Could live P2P video be the antidote to YouTube dross?
Craptown Utd gets its own TV station
A British company is aiming to stake a claim on some of the New World of online video's unexplored territory with Selfcast, a website and application that allow people to broadcast live to an unlimited audience using a bog standard broadband connection.
The system, a leap forward from flaky webcam streams, was developed by London-based peer to peer development outfit RawFlow and has been "soft" [read "cheap"] launching with a round of press meetings.
Uses are easy to imagine. Any event where live TV excels there's potential for Selfcast. Craptown United, with too small an audience for Sky to bother with, could broadcast to a couple of dozen supporters who can't make the game.
Genuine unsigned musicians - unlike "struggling" Tooting cellar chanteuse Sandi Thom, who was launched with a carefully plotted PR assault at the height of mainstream media's fascination with MySpace last year - could invite their embryonic international fanbase to watch a live gig.
RawFlow is itself steering clear of porn - the first killer application of most new web technologies - but cannily won't rule out whitelabelling Selfcast.
The technology is based on RawFlow's ICD (Intelligent Content Distribution) video delivery system, which it whitelabels to broadcasters, telcos, and large corporations. ICD is just one of many of the newer breed of "hybrid" peer-to-peer networking technologies, which aim to combine the efficiency of chunks of data flying round BitTorrent-style with the better quality and availability that a central hub - as used in streaming - can help guarantee.
Various recipes for the same brew underpin Joost, Babelgum, Channel 4 on demand, Sky Anytime, and BBC iPlayer.
The ICD background of Selfcast is platform-independent, and the Selfcast application's licensed under GPL 2. "People are copying us, not the other way around," Dissing said.
RawFlow was founded in 2002 and is backed by £2m from VC outfit Benchmark Capital. RawFlow CEO Mikkel Dissing said: "There are so many variables, and there's no substitute for being hammered in the real world like [ICD] has."
RawFlow's biggest test so far was a live showing of Chinese New Year celebrations to 100,000 viewers, though as with BitTorrent, if everything goes to plan, it should become more stable as more people join the broadcast.
Like iPlayer, Selfcast uses the Windows Media codec, so Mac and open source fanciers are in the cold until Microsoft sorts out its Silverlight cross-platform browser plug-in.
Selfcast users can broadcast live, or drop in pre-recorded clips using its noddy interface. If you ask it to, Selfcast will scrape email and IM contacts to build an invite list for your show. The obligatory plans for MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo widgets [sorry precious, Facebook Applications] are in place too.