“It’s unbelievable, considering how difficult it is to find video, how unfiltered it is and how inaccessible it is to many students with different learning abilities and learning levels,” Gross said. “Video has to evolve.”
To that end, Newsela today announced that it has acquired Haapyak, an interactive video software business for the enterprise, for an undisclosed amount. This is Newsela’s first acquisition, as the content company has been doing more work on content partnerships and licensing up to this point. The deal comes months after Newsela raised $100 million in a round, raising its valuation to $1 billion.
HapYak has a bit more fan following than YouTube in its enterprise-specific offerings. Gross said he was recognized for the importance of video after users turned to other DIY platforms to create interactive videos.
Ethos-wise, bringing customizable functionality to video – rather than a static experience – is in line with how Newsela iterates on products. For example, the startup disrupted that by bringing textbooks online, and giving teachers a way to tailor the same content to different learning types. Now, the startup wants to disrupt video by adding a layer of interactivity. Beyond the HapYak acquisition, Newsela plans to access the thousands of videos it has through content providers.
“What will be most exciting for teachers and students is the level of engagement and the level of interactivity … because access is so important,” he said. “It’s an important point that students with different learning levels, background knowledge, different abilities and different age groups … you need videos to be accessible to students in all walks of life.”
Gross declined to comment on whether the video functionality would be a product offered to free users or only those who would pay for a Newsella subscription. The latter could affect the reach of Newsela’s new efforts, as the digital divide continues to limit the amount of access students and entire districts get to the software.
Eight months ago, Newsela claimed that its 2020 annual recurring revenue grew 81% compared to 2019, with new bookings increasing by 115%. The CEO declined to share if 2021 is on pace to eclipse, meet or fall behind those totals.
Up to this point, Newsela had only hosted a small percentage of video content on its platform. According to Gross, the company has been, and will continue to be, a text-focused company that seeks to improve the literacy of students around the world. Despite this background, Newsela feels that video content will be non-negotiable in future learning.
“Videos are really central to instruction and an incredible amount of information can be conveyed very quickly and efficiently through video,” Gross said. “It serves as nothing better or worse than text, but an important complement in a video-driven world.”
While it might seem to some that Newsela’s entry in the video is a late one, Gross said his company deliberately didn’t look at the form factor in the past.
“I think the worst case are videos that don’t have a lot of rigor, and instruction videos that are really just about engagement,” Gross said. While he didn’t name any specific startups, he believes some inspire school teachers to think that video-based instruction is good for children through engagement metrics. In reality, however, some interactive tools fail to provide high quality education, thus losing an important balance between engaging content and pedagogically sound learning.
“It’s not the kind of education that we’re used to in the 21st century, and then video in school will be seen as a total turn-off rather than just something that really gets kids excited about learning.” has been.”
Beyond the HapYak acquisition, Newsela revealed that it has acquired natural learning AI assets from Fluent City, a language learning startup. Interestingly, Newsela was not interested in the startup’s language learning capabilities (which were later sold to Brightcove).
The transaction, Gross said, will allow Newsela to better analyze the text that they license from content providers to help duration, revisions and recommendations for their customers.
Both deals indicate that newly capitalized Newsela is getting aggressive about how the right student gets the right content in the right format at the right time.