TouchCast Opens Up Two-Way Interactive Window for Videos

Xconomy New York — 

Ever feel disconnected—figuratively—from videos online? Aside from clicking on ads or links that pop up during playback, there is not much for the audience to do but sit back and watch. Now a startup in New York thinks viewers want more.

“Up until now, video has been this other [type of] media,” says Erick Schonfeld, co-founder of TouchCast. “When you watch it, you have to stop everything else that you’re doing on the Web.”

The TouchCast platform gives both the broadcaster and the viewer ways to manipulate content they can pull on screen while the videos are playing. That can include news stories, Twitter feeds, maps, and even other videos that run simultaneously with the broadcaster. There is also a teleprompter within the platform that the broadcaster can read while recording.

The extra content can be viewed via split-screen, picture-in-picture, and even put in the background behind the person on camera. The company’s app runs on iPads and Windows PC; there is also a Web-based platform. The videos can be shared within the app, at, and on YouTube.

The concept may sound like sensory overload, but this is the era of multitaskers who use several apps at the same time. TouchCast is banking on the idea that the public is ready for more content they can explore while watching videos.

Schonfeld and Edo Segal, the company’s CEO and co-founder, introduced the Windows version of TouchCast at this month’s New York Tech Meetup. I dropped by their offices last week to get hands-on with the software.

The rise of touch-based devices, Schonfeld says, has opened up a two-way window for using video. As former editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, he might know a thing or two about technology trends.

Eric Schonfeld demonstrates how the TouchCast app makes video more interactive for viewers and broadcasters.

Eric Schonfeld demonstrates how the TouchCast app makes video more interactive for viewers and broadcasters.

These days, he says, cable news anchors sometimes use interactive graphics during broadcasts—such as maps which show voting projections on election night. However, the television audience is still just along for the ride. Giving the audience the ability to dig into related content while watching videos, Schonfeld says, can increase their level of attention. (Sounds like the “second screen” idea, except it is on the same screen.) “That is the big bet with TouchCast,” he says.

The company thinks it can establish a new standard for how digital content gets used on both sides of the television screen. Schonfeld says the sci-fi movie Minority Report, which featured multi-touch holographic media, offers some idea where TouchCast wants to go. An early step towards that future may already exist at the public’s fingertips. “The iPad is a precursor to what the TV is going to look like,” Schonfeld says.

There is still a lot of undiscovered territory with smart televisions, he says. Devices such as the Roku player, Google’s Chromecast device, Xbox consoles with gesture control, and the elusive Apple TV are just early pieces in the next generation of media. The audience, Schonfeld believes, is ready to graduate from the passive, spoon-fed video experience. “It’s all about consumers taking control increasingly,” he says.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These new layers of interactivity, frankly, would be pointless if the platform were too cumbersome to use. Early in development, TouchCast built a large closet-like unit with a transparent touchscreen rigged with a camera. At the time, the startup thought media companies would be the primary broadcasters.

Schonfeld says that complex technology was soon condensed into a platform that is easy to use, by broadcasters and viewers alike, on an iPad. TouchCast launched the app on the iPad to take advantage of its visual real estate. “It becomes a canvas to create with,” Schonfeld says. Whatever the video creators can fit on their screens will be seen by the viewers.

With a few touches and swipes, individuals who video themselves can insert the interactive elements they want as they record. So as a reporter pulls up a webpage with a story during a video, the viewer can look at the story—and keep the video going.

TouchCast put its app on the market for free to increase awareness of the technology, says Schonfeld. Some of its early adopters are kids in school and other amateur videographers; the company says it wants to democratize video production. “It’s not just the top ten broadcasters in the world who can do this, it’s everybody,” Schonfeld says. TouchCast is also in talks with media outlets that are interested in the software.

Thus far the startup is self-funded, and it has a veteran entrepreneur at the helm. Segal sold his prior company, Relegence, to AOL in 2006. He went on to found bMuse, which is the parent of TouchCast. “BMuse has a portfolio of projects and companies,” Schonfeld says. “TouchCast is one of them.”

As people increasingly watch video on tablets, TouchCast thinks it has an edge to grow its audience. The blurring of the line between TV and Web video, Schonfeld believes, will further those plans. “It’s all going to be on one screen,” he says.