Userfarm “de-merges” with Poptent and shuts down Vizy, Poptent may be heading for bankruptcy

RIP Vizy: 2015 - 2015
RIP Vizy: 2015 – 2015

In January 2015, Poptent and Userfarm announced that they were merging to form the largest crowdsourced Video company in the world.  The new site, Vizy.com was launched just a few weeks ago but it seems that the company and the merger may already be dead.  As of today, Vizy.com is offline, Poptent’s Chairman and CEO Nick Pahade has “moved away” from Vizy, most or possibly all of Poptent’s staff members have either quit or been laid off and the locks have been changed on Poptent’s Headquarters in Philadelphia.  Over in the UK, the Userfarm team is working quickly to sever their ties to Poptent and Vizy.  This morning they slapped their name on Vizy’s slick new website and moved it to Userfarm.com.  The deal was sealed a few hours later when Userfarm sent this message to their members:

userfarm-message The message comes off as a bit disingenuous because Userfarm wasn’t “with” Vizy….they WERE Vizy.  That’s why Userfarm was able to just stick their old name on the new website.  It retrospect it seems like Userfarm was the driving force behind this so-called merger.  As far as I can tell, Poptent only brought four things to the table; a few hundred active member accounts, tens of thousands of inactive member accounts, a handful of staff members and a mountain of debt.

And that debt is probably why Vizy imploded right in front of our eyes.  All these recent developments have sent scores of Video Contest Filmmakers into a furious panic because Poptent still owes a lot of people a lot of money.  These folks either won prizes in Poptent contests in late 2014/early 2015 or they were hired directly by Poptent to create content for Brands.  Poptent always gets paid by their clients BEFORE they launch their video assignment.  This process ensured that clients couldn’t back out if they didn’t like any of the videos that were submitted.  But it also meant that Poptent was able to pay the winning filmmakers as soon as the clients made their picks.

But last fall Poptent reduced their payouts to a tiny trickle of cash.  The staff blamed the delays on the impending merger and they promised that once their investors came through the company would pay everyone in full.  But according to the grapevine, Poptent’s investors never delivered on their promises and that’s why Userfarm cut them loose.

I’ve tried to contact several staff members from Poptent, Vizy, and Userfarm but I haven’t gotten an official response or explanation about what’s going on.  But that doesn’t mean people aren’t talking.  A few ex-Poptent employees were happy to share the gruesome details of the doomed merger with some of the filmmakers that contacted them last week.  I’m going to list some of their most important assertions.  Please keep in mind that these “facts” have been told to me second hand.  However, at least a half dozen filmmakers have contacted me and explained that one or more high-level Poptent employees (that were involved in the merger) have told them the following:
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1.  Vizy has “de-merged” with Poptent.  The decision was made by Userfarm at their European HQ.

2.  Filmmakers and employees are owed more than $500,000 in prize money, back-pay and benefits.  It’s unclear if Poptent alone owes that $500K or if Userfarm, Poptent and Vizy combined owe that much.

3.  Poptent can not afford to pay off their debts.  The company may continue to send everyone small amounts to stave off legal action for as long as possible.

4.  Poptent is probably going to have to declare bankruptcy.

5.  If Poptent declares bankruptcy, there is almost no chance that any filmmakers will ever receive the money they are owed.

6.  At least one former Poptent/Vizy employee is telling filmmakers that it’s time for them to talk to a lawyer.

7.  The Poptent website is going to get shut down by the end of the month.
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I’ve also heard from several sources that Userfarm may be in financial trouble too.  Apparently they have also fallen way behind on their payments and they have filmmakers who are also worried that they’ll never get paid.

This whole story is incredibly sad and I’m deeply disappointed by the actions of everyone who was involved in this merger.  To me it looks like they “borrowed” money that was earmarked for filmmakers and gambled that cash on a risky and ill-conceived merger.  The bet didn’t pay off and now the folks in charge are just shrugging their shoulders and walking away.

