Zagga, accessible on demand videos

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From creative director to entrepreneur, this is the story of the day. Kevin Shaw is founder and CEO of Zagga TV, a video on demand (VOD) platform that describes movies, TV series and documentary contents to blind and visually impaired people.
In the interview he told us how the idea of building this company was born and how this interesting project is growing.

The protagonist of this story is a 19 years old boy who lost his sight but not the determination and the desire to change and improve videos production and post-production to make them accessible to everybody.
In the article, you will find a video of Kevin’s TEDx Talk where he speaks about this technology.

Kevin Kevin Shaw founder and CEO of Zagga

Here’s what we asked him:

1) Zagga Entertainment is a project that develops accessible video for blind people. Kevin, how did you come up with this idea and what is your mission?

Several years ago, I was at home and wanted to watch a movie. I had a shelf full of shrink-wrapped DVDs I’d never watched. I asked myself why and I realized I didn’t want to have to go through the frustrating process of navigating the on-screen menu to select the audio description track on the disc. I went looking online for a described movie, but none of the popular VOD services had any. What was even more frustrating was that many VOD sites I visited were inaccessible to someone using a screen reader.
This is when the idea for Zagga snuck up on me, a fully accessible VOD service featuring movies and TV shows with described video or digital video (DV).

DV narrates what’s happening on screen in between lines of dialog.
Our mission at Zagga is to unite those with and without sight loss over great visual storytelling. I talked about this in my TEDx Talk called Design the Inclusive Experience.

2) How many people are currently working on the project?

There are four people who work on Zagga. I’m the founder and CEO. I also live with sight loss, having lost my vision when I was 19. I’ve worked in broadcasting and music production for over 15 years and have been an advocate for accessibility during that time.
Thomas Myers is our VP of Business Development and has won two Technical and Engineering Emmy awards for his work in the video industry.
Sudhir Morar is our Chief Technology Officer and has 20 years of experience in enterprise IT management in banking, government, health care and media.
Brad Pelman is our executive content consultant and has 20 years of experience in film and TV distribution including Lion’s Gate Entertainment and Maple Pictures.

3) Do you have any partnerships yet?

Our first content partnership was with the National Film Board of Canada and we have at least 3 more ready to go including Cineflix International Media, MGM and Entertainment One Group. We’re always looking to expand our partnerships and are excited about the opportunity to reach out to more content and investment partners.

4) How many users have you reached so far? How many videos do you publish a month?

We don’t publish our user statistics, however those who have joined are enjoying the service. We would be happy to extend an invitation to readers to check out the site and try the service. Simply visit and follow the links to start a one-month free trial of the service.

We feature content from a variety of genres and will be adding more content in the near future. At present, we feature classic movies and TV, animation, documentaries and educational programming.

5) Speaking about your crowdfunding campaign: we have seen that you reached the amount of 19K dollars. How will you invest these funds and who has supported you in the crowdfunding campaign?

Many of our crowdfunding supporters are our current customers. We have been able to leverage our crowdfunding to raise additional development grants from CNIB. This has helped us build our current platform. We are opening up another round of funding to build the next version of our platform which will allow us to develop accessible apps for iOS, Android and TVOS. We will also have improved features, such as the ability to make playlists and continue viewing across devices.

6) At the moment Zagga is in beta, you offer two types of packages and some free videos. Are you planning to enlarge your project offering videos in other languages?

Yes! We see great potential for providing described video in languages other than English. The new platform we are developing will allow us to feature content in a variety of languages and internationalize the interface.

7) Will your service be accessible with assistive technology (for example screen readers)? Will it be accessible only for blind or also for visually impaired people?

We designed Zagga with accessibility in mind. Our site is fully accessible with popular screen readers such as JAWS, NVDA and Voiceover on the Mac. Users of magnification software have reported that our site is very accessible. I demonstrate and talk about the service on a podcast I did in June of 2016. We will also be releasing a YouTube video showing how to use the service in July 2016.

8) On your website you described your career. Do you think your experience in the world of communication is a key element for the development of Zagga?

Yes. My background in broadcasting and my love for the business side of the industry were big contributing factors, but I also have a lot of hands-on experience as well. The most important thing I have learned in my career is that it’s important to build a great team because you can’t do everything by yourself.

9) What were the satisfactions and the problems that you faced so far?

I’ve been very blessed to work with some great people. All of them see the value in Zagga and have given a lot to the company. Some of the highlights over the past few years include my TEDx Talk, meeting great people in the business and working out of the Ryerson DMZ (North America’s leading university-based business incubator).

With every business, disappointment is part of the journey. Some of the bigger disappointments have been around our competition, financing falling through at the last-minute and some rookie mistakes with our development. All of these have been incredible learning opportunities and we are a much stronger company with these experiences as part of our history.

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Sofia Zuccalà
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Sofia Zuccalà

I'm a 23 years old MSc student in Communication of Science and Sustainable Innovation and I am a communication lover. I have a BSc in Communication, Innovation and Multimedia and at the moment I'm writing for several blogs about technology, science and current news.
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