Co-Founded By TC Alum Erick Schonfeld, TouchCast Aims To Reinvent Online Video With Interactive Apps

To explain TouchCast, a startup that’s launching its first product  today, my old boss Erick Schonfeld argued that the Internet has’t really transformed video. Sure, with sites like Netflix and Hulu, the distribution model has changed, but he said they’re just “a different pipe” — the underlying content is pretty similar to what you’d find on TV.

“The whole problem with video right now is it doesn’t really play nicely with the rest of the web,” Schonfeld said.

I think that underplays the extent to which a YouTube video or a Vine is pretty different from what we’ve seen before, but I understand Schonfeld’s bigger point — that for the most part, online video feels walled off from the rest of the web, at embedded in a widget on a website but not really interacting with the rest of the site, or with any other online content.

Schonfeld, along with his co-founders Edo Segal (founder of real-time search startup Relegence, former vice president of emerging platforms at AOL, and now CEO of TouchCast) and Charley Miller, are trying to address this with TouchCast — apparently this is what Schonfeld has been working on since he left TechCrunch last year. (He’s also the executive producer of the DEMO conference.) The overall vision is really big — to reinvent online video and rethink the web in a way that “looks like TV but still feels like the web.”

Today’s launch isn’t quite that ambitious. Instead, it’s meant to be the first step in that direction. TouchCast is releasing an iPad app for video authoring and discovery. The idea is to offer a powerful video creation tool that doesn’t require all the work that video editing normally does (in fact, the current app doesn’t allow you to do any real post-production work at all — you just shoot and share), and to enrich the experience with what the company calls vApps.

touchcast vapps

Those vApps (short for video apps) are really where the TouchCast vision comes into play, by allowing users to incorporate web content like Twitter streams, Facebook Pages, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and stock carts, into their videos. Miller stopped by the TechCrunch office a couple of weeks ago to show me the app — before he started recording, he set up a couple of vApps, including a Google Map, ahead of time. Once he started shooting, he just tapped on them to bring them into the video, and he could interact with them the same way you can with any web content — given the iPad’s touch interface, it was very Minority Report-ish.

So if you’re a reporter, it’s an easy way to enrich your video with online content. Schonfeld noted this also means a journalist can quickly get a video online without being delayed by editing. (Not that it’s just meant for journalists — the company says the app is designed for use by everyone “from veteran YouTube creators to video enthusiasts, from in-studio and field broadcast reporters and journalists to educators and students.”) TouchCast says it’s launching with nearly two dozen vApps created by the company itself, but it plans to turn this into an open platform for any developer to introduce their own apps.

As for the videos , you can watch them in the iPad app, on the TouchCast website, and on YouTube. Eventually, Schonfeld said TouchCasts can be integrated with any website — in fact, he suggested that they could become the first thing you see on a website, sort of a masthead or introduction to the site, with what we think of as a normal website pushed “underneath the fold.”

TouchCast is self-funded. The iPad app is free, but Segal said TouchCast can make money in a number of ways, including subscriptions for additional features and storage, enterprise licensing fees, and advertising.

Update: You can see the technology in-action in the YouTube video below, though if you want the full, interactive experience you have to check it out on the TouchCast site. You can also read more about the vision in this blog post.