I’ll have more on this story later this week.  If Poptent or Vizy or Userfarm owes you money, I’d like to hear from you.  E-mail me at VideoContestNews@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Userfarm Jr. (AKA Vizy.com) goes live

Vizy.com, the offspring of Poptent and Userfarm is now live and the new company is already running several big video contests.  I poked around the site last night and I still can’t tell why this big merger was necessary.  Vizy is basically Userfarm with a new name and a slightly different design.  Just take a look at these screenshots and you’ll understand what I mean…
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Userfarm 2013

 

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Vizy 2015

The new Vizy banner looks like it was designed by someone on Poptent’s graphics team but other than that, this new site doesn’t really include any of Poptent’s style or features.  And that might be a problem for the new company because Vizy’s Euro-Centric theme will probably be a turn-off to a lot of American filmmakers.  Whenever I’m looking for a new contest to enter, I usually skim the listings at onlinevideocontests.com and stop whenever a big dollar amount catches my eye.  But I don’t have an automatic currency calculator in my head so I usually ignore contests that list their prizes in Euros.  And I hate to sound like a stuck up American but seeing all those little flags feels a little off-putting too.  American filmmakers have gotten used to entering contests that are open to US-residents only.  So it just seems like bad strategy to enter a contest that’s open to 600 Million people.

There’s really only one reason why Poptent and Userfarm merged to form Vizy; Poptent had tens of thousands of member-accounts and Userfarm wanted them.  But most of Poptent’s members are located in the US.  That means most of those people will have zero interest in creating video content for foreign markets.  (How is a guy in Indiana supposed to know what kind of ads will work in Italy or Spain)  So hopefully the folks at Vizy will realize this and create a special web portal just for their American members.  All they have to do is list prize amounts in good ole’ dollars, hide the contests that need videos in languages other than English and run the occasional project for a regional US sponsor (like the California board of Tourism) and Vizy will probably wind up being very popular with American filmmakers.

Vizy starts paying out Poptent’s missing prize money

Right now Poptent owes dozens of filmmakers tens of thousands of dollars in un-paid prize money.  And that’s a big problem because Poptent isn’t going to exist much longer; the company is about to merge with Userfarm to form a brand new crowdcourced video site named Vizy.  I detailed this problem in my most recent post and explained that Poptent personally still owes me $250.  (A pretty measly sum considering that some members claim that poptent owes them more than $5,000)  But just a few days after I published my story, a totally unrelated miracle occurred.  My Poptent “payment register” went from this…

250poptent

to this…

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I’ve been waiting 107 days to get this payment but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that a check was issued the same week that I (and a ton of other unhappy filmmakers) started publicly complaining about the delinquent payments.  (Some members actually contacted the companies that sponsored their Poptent assignments and asked for help securing their prizes.)  I don’t know if EVERYONE is finally getting their money but I’ve heard from some other filmmakers that have also been told that checks are in the mail.  But apparently those checks aren’t actually coming from Poptent….

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I’m not really sure what this means but I guess it’s a good sign that the Poptent/Userfarm merger is official and complete.  One thing I do know is that this will probably be the only check I ever get from Vizy.  I’m really disappointed in the way the Poptent staff (now the Vizy staff) has been acting for the last few weeks.  I can understand that maybe some payments were delayed because of the merger but it was simply unprofessional for the company to ignore their members concerns and force filmmakers to start contacting the brands for help.  So I doubt I’ll ever use the new site or sign up for any of their contests.

As Poptent winds down operations, dozens of anxious filmmakers are still waiting to get paid

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Two months ago Poptent and Userfarm announced that in April they’re going to join forces and launch a new crowdsourced video company named Vizy.  While the architects of this plan are quick to call this move a “merger” it feels more like Userfarm (which seems to be in great shape) is absorbing Poptent (which seems to be in terrible shape).  Over the last few years, a string of unfair and ill-conceived strategies managed to chase away many of Poptent’s most talented filmmakers.  The brain-drain caused a drop in the quality and quantity of Poptent submissions and the drop in quality turned off potential clients.  Poptent’s decline was so precipitous that today the company’s most valuable asset isn’t a physical asset at all; it’s data.  The site claims to have a “community” of more than 70,000 members.  So if Poptent and Userfarm merge their user data, they can claim to be the “largest community of video professionals in the world.”  But of course that statement won’t exactly be accurate.  What Poptent has are 70,000 accounts, not members. The vast majority of those accounts were created by spammers or by people who logged in once or twice and then never returned to the site.  Based on Poptent’s public activity feed, I would estimate that the site has less than 1,000 real, active users.

