Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

TouchCast Wants You to Watch Web Video With Your Fingers

The problem with most Web video startups is that you’ve seen them before. Another compilation of cheap clips posing as the next big cable channel. Another solution for nonexistent “discovery” problems. Another “Instagram for video” that won’t be.

So, at the very least, give TouchCast credit for novelty and ambition. The company imagines that it can completely reinvent the way you watch Web video by turning it into an hands-on, interactive experience.

The basic idea: TouchCast lets people create and watch videos that are layered with live Web pages, YouTube clips, Twitter streams and other digital touchpoints that viewers can expand, manipulate and turn on and off with their fingers.

It’s a notion that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has watched “Minority Report.” But it’s also one that runs counter to the way we’ve leaned back while watching screens, for more than a century.

No big deal, says TouchCast’s Edo Segal, who does not have modest ambitions. “We’re actually claiming that this is the future of the Web.”

Alrighty, then! Segal made money during Web 1.0 by selling his Relegence financial newswire to AOL; for this project, he is joined by designer Charley Miller and former TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld.*

You can play with TouchCast now, via an iPad app; you should also be able to check out TouchCast videos via the company’s website and, eventually, an embedded video player. But my hunch is that the best experience in the near term will be the app. And even then, you should be prepared for some clunky stuff: Making watchable Web video is hard, and adding widgets to a crummy video won’t change the fact that it’s crummy.

TouchCast is free, though the company plans on adding freemium upsells, and you can see obvious advertising potential if it gets real adoption. The company is also trying to sell an enterprise version, via a phone-booth sized machine, to TV networks.

It’s easy enough to imagine TouchCast falling completely flat, because that’s the default odds for any startup. And this one wants to cultivate an entirely new behavior, so the odds get even steeper.

But if you want to make an argument for their success, it might go something like this: Video-watching has already become an interactive experience. It’s just that we’re doing it on second screens, when we tweet about what we’re watching, or check IMDb to figure out who that actress is, or go find that “Minority Report” clip on YouTube. So jamming all of that onto one screen makes a funny kind of sense.

Easier now if you look instead of read. Here’s a non-interactive version of a TouchCast video I made this morning. To see the full version, you’ll need to download the app, or find the clip on the site. I’m not winning any lighting, hair or makeup awards for this one. And I am not a fan of that camera angle. But you can get the idea:

* Disclosure: I’ve known Erick for a long time, and we have mutual friends and a shared fondness for backyard barbecues. On the other hand, when he was at TechCrunch, he used to engage in all manner of jackass behavior that made me want to punch him. So I think it balances out, more or less.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald