Splashcast Aims to Offer A Frictionless Web Media Player

I got an early look last week at a media publishing tool being developed by Portland startup Splashcast and what I saw looked like something that anyone tired of overbranding and limited options in online media is sure to like. The product, which is still several months away from launch, is a clean, simple system for publishing channels of video, photos, audio and text via RSS feeds to a totally resizable, skinless Flash player. It’s easy to put media into the Splashcast steam and easy to pull yours or other peoples’ down into your player for sharing.

There are several strategies the company is employing that I think are likely to become best practices in the world of embedded media players and online publishing – and that’s a very large market. Tools like Splashcast are only going to make the online media market larger because they remove so much of the friction that’s present in tools currently available.

Widgets are the topic of the day and Splashcast is one of them that I’m most excited about.

Splashcast was formerly known as QMind, a company that’s built a web based eLearning content creation tool that is largely being ported into their new product. They received good recognition for quality of their enterprise software, but the company is betting that the semi-pro consumer generated online media space is where the real action is going to be in the coming years.

I was skeptical when I first heard about another embeddable Flash media player, but as I talked to the company about all of the things that other companies in the space were doing well and that they are working to incorporate and the unique combination of a hands-off approach to the user experience and professionalism that they bring to the space – my skepticism was softened. When I got to put their approach together with a demo of their product, I was particularly impressed.

We’ve written here about a lot of companies taking many different steps to enable media and website publishers to create and distribute content. Brightcove lets video and page publishers create and display channels of video in an embedded player. VideoEgg and Flixn offer Flash video capture right in the browser. Revver retrieves new advertisements to display after each time a video is played. Widgetbox lets users drop one piece of code onto a page and switch out content through a simple admin dashboard. Tagloops lets publishers drag and drop multimedia items to an RSS feed that populates a player. OneTrueMedia lets publishers combine multiple forms of media into one player with a web based movie editor. Scrapblog’s web based media creation workspace is as smooth and powerful as simple desktop layout tools. Feedburner allows text headlines to be syndicated around the web through an embeddable widget.

Splashcast looks like it’s going to do all of the above, it’s a super media widget. Stickam is the company’s most likely general competitor and Splashcast may or may not want to add the live chat capabilities of that service. In some ways they are different kinds of products, Stickam being more communication based and Splashcast being a media tool.

Splashcast is building one of the most usable systems I’ve seen yet for nontechnical and semi-technical users to upload and capture any kind of media content into channels that are then available for site publishers to choose between after they have dropped the Splashcast code into their sites. Shows and channels can be filled with a combination of different media types, organized by drag and drop and audio narration can be added. After a show finishes playing, an auto generated “credits” screen scrolls all information available about the files that were included in that show.

The most immediately remarkable thing you’ll notice when you start seeing Splashcast players around the web is that they are beautiful. They will typically be just a square on the screen – no branding, no play button, nothing but a clear-as-glass image on the page until you mouse over it. When hovered over, a spartan border with play, stop and “get this item” links rolls over the top and bottom of the player.

Viewers will be able to select between multiple shows to watch in the player displayed on whatever site they are at. At first there will be limited choices determined by the site publisher but in time that won’t be the case. Eventually each Splashcast player will be a small portal into a whole world of Flash media content. Think Zooomr portals but with viewers and publishers sharing control over what can be seen when you stick your head into the Splashcast player.

Instead of a Flash widget that lets you display items you like on Amazon (like MyPickList) publishers will be able to share any kind of media they want with their site visitors and the visitors will be able to turn through each item in the channel like it was a multimedia scrapbook or photo album. The Splashcast dashboard, accessible by hovering over any Splashcast player, will act like a bay of video screens that a TV producer switches between to send to the viewers’ screens. We’ll all be the camera people, the TV station producers and the audience. The frictionless process through which all parties involved will be able to contribute and select between channels will make this very appealing.

If I had a Splashcast player on a page of mine, I’d want to show my site’s visitors the Scoble Show today, CookingUpAStory tomorrow, photos of where I live all the time and whatever else I discovered as I discovered it. If I saw very compelling advertising media, I’d be happy to show that too and share it with creators of content I showed in my player. Will I be able to share all that different content from other people through one player? If it’s as technically easy to do as Splashcast aims to make it, and I cannot – then we’ve got a political or business model problem. There is no reason why media creators ought not want their work shared as far, wide and fast as possible if they are given credit and compensated for their work.

How will it be monetized? Splashcast believes that an era of creative multimedia web publishing and consumption is just dawning and that some publishers will pay site owners to play their channels or occasional shows and that some site owners will pay to be able to display other channels. Chanel publishers interested in promoting their bands, brands or causes will have to create content that’s compelling to small web publishers like bloggers if they hope that bloggers will accept payment to share time on their Splashcast player with the advertisers.

Is that a realistic vision of the future? I’m too often skeptical that there is ever going to be enough quality content in the small, short form web media world to drive an economically viable ecosystem. After I spent some time this weekend going through the nominees from the Vloggies awards, watching shows at Podtech and looking through photos at Zooomr – I’m far less skeptical. Once our original channels are an asset and a starting point but not a constraint, when media can be thrown up online and around the web as easily as Splashcast aims to make it – I wouldn’t be surprised if quality content becomes much easier to find.

Watch this space for coverage of SplashCast’s launch, hopefully early next year.