Leanback TV

TV is magic in a number of ways that online video has not yet replicated. For starters, there’s always something playing the second you turn it on. Also, even though there are more channels today than ever before, there remains a finite amount of choices. When you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s actually comforting to know that you won’t be scrolling forever. With most online video portals, however, the experience is quite the opposite. There’s a reason that an endless feed of Web video content aggregated and curated into one place, hasn’t been enough to kill traditional TV because. In many ways, the massive amount of options leads to paralysis by choice, and sometimes, it’s still nice to have a fully leanback consumption experience.

San Diego online video startup StationCreator hopes that its scheduled, continuous broadcast technology is the key ingredient missing amid today’s Web TV world. Via its platform launched publicly just last week, viewers have the option to browse by a traditional channel guide and select a never-ending content stream to watch and enjoy. Like traditional TV, everyone around the world that’s tuned into that same station will be viewing the same content at the same time.

StationCreator channel owners are given a suite of video scheduling tools built on top of its hosting infrastructure to aggregate content from existing online video sites including YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, UStream, LiveStream, and Justin.tv. Users can import a single item or a full channel from each source. Crucially, the video is played directly from the source and any existing interstitial or overlay advertising from the source is maintained within StationCreator. Users can even mix in live streams and advertisements. It’s incredibly easy to allow the system to create a schedule automatically, or the channel owner can be more deliberate and manually program the content.

In either case, the result is a continuous broadcast stream that viewers can watch on a fullscreen player page, or in a custom player that can be embed on any website. Users can check out the broadcast schedule to see what’s playing at later in the day or can just sit back and enjoy whatever appears on screen. For those more impatient, all content is available “On Demand” as well.

(Check out PandoDaily’s sample StationCreator station created from our YouTube channel.)

Previously, running a terrestrial television network required equipment, permits, and content licensing that was out of reach for nearly every individual and organization. StationCreator is available to anyone, from premium content providers to individual video bloggers and hobbyists. This means that its channels will range from the equivalent of online HBO to Public-Access Television. The platform won’t be able to make dull content interesting, but at least it will offer a compelling new consumption experience that may give it a fighting chance.

StationCreator is available in a Free and paid Pro version. Free users don’t have the option to manually schedule content or to embed their channel onto another site. Pro users get all-you-can-eat access to the platform’s features including a customizable player and schedule widgets, as well as robust reporting that goes beyond Google Analytics to offer proprietary real-time user behavior tracking tools.

The technical problem solved here is actually quite complex, according to StationCreator founder and former NBC and CBS interactive producer Jon Labes. The startup has developed a patent-pending scheduler and autopilot system that intelligently analyzes existing online video metadata to interpret duration and other key details and then assemble it into a seamless broadcast experience. “It would still take YouTube a good six to eight months to cook up a bad version of what we have,” he says. (That’s assuming they haven’t already.)

YouTube is actually not the most natural competitor to StationCreator. Given that the startup’s cross-platform support, it’s actually more likely that a third-party company attempts to duplicate its offering. Given his head start and the technological hurdles, Labes is rightfully pleased with his position.

StationCreator began as an idea inside Howard Lindzon’s StockTwits in mid-2011, and now exists as a standalone venture. The five person team is being incubated by the Southern California angel investor’s Social Leverage fund and has raised approximately $350,000 to date from Lindzon and other angels. StationCreator will likely pursue a traditional Seed round of $1 million to $2 million in Q1 2013.

The startup has been in private beta  for months, with approximately 600 early users ranging from NBC News and the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper, to a large number of regional mega-churches. According to Labes, the startup has been receiving an overwhelming amount of inbound demand and is currently in partnership discussions revolving around licensing its API for use in third-party integrations. In the future, StationCreator hopes to offer users one-click publishing of a unique mobile app built around their channel and available for download on the iTunes and Google Play app stores.

For many of these potential broadcasters, YouTube and/or their website or blog are the current the default repositories for original and curated video content. The problem is, that for frequent visitors, the reverse chronological list of content rarely changes, with occasional new content appearing at the top and old content getting quickly buried. With StationCreator, there’s always something on to engage would be visitors, and new life is breathed into evergreen legacy content. There aren’t many other places in the world of online video where you can say either of those things.