Carnegie Mellon University
July 15, 2014

News Brief: IGN Taps Carnegie Mellon Startup Neon Labs for 30 Percent Boost in Video Views

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

PITTSBURGH—Neon Labs, the Carnegie Mellon University startup that uses an image selection platform to maximize viewership of, and revenue from, digital content, today announced an agreement with IGN Entertainment, a premier media publisher that attracts 48.7 million unique visitors per month.

This engagement was announced in conjunction with Neon's news of a Series A round of $4.1 million in funding. Led by Mohr Davidow Ventures, the round is supported by prior investors, True Ventures and technology executive Steve Blank. This new investment will enable Neon to meet increasing customer demand and accelerate its partnership with online video platform provider Brightcove.

"It is very exciting that IGN has chosen to be one of Neon's first partners. Our collaboration with them has reinforced how ideally suited Neon's proprietary technology is to helping online video publishers increase user engagement through state-of-the-art brain science," said Neon co-founder and senior technical adviser Michael J. Tarr, head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Psychology. "This is great for Neon and illustrates how basic research in human cognitive neuroscience can be successfully applied to solve technology problems."

Neon Labs Image

Founded on research conducted in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a joint program between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, Neon is one of the first companies to use cognitive and brain science to increase audience engagement for online video publishers. Using research that shows how visual perception unconsciously affects preferences, the Neon team developed a Web-based software service that automatically selects the most visually appealing frame from a stream of video to be used as the thumbnail. Thumbnails — the entry point for a Web user to interact with a video — are becoming more important to video publishers as the number of online videos continues to increase.

"We have supported Neon Labs since day one, based on their compelling vision to use science to change the way consumers interact with images in the digital era. I think Neon Labs' technology has the potential to do for images what Dolby did for sound," said Bill Ericson, general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures. "With over a billion images loaded on the Internet each day, companies need new technologies to sift through and surface the best images at this massive scale. Selecting thumbnails for video is just the beginning for Neon."

Today, Neon leverages the scientific research compiled by nearly 10 years of research at Brown University, Carnegie Mellon and Massachusetts General Hospital on algorithms that can generate up to 100 percent more engagement than human-selected images. These algorithms are employed to help leading media and marketing companies find the images that drive clicks. Neon's mission is to better organize the world's images to find the ones that viewers and consumers care about most.

Substantial support for the company has come from the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (or I-Corps), which was formed by CMU President Subra Suresh when he was director of the NSF, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

"I was really keen to try Neon for Video, given it uses a scientific process to select thumbnails," said Jim Hall, VP of Technology for IGN, a Ziff Davis company. "Ziff Davis and IGN are deeply committed to using new technologies to improve content discovery on our sites. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did Neon for Video take a significant amount of work off of our hands, it also improved the clickability of our thumbnails by 30 percent on average. This is a huge win for us."

Neon's new IGN contract and funding crown several months of rapid growth. In addition to IGN, the company continues to expand its existing partnership with Brightcove.

"Neon has been a partner of Brightcove's since Neon launched its product. Together we have helped a number of leading media publishers and marketers get more views and more value from their video content," said Anil Jain, senior vice president and general manager of the Media Group at Brightcove. "We very much look forward to expanding our partnership in the future."

By optimizing the thumbnail for customers, Neon can help companies generate 5 to 30 percent more revenue from video without having to make additional videos or sell more ads.

"When I worked through the numbers with some of our big media publishers, it was amazing to see how many millions of dollars in ad revenue flow through a tiny 75x120 pixel image," said Neon CEO Sophie Lebrecht, who did her postdoctoral work at CMU's CNBC and Tepper School of Business.

For more than 50 years, Carnegie Mellon researchers have been working to achieve historic breakthroughs in psychology and computational neuroscience to tackle multifaceted problems of human thought, such as how we solve problems, learn mathematics or make financial decisions, and how these thought processes can be improved. CMU research also includes a major effort in using neuroimaging approaches to understand these behaviors and how disorders like autism and dyslexia develop.

The CNBC is devoted to investigating the neural mechanisms that give rise to human cognitive abilities. The center will celebrate its 20th anniversary of advancing brain, computation and behavior through research and training this fall. For more information, visit

For more information on Neon, visit


The image above shows two thumbnails promoting videos. The Neon Labs recommended thumbnail increased viewership by 59 percent.