Keith Richman

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Break.com doesn’t have the biggest audience of all video-sharing sites, nor does it offer the most clips. But it’s one of the stickiest, and it has something its biggest competitor, YouTube, doesn’t have: a content filter. Break posts only eight videos each day, or about 2 percent of the 400 submissions it receives daily.

Users come to YouTube largely to post videos of themselves and their friends. Break, by contrast, is designed to entertain even though the majority of its clips are user-generated.

That’s why Break and its CEO, Keith Richman, pose the bigger threat to the TV industry and to traditional media.

“We consider ourselves to be a media business and media platform,” Mr. Richman said. “We have to make sure we have compelling content and that the No. 1 reason people come to Break is because it’s consistently entertaining with high-quality content.”

Break has its fingers on the pulse of what works: The user experience is critical, advertising is essential to monetize the business, users need an opportunity for input and quality of content matters most.

Of course, that’s a subjective statement in the media business. Still, Break has set the viral video bar high because it relies on a pool of users and employees to decide which clips to post and promote, looking for those with the most resonance.

“[Mr. Richman] is succeeding for two key reasons: He’s loyal to and protects the interests of his user base and he’s got unbelievable instincts, which enable him to set trends rather than follow others,” said Seth Cummings, senior VP of content for Amp’d Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator that includes Break videos on its cellphone video service.

Viral video sites have made their mark with guy humor-the dude jumping down an escalator and landing with a face plant or the guy whose friends pierce his ear with a nail. While Break still serves up that fare, it expanded in April by creating a new division to invest in original short-form video and also struck a development deal with a sketch comedy group called Studio 8. The site also hired a director of content and licensing, who is responsible for creative development and scouting.

What’s more, Mr. Richman recently hired an ad sales executive to pitch major brands. That’s critical because ad dollars on the site today come mostly from sponsored links for Party Poker.

Break planned to begin posting content from Studio 8 on June 4, when the site relaunched with a cleaner, crisper look.

The user-generated site that successfully incorporates more mainstream but still edgy video that sponsors will support will win big, said Will Richmond, president of broadband research firm Broadband Directions.

Mr. Richman graduated from Stanford in 1995 with a master’s degree in international policy. He worked for various Internet businesses and then co-founded Billpoint in 1998, a person-to-person payment engine later bought by eBay. Mr. Richman and a college friend bought big-boys.com, the site that later became Break.com.

Now he faces more competition from cable networks, which are moving into online video. But he likes his company’s chances. “We grew up on the Web and are quicker to act,” Mr. Richman said.

The Lowdown

Title: CEO, Break.com

Date of birth: April 5, 1973

Place of birth: Chicago

Big break: When Billpoint was acquired by eBay because it afforded him credibility, connections and some capital

Who knew?

Mr. Richman speaks fluent Japanese.