Do you love multiplayer games? Being able to chat while enjoying the game is something that has enhanced the gaming industry ever since technology enabled us to. What if that could be a norm for watching shows and films? That’s what got Ned Lerner aka Edward Lerner thinking.
With vast experience in the video gaming industry, Lerner has spent three years working on Hearo.Live, a ‘multiplayer TV’ service which allows multiple users to stream films and shows together from the comfort of their home.
But what’s the full story behind it? And what are Lerner’s plans for the future? The founder and CEO revealed it all in a candid chat with The Envoy Web.
What is the full story behind the idea of Hearo.Live?
I was at Sony Playstation for thirteen years. They did 4 consoles when I was there but the PS4 was the big one. It was great, everybody was happy and then things got quiet, because, it was done.
I started thinking about what was next. I love multiplayer games, one of my older startups did one of the first multiplayer games called FireTeam, which was kind of like League of Legends 10 years before it. A bit too soon perhaps. Most people still had modems and there was no digital distribution.
I thought, it’s really great to hang out with your friends playing the game. Why can’t we do that for everything? Not just games, why can’t we do that for TV shows, music, movies and I thought, I think I can do that. Because I had already done multiplayer games, already done one of the first voice conferencing systems.
We just dove in and did it. It turned out to be much more difficult than I hoped, but three years later, it’s good. When we first set it up, it was Talk and Twitch, you could watch games with others. We started to show it to others and they said: “Well, actually I want to watch sports or Netflix with my friends.”
That ended up becoming a much bigger project, we had to figure out how to turn your computer or phone into a smart TV, it’s not the easiest thing. The good news is, after three years, we could do that.
What was the biggest obstacle to get past in the three years?
Well, the boring answer is paying the bills. I’m a smart guy but I can’t do ten people’s jobs. Building a big multiplayer game is a really big project. League of Legends has around 2000 people working on it.
The hard part is, almost always, raising money. There’s no shortcut. Luckily, I have been in Silicon Valley for a long time and have had some success. Enough people said yes, and we managed to pull off a bit of a miracle. We raised $2 million. I would think for a big company to do this project, it would probably cost 10 or 20 times more. We took all the shortcuts.
The shift from the gaming industry to viewing is something completely new. Was it daunting?
Well, it should have been daunting. But, I’m kind of an old fool. I just assumed that my prior knowledge would instantly transfer to a different business. And that was a really big mistake.
We spent a long time figuring out exactly what to do. We tried all sorts of things. The first three or four things we tried essentially had already been done by somebody else and we just didn’t know, because we were new to it.
It wasn’t daunting, but it should have been. The good news is, if you have got the right personality, skills, friends and patience, you can dive in. The good thing about tech is that it is always changing. You can become an expert in a year or two. We were naive to think it would take a month or two.
My view is that the game business and the game experts really are the leaders in entertainment. They have got all the cool toys, everything is always being changed. Multiplayer gaming is a two-way relationship. It teaches you behaviour in a way TV and YouTube cannot. They have no way of changing the experience except play and pause.
Anybody with experience in building big multiplayer games will have a tremendous technical edge on how to engage customers in a modern two-way method. That is what, in my opinion, makes what we are doing so much more interesting than watch parties made by those, not from multiplayer game industry.
Do you plan to expand to native platforms such as ZEE5 or Disney+ Hotstar in India?
I’m really eager to work on Hotstar, and my North American-based team went “what’s Hotstar?” Using Hearo you can get to Disney+ everywhere except India because of the merger with Hotstar.
We want to be the way people watch together. And they pick what they want to watch, they pick what device they want to watch on and it’s our job to get it to work. A part of it is getting the services to work and part of it are the devices.
We started with the biggest ones, Android and iOS, and then we went Mac and Windows. But personally, I’m really eager to do Playstation and Xbox. What the devices need is a fully working microphone, and most smart TVs don’t have one.
But for devices that allow you to Zoom or Skype, we should be able to get Hearo to work on, too. Again, just a simple matter of time and money.
What do you plan to achieve in the coming three years?
The two competing thoughts are; one, we really need to grow, we want to be the leading watch party app. 10 million-plus from where we are today. That’s going to be a huge amount of work. And partnerships. We think if we could do a deal with a Disney or a Hotstar, or even with a cricket association, that would really help.
For us to grow, we want to be able to handle more. We started with 20-person watch parties and now we’re up to 50-person watch parties. And we want to get to 5,000-person watch parties this year. And when we do that, it’s more like going into a theatre or stadium. You’re not alone and you can hear the crowd roar.
We’re planning and plotting how to offer these large-scale experiences, which, all the partners we’re talking to, want big. If they’re movie makers, they want movie theatres. If they’re sports teams, they want sports arenas.
That’s going to be a pile of work for this year. It’s going to be really cool, and I’m really motivated by the cool factor. I love the idea that you can participate in a streamed event almost as if you’re there in person.