TouchCast Thinks It Can Create Smarter

Startup pitches iPad app for creating interactive video broadcasts, which require its own media player

TouchCast is touting an app for creating Internet videos with fully interactive, live web elements far superior to what’s available through YouTube — although the startup entertains no fantasies that it can compete with the video giant’s scale.

New York-based startup is pitching media companies and other content creators on the idea. TouchCast’s iPad app, released Thursday, uses a media player based on the HTML5 web standard to enhance videos with embedded elements, which can include live web pages, Twitter feeds or even related videos.

“The web is evolving to look more like cable TV. But it’s the same content you are watching on television — it’s dumb video,” TouchCast CEO Edo Segal said. “This world of video is collapsing with the world of the web.”

TouchCast claims to be working with some major broadcasters (which Segal declined to identify) as well as YouTube content creators. But at least one big challenge it will face is that TouchCast-enabled videos must use the startup’s own web and mobile players, which could inhibit its attractiveness to major media firms.

YouTube and other video platforms do have the ability to insert interactive elements within a video stream. But Segal said in YouTube’s case those are just annotations with links: “What we have really done is immerse HTML inside the video.”

The startup, although it has created a video-sharing system similar to YouTube, says it isn’t trying to build a rival to the 800-pound Internet video gorilla. Segal noted that videos created with the TouchCast app can be uploaded to YouTube (although none of the interactive features would work).

“We don’t see it as competitive with YouTube. We are trying to create a brand-new experience,” he said.

Segal formed TouchCast in 2010. Last year he hired Erick Schonfeld, former editor in chief of TechCrunch, and product chief Charley Miller, a former videogame designer. Based in Gotham’s West Village, the company has about 20 employees and is funded by the founders.

Segal formerly served as VP of emerging platforms at AOL, which acquired his real-time search startup, Relegence, in 2006. He also is founder of bMuse, a digital media studio startup.

Among traditional media and Internet companies, Segal argued, “there isn’t enough innovation around the base product. Not enough people are thinking about the core video product.”

TouchCast’s Video Apps, dubbed “vApps,” are on-screen elements that look like TV graphics but are interactive and update in real-time. Initial examples include YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Flickr photo galleries, news headlines and stock charts. Developers can also create and customize their own vApps.

Startup has a “freemium” model for individual content creators. The free version lets users create videos of up to five minutes each, and store up to one hour of video on the service. For more storage, TouchCast plans to charge a monthly fee; the approach is similar to online-storage provider Dropbox.

For media companies, meanwhile, the company is licensing its tools based on number of producers and views in the player. Segal claimed TouchCast has inked some deals in the “seven figures.”

There’s also an opportunity down the road to serve ads with TouchCast videos, Schonfeld said. Units could include preroll ads, and advertisers could create branded content using TouchCast as an advertising unit in itself.

Media companies must use TouchCast’s player but can use any content distribution network provider. TouchCast uses Amazon Web Services for the application layer coupled with a proprietary solution for video delivery.

Similar to YouTube, TouchCast has a process to respond to copyright-infringement complaints, as specified under the U.S.’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

TouchCast for iPad is available free to download from Apple’s iTunes App Store. Users can view TouchCast videos on the app, or on touchcast.com via Chrome and Safari browsers. A PC-based version of the application is in the works, and TouchCast plans to eventually reach other devices as well.

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