Napster founders launch new venture: Airtime

CNN Wire Service

NEW YORK — Former Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning are teaming up again on a new venture: social video-sharing platform Airtime.

Parker, now a billionaire thanks to his sizeable stake in Facebook, is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest celebrities — a role he relishes. Launching a new company with a quiet press release isn’t his style.

Airtime’s unveiling, taking place Tuesday morning in New York City, is a star-studded affair with planned cameos from a head-scratchingly diverse set of bold-face names. The lineup includes rapper Snoop Dogg, domestic spirit guide Martha Stewart, and actors Kristen Bell, Ed Helms and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The event will offer users the first look at Parker and Fanning’s year-in-the-making service.

The concept — real-time live video — is similar to Chatroulette, a site that made waves by connecting strangers around the world for video chats. At its 2010 peak, Chatroulette was one of the Internet’s white-hot startup stars, but it quickly became a hotbed for indecent behavior.

That’s a problem Airtime will have to solve.

The much-hyped startup has received an unspecified amount of funding from heavyweight investors, with a recent round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, along with Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and Google Ventures. Early seed-stage investors include Ashton Kutcher, Yuri Milner, Ron Conway and Founders Fund.

Airtime is living its startup life at warp speed. Before even launching, it already made its first acquisition. In May it snapped up Erly, a social content-sharing startup created by former Hulu employees.

Both Parker and Fanning are serial entrepreneurs. In 1999, they started Napster, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that popularized online music sharing and became a legal lightening rod. Hit with a crippling stack of copyright infringement lawsuits, the service was shut down in 2001. The brand name was later resurrected, but Napster died for good late last year, when it merged with on-demand music site Rhapsody.

Parker bounced back from Napster’s meltdown with a string of new ventures. He played an integral role in Facebook’s early days, serving as the company’s president and helping CEO Mark Zuckerberg secure funding and structure the company.

Parker is also a board member and investor in Spotify, a streaming music service that Parker has called “realization of the dream” he had for Napster.