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EndlessTV Serves Up Free Web Video to Your Phone, Minus the Ads. How Long Can That Last?

If you mixed up YouTube, Pandora, Tinder and Tumblr, this is what it might look like. Pretty interesting.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Lots of people are trying to figure out ways to help people “discover” digital video, and lots of them don’t work because they don’t solve a real problem: Most folks have no trouble “discovering” video on their own.

But EndlessTV, a new mobile video app that’s available to the public today, has an interesting take on the idea. It’s not so much what EndlessTV shows you that sets it apart, but how it shows that stuff to you.

By stripping out some features — like search, or the ability to move forward and backward within a clip — EndlessTV gives you less choice than you’re used to. But it also strips out most of the pre-roll ads you see in other Web video services.

The result is something like a mix of YouTube, Pandora, Tinder and Tumblr: EndlessTV picks videos it thinks you will like, based on your choices and the popularity of the clips with other users, and encourages you to flick through them until you find one you want to watch, unencumbered by commercial interruptions.

It’s pretty intriguing.

Here’s a rough demo of the app the EndlessTV guys produced this week. Obviously, you’ll get a better sense by grabbing the app yourself (you will need a reasonably strong Wi-Fi signal when you play with it, though).

There’s nothing on EndlessTV that you can’t find elsewhere — while it pitches itself as “TV for Free,” it offers the same Web videos that are available from YouTube or directly from video publishers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But once you get past the notion that you can’t search for specific clips and have to rely on EndlessTV’s algorithm and the swipe of your finger to find something you want to watch, it’s sort of hypnotic.

And because you don’t have to wait for an ad to run before you can see a clip, the fact that you can’t find exactly what you want doesn’t seem like a penalty, since something new is always a finger-flick away.

About the ads, and the lack of them: EndlessTV does want to make money from advertising. But it only shows display ads, served up by an ad network, when you pause a clip.

The company, which started out as a shopping app called Tip or Skip and has raised $2.5 million from investors including 500 Startups, argues that it can create much higher engagement that way, and says it will share the display ad revenue with the video makers.

But I’m not sure that argument will matter to Web video publishers — they traditionally get paid per view. Conventional Web publishers like to talk about engagement, too, but they ultimately make their money on page views, just like they have for years.

So how does EndlessTV get away without showing ads, anyway? The company says it has arrangements with some video publishers to let it strip out their ads, more or less as an experiment, and if they get traction they’ll revisit the idea. Other videos come from an aggregation service that provides video feeds without ads.

All of this seems too good to last, and one publisher I talked to that’s providing clips to EndlessTV was surprised to learn that their stuff was showing up ad-free.

But I hope the EndlessTV guys figure out how to keep it going. Between Netflix, iTunes and my DVR, I’ve gotten used to the idea that I can watch video without sitting through an ad I don’t care about. It would be nice if free Web clips worked the same way.

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