But this is the 21st century and even crappy data has value.  Thanks to Poptent’s massive collection of usernames and e-mail addresses, the struggling company (and a select group of employees) will get to carry on inside of this new thing called Vizy.  But make no mistake; Poptent is going out of business.  The company won’t exist anymore and the website will probably be deactivated.  And these changes are already well underway.  Userfarm is still going strong and currently has NINE public assignments up and running.  But Poptent hasn’t launched a new public contest since October 2014.  On top of that, Poptent’s staff members have stopped responding to posts in the website’s public forum and all of the company’s social media pages have been turned into Vizy accounts.

But here is the most disturbing sign of Poptent’s impending demise; the company has almost completely stopped paying filmmakers their prize money.  Right now, dozens of members are waiting on tens of thousands of dollars (and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars) in checks from Poptent.  Take for example the case of the Poptent team Indian Head Pictures.  On October 29th, 2014, Poptent announced that their entry had won a $3,000 Brand Award in the Go Go Squeeze applesauce assignment:
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Poptent used to send payments out within a few weeks but the guys from Indian Head Pictures have been waiting for their $3,000 for 146 days.  But those filmmakers should consider themselves lucky because other Poptent members are claiming that the company owes them well over $10,000.

As you can imagine, these folks are starting to get a little nervous.  The Poptent team is busy scrubbing the company’s name from every corner of the web and the site might be shut down at any moment.  I’ve talked to a few people who are still waiting on some pretty big payouts and the staff has either been ignoring them or stonewalling them.  These tactics are obviously unprofessional but they’re even more outrageous when you consider that the brands behind these contests have probably already paid Poptent the prize money.  The brand usually pays up front so for example, Go Go Squeeze has probably already given Poptent the $3,000 that is supposed to go to the guys at Indian Head Pictures.

So why would Poptent hold on to money that belongs to other people?  One Poptent member actually managed to get a response from a staff member and shared the info in the community forum.   The rep said that some payments have been delayed because of the merger but after the major players meet with the investors, the company will start sending out payments later this week.

I’m sorry to say this but I’m not sure I believe that.  The story just doesn’t make sense.  I suspect that Poptent might be holding on to payments because they’re worried that the merger might fall apart.  If that happened, Poptent would almost certainly have to shut down and declare bankruptcy.  In that scenario, filmmakers would be lucky to recover a fraction of what the company owes them.

So, what should you do if Poptent still owes you money?  Well, the first thing you should do is log into your “payment register” and take a screenshot. Like this:
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Yes, Poptent owes me all of $250.
Yes, Poptent owes me all of $250.

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You need to do this ASAP because if Poptent.net disappears tomorrow, your payment register will be gone for good.  After you get your screenshot, start e-mailing staff members and ask where the heck your money is.  SOme day you might need to prove that you actually tried to get your money.  If no one writes back, call the main office and ask someone to guarantee that you’re going to get paid by a certain date.  The company’s contact info is right here:  http://www.poptent.com/company/contact/

Good luck everybody.  Hope we all get what we’re owed.  I feel like I should mention that I did try to contact several Poptent staff members before I wrote this article but no one responded to my message.  I’ll post an update if I get a response or if I hear that payments are starting to go out.

Poptent and Userfarm merge to form the “undisputed” largest community of video professionals in the world

vizy

On Wednesday it was announced that the two “biggest” crowdouced video sites in world, Poptent and Userfarm, will merge in April to form a new site named Vizy.  Here are a few quotes from Poptent’s blog post about the merger:

Poptent is so excited to announce that we have merged with Userfarm, Europe’s largest and most powerful crowdsourcing community. Together we will be Vizy, a truly global company able to show the world’s most successful companies what our combined community is capable of.

Combining forces and becoming the largest global content creation company means that we will be able to bring you more challenging and more fun opportunities than any video crowdsourcing platform on the planet.

It sounds like Vizy will be a brand new company and that it will be very different from the current incarnations of Poptent and UserFarm.  The old platforms and sites will be left behind.  But Vizy won’t be starting from scratch.  That’s because all Userfarm and Poptent accounts are going to automatically be turned into Vizy accounts.  According to Poptent’s CEO Nick Pahade, this will make Vizy “the undisputed largest community of video professionals in the world.”

