Napster Founders Planning to Disrupt with Live Video Startup

Napster co-founder and Facebook founding president Sean Parker has disrupted the media industry before, and he’s hoping to do it again with his new startup which is reportedly launching very soon. Along with his Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning, he’s working on building a social video service called Airtime, and has $8 million in funding to back up the idea.

Details about the company are limited, but it’s reportedly similar to video chatting service Chatroulette, a company that both Parker and Fanning were involved with before launching this company (Fanning was an advisor, Parker was rumoured to be one). Although Chatroulette’s early buzz and usage seemed promising, it never shook its reputation as a chat service plagued by x-rated content. Parker confirmed that there will be a random video chat function similar to Chatroulette as part of the tool they’re developing.

According to a report from Business Insider, Parker will act as the executive chairman for the new startup, and Fanning will be responsible for the technical side of the company and will act as CEO. The Financial Times reported that the duo have raised $8 million for the new company from Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and several individual investors.

Parker’s involvement in a video startup is no surprise, as he’s been talking about his obsession with the problem of live video chat for over a year. At the Techonomy conference in August 2011 Parker said “no one has nailed live” when it comes to video, and that it’s what he spends most of his time thinking about these days. Though he hasn’t spoken about the specifics of the product, he told Forbes it will offer communication and sharing in real-time, and said “my pitch is eliminating loneliness.”

Described as a “human accelerant” and “idea catalyst” in a recent Forbes cover story, Parker is behind three web companies (Facebook, Plaxo and Napster) and is also a backer of disruptive music service Spotify (he’s invested about $30 million in the company). He’s also a partner at venture firm Founders Fund, where he is reportedly reducing his time to work on Airtime, and at 31 he’s rumoured to be worth $2.1 billion.

New company Airtime is still shrouded by mystery, despite Parker working on it for well over a year. He took a break from the company to juggle his other duties last year, according to his Forbes profile. He is reportedly looking to poach engineering talent from his former co-workers at Facebook, and one employee has left to join his 20-strong team. But Parker doesn’t rule out working with the company to launch Airtime as an application built on the platform.

After Napster was forced to shut down, Fanning went on to build companies including Snowcap and Rupture, and most recently was involved with building social network Path.

TechCrunch reported in October 2011 that the name of the startup they’re working on is called SupYo, but it was later revealed that SupYo was just a codename, and the company will indeed launch under the name Airtime.

While several startups are tackling curated video guides, including Shelby.tv and Nowbox, few have solved one-to-one and one-to-many video chat effectively. Chatroulette’s now-defunct status just proves that the field is wide open for Parker and Fanning to conquer live video.

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.