- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2021

An infusion of new users and cash to Rumble has provided momentum for its fight to break Google-owned YouTube‘s grip on the digital video marketplace.

In recent months, Rumble has added millions of users, scored a large undisclosed investment from a group including billionaire Peter Thiel and conservative author J.D. Vance, and sued Google for antitrust violations in federal court.

Conservatives are fueling Rumble‘s rise, but the Canada-based company’s founder and CEO Chris Pavlovski said he is less interested in American politics than dethroning big incumbent platforms. Mr. Pavlovski prizes small creators’ content and says large tech platforms such as YouTube prioritize major brands and influencers over others.

After Google acquired YouTube in 2006, Mr. Pavlovski said, competitors such as Dailymotion and CollegeHumor diminished. He said he wanted to scrap with Google himself.

“I’ve always had the pulse on this, and it’s always been a passion of mine where I’ve always wanted to compete, and get back in and compete in a real, meaningful way, against the incumbent platforms,” said Mr. Pavlovski. “I’m really a big, firm believer in having lots of good and healthy competition in the market and not having monopolies.”

Mr. Pavlovski started Rumble in 2013, but the company got its big break last fall when many disaffected supporters of President Trump started searching for new venues to speak freely online.

The platform had approximately 800,000 monthly visits in August, per The Wall Street Journal, but that number jumped into the tens of millions in the fall. Mr. Pavlovski said Rumble now has roughly 30 million monthly users and its user base is growing 10% month over month.

He said engagement, watch time and the growth of connected televisions jumped in May.

The site’s front page displays a combination of viral videos of animals and news and commentary, and its “featured” channels section includes the accounts of prominent Republicans including Donald Trump Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.

Mr. Thiel, Facebook’s first outside investor and a founder of PayPal, invested in Rumble alongside Narya Capital, a Cincinnati-based venture capital firm led by Mr. Vance.

Mr. Thiel was a supporter of Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign, and Mr. Vance is considering running next year for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio.

Mr. Pavlovski said he would not disclose how much Mr. Thiel and the investors provided, but The Wall Street Journal estimated that the investment was significant and likely consistent with a $500 million valuation of Rumble.

Mr. Thiel pursued Rumble and connected with its leadership about two months before the investment was announced last month, Mr. Pavlovski said.

Mr. Pavlovski said he had no prior relationship with Mr. Thiel and his company’s fixation on distributing and monetizing small creators’ content was attractive to investors.

Rumble’s willingness to mix things up with larger competitors also is a likely draw for support.

In January, Rumble filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in California claiming Google unlawfully prioritized its own product, YouTube, over its competitor, Rumble.

“By unfairly rigging its search algorithms such that YouTube is the first-listed links “above the fold” on its search results page, Google, through its search engine, was able to wrongfully divert massive traffic to YouTube, depriving Rumble of the additional traffic, users, uploads, brand awareness and the revenue it would have otherwise received,” Rumble said in the lawsuit. “Google has also forced Android-based smartphone manufacturers to include YouTube as a preinstalled app on their phones in order to acquire the right to use the Android operating system, which constitutes an illegal tying arrangement.”

Mr. Pavlovski declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Warning signs abound for insurgent companies adopting aggressive strategies to dethrone major tech companies. After Parler took a less-restrictive approach to social media users’ speech, Apple and Google removed its app from their app stores and Amazon Web Services took Parler offline.

Parler sued Amazon but later dropped its case. It has since returned to the web and restored to Apple’s App Store.

Mr. Pavlovski is quick to distance Rumble from Parler. He noted that his company has strong policies about restricting content involving racism, antisemitism, inciting violence, pornography, terrorism and much more.

Rumble also steers clear from reliance on any single cloud infrastructure like Parler’s dependence on Amazon, he said.

“We’ve kind of done it the old-fashioned way, and we have servers around the world, and we are not dependent on any single major cloud player,” Mr. Pavlovski said. “In fact, one of the things that this investment is going to do is [it is] going to enable us to really kind of build our own cloud infrastructure and offer cloud solutions to the market and other businesses out there.”

Other platforms that attempted to compete with YouTube ultimately overhauled their entire business models to succeed. Vimeo, a video platform that started more than 16 years ago, began trading on Nasdaq in late May after charting a new direction away from competition with YouTube.

Vimeo CEO Anjali Jud recently told CNBC that her company has fully pivoted away from being a viewing destination competing with YouTube and now focuses on selling software involving its video offerings as a service to other businesses.

Mr. Pavlovski said he is not deterred by the failures of Vimeo and others that have gone toe-to-toe with Google and intends to keep Rumble’s focus on distributing users’ content and being a destination for consumers.

“I believe a lot of the incumbent platforms out there are no longer interested in helping the small creator, and that’s a market that we can really capture and help in a way that the other incumbent platforms are no longer helping,” he said.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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