×

Boxee Founder Avner Ronen Launches Public, an App to Broadcast Text Chats (EXCLUSIVE)

For eight long years, Avner Ronen tried to reinvent television with his consumer electronics startup Boxee. Now, Ronen is back with Public, a messaging startup that aims to rethink broadcasting itself as a text medium, complete with Gifs and emoji to boot.

“I believe messaging could be a third medium for broadcasting conversations,” Ronen told Variety during an interview this week. “It’s been around for decades on audio (radio and now podcasts) and video (TV and now YouTube). I believe messaging could be a third platform for conversations.”

Public, which launched with an iPhone app and website Friday, can best be described as group chats with an audience. A few active participants chat with each other on a topic, be it “Game of Thrones,” a sports team or “Black Arts & Literature.” All these discussions happen in public, allowing anyone to follow them in real-time or read up on them later. And chats can be embedded on other websites as well as shared via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

One of Public’s first launch partners is Fullscreen, which is using the service for a public chat to promote the newest season of “SummerBreak,” the AT&T-sponsored reality show that follows a group of high schoolers during their summer break. The show has already been using Periscope, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms extensively. Now, cast members are going to chat with each other on Public, with fans being able to follow their conversations. “It’s a perfect use case for Public,” said Ronen.

Popular on Variety

The Boxee founder got the inspiration for Public a year ago after leaving Samsung, which had acquired Boxee two years prior. In 2015, many messaging apps were looking to add more encryption and privacy safeguards in response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance. “My contrarian instinct got me thinking: What would happen if someone would build the least secure messaging platform, where everything you say is public,” said Ronen during our interview, which was itself conducted on Public. “Hence the name.”

Public in many ways competes with Twitter, which has long attracted celebrities as a medium to speak directly to fans. But having long conversations on Twitter can be challenging, because the back-and-forth can get lost in a maelstrom of unrelated tweets. What’s more, Twitter allows anyone to chime in, which can lead to a lot of noise.

“It is very hard to maintain a conversation when there are too many people talking,” said Ronen. Public on the other had is more like a panel at a conference, where a few people speak, and many listen. Members of that audience can still comment in a sidebar, ask questions and even ask to be invited to join as guest participants.

But the organizers of a Public conversation can also delete comments, and anyone can block a user. Said Ronen: “Hopefully this structure will provide for a safe, positive space where people can have meaningful conversations.”

Public raised a total of $2 million at the end of last year. The company’s app launch comes two months after Twitter’s former VP of product Michael Sippy released its own group chat app dubbed TalkShow that uses some similar ideas. However, Ronen didn’t seem too concerned with his competition.

Instead, he argued that the real test will be whether consumers are actually ready to read chats  much in the same way they have been consuming podcasts and late night TV talk. Said Ronen: “The format is very familiar, but chat has never been a spectator sport.”

More Digital

  • YouTube TV

    YouTube TV Is Dropping Fox Regional Sports Nets, YES Network After Sinclair Standoff

    YouTube TV, Google’s internet pay-TV service, said it will drop the Fox regional sports networks and the YES Network from customer lineups this Saturday, Feb. 29 — citing an impasse in negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the RSNs. “We purchase rights from Sinclair to distribute content to you,” the YouTube TV account said [...]

  • Facebook F8 Conference 2019 - Mark

    Facebook Cancels F8 Developers Conference Over Coronavirus Fears

    The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has prompted Facebook to cancel this year’s F8 developers conference. The F8 2020 was scheduled for May 5-6 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif. The social giant had held the conference every year since 2007, and last year’s F8 drew more than 5,000 attendees, according to the company. [...]

  • Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville

    Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville Head of Editorial

    Rachel Whitney, formerly of YouTube, is joining Spotify as the Head of Editorial for Nashville, she announced in a social media post (which recently has become a method of the streaming giant announcing new employees).  A source close to the situation points out that the company now has two female executives at the helm of [...]

  • RM, V, Suga, Jin, Jimin, Jungkook,

    BTS' New Video for 'ON' Breaks YouTube Premiere Record (Watch)

    BTS have dropped their second official music video from their new album, “Map of the Soul: 7,” for the song “ON” — and within minutes of it dropping, the song became the biggest YouTube Premiere of all time, with 1.54 million concurrent viewers tuned in for the clip’s debut on YouTube Premieres. According to the [...]

  • Lisa Holme

    Discovery Hires Hulu's Lisa Holme to Lead Streaming Strategy

    Lisa Holme, a Hulu veteran who had been leading its international expansion strategy, has joined Discovery in a newly created role to oversee content and commercial strategy for the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming group. Discovery named Holme to the newly created role of group senior VP, content and commercial strategy, in Discovery’s direct-to-consumer group. She is [...]

  • Peloton

    Peloton Settles Legal Fight With Music Publishers

    Peloton settled a lawsuit filed by members of the U.S.’s music-publishing trade organization that had sought more than $300 million in damages over the interactive-fitness company’s alleged use of 2,468 unlicensed songs. The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), which represents American music publishers and songwriters, and Peloton together announced that they have “fully settled” the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content