The official press release about the merger says that right out of the gate, Vizy will have a community of 120,000 filmmakers.  But that statement is both ridiculous and untrue.  Vizy will have 120,000 member accounts….not 120,000 members.  That’s because the vast majority of Poptent accounts are inactive.  Userfarm seems to have a healthy and active community but most users who signed up for Poptent abandoned the site a long time ago.  Right now Poptent’s Company Overview states that the site has 70,000+ members.  But if you actually log in and poke around you’ll see that the place is empty.  The member activty feed shows that only about 40 members a day do anything on the site and A LOT of those people are spammers.  (The spammers are using their profiles and media pages to post backlinks to sites in an effort to improve SEO ratings.)  A few filmmakers are working on videos for private, invite-only assignments but pretty much everyone is a brand new member.  These people sign up, fill out their profiles, sign out and then never return.

Based on those numbers, I would estimate that less than ONE PERCENT of Poptent’s members use the site every week.  And of those 700 users, most are new members who will never accept an assignment or upload any videos.

It wasn’t long ago that Poptent was one of the most ground-breaking marketing sites on the web.  So what caused them to crash and burn?  Well, Poptent was dominating the video contest scene back in 2009 and 2010.  But by 2011 they started losing a lot of business and members to more innovative and user-friendly sites like Tongal, Mofilm, eYeka and Zooppa.  Poptent responded to this increase in competition by selling out their members and catering to the inappropriate demands of their clients.  In the summer of 2011, Poptent did something that no other crowdsourced video site had done before; they declared that any video that was submitted to a brand assignment would automatically become the intellectual property of the brand under an implied “work for hire” agreement.  The new policy was absurd and completely illegal; copyrights can only be transferred via signed and written agreements and work-for-hire arrangements are only valid if a creator is paid for their work.  A Poptent employee told me that the changes were necessary because some clients were worried that low-quality or offensive spec videos might leak onto Youtube and make the brand look bad.  The Poptent team took these concerns very seriously and eventually they built a wall around the company and started running more and more and more, tightly-controlled  “invite-only” assignments.

Over time, Poptent went from a company that would run 10 public commercial assignments and 1 private commercial assignment at a time to a company that would run 10 private assignments and 1 public assignment at a time. Only 10 or 20 filmmakers were invited to participate in these secret contests so that meant that there was no work for 99% of the people who signed up for the site.  This was an amazing deal for a handful of super-elite members.  Some of them even started getting direct-paying gigs.  So these members didn’t even have to shoot anything on spec anymore.  Poptent had basically turned into a virtual production company with a roster of about 200 reliable producers.

But this new model caused a massive brain drain.  Sometimes weeks would go by without the announcement of a single new public Poptent assignment.  User participation in the site plummeted and disgruntled filmmakers left to work with Poptent’s competitors.

In May of 2013, it was announced that Poptent’s longtime CEO, Rick Parkhill was retiring.  He was succeed by Nick Pahade, the ex-CEO of the media agency Initiative.  Pahade declared that he intended to take the company to “the next level.”  But over the next year and a half it seemed as if Poptent was winding down their operations.  The site cut back on advertising because they didn’t really need to court new members any more.  The once-active community forum turned into a ghost town, many of Poptent’s most visible employees left the company and assignments became few and far between.  Only 7 public commercial assignments have been run on Poptent in the last 6 months and the last of those assignments ended 4 weeks ago.

All this information makes the merger with Userfarm a lot less exciting.  I’m sure Userfarm has its fair share of inactive accounts too.  (I signed up for Userfarm once but I haven’t even looked at the site in years)  Technically Vizy will be able to claim that they’re biggest crowdsourced video site in the world and that their clients will have “access to over 120,000 filmmakers”.  But the Vizy team will probably never reveal how many “active” members they have because most of those “filmmakers” are really just ghost accounts.  So while Poptent’s CEO may claim that Vizy will be the “undisputed” biggest community of video professionals in the world, the site is going to need tens of thousands of new, REAL members before that claim becomes true.