Redesigned Spreecast is Live Multi-Person Video Chat, Now More Interactive and With Better Producer Controls

By Michael Carney , written on July 28, 2012

From The News Desk

The great promise of the Web has long been to better connect people around the world. Spreecast is a multi-person social video chat and broadcast platform with this mission in its DNA.

“I started Spreecast because face-to-face interaction was missing from social media landscape,” says Spreecast founder and CEO, and former StubHub founder, Jeff Fluhr. “Facebook and twitter have changed the way we interact with people online. They changed what have traditionally been private interactions to public. But the majority of the conversation is still text based, asynchronous and lacks some of the nuances of human interaction.”

The Spreecast platform allows face-to-face video chats between up to four people simultaneously that can be streamed live to an audience across the web. Off camera viewers can participate with each other through chat and built in social networking feeds, and with those on camera by submitting comments and questions. Event hosts, or producers, can moderate the event, even inviting off camera viewers to join the live video chat.

Spreecast can be used privately, but its value really becomes apparent when opened up to the public. The platform has been extremely popular among journalists and celebrities as a tool for reaching and better engaging with a large audience. “Spreecasts,” as they’re called, are embeddable with the full above feature set into any website and can be archived for later viewing.

Traditional media, including the Huffington Post, Politico, and VH1 have used Spreecast to drive conversations around world events like elections, the Supreme Court ruling on "ObamaCare," or major awards shows. Celebrities including Reese Witherspoon, Reggie Miller, and Elizabeth Banks have used the platform regularly to connect with fans. Klout CEO Joe Fernandez used the platform in September to announced an important product update.

In each of these cases, the ability to invite viewers on camera or take public comments and questions directly within the Spreecast maked the overall experience richer and more personal for all involved.

The startup released an overhauled version of its platform today driven by the user feedback and learnings gathered during its public beta period (ongoing since November). According to Fluhr, they wanted to make the process more intuitive for producers, more engaging for viewers, and more interactive for all with a side-­by-­side video and chat experience. They seem to have succeeded on all fronts.

I sat down with the founder and one of his lead engineers via Spreecast to discuss these latest changes and demo the updated product. It was actually my second time doing so, with the first taking place about three months ago. The differences are night and day.

For producers, the interface has evolved to offer greater functionality but also simplicity. Where controls were previously hidden or unavailable entirely, it’s now extremely obvious how to add or remove participants from the video chat, pre-screen potential participants, moderate submitted questions, and manage the social media streams. Several tools have been added to allow multiple producers to interact behind the scenes while managing and organizing large and interactive audiences.

For audience participants the new layout brings the conversation tools alongside the video player to maximize interactivity. Viewers are given the choice to live-chat amongst themselves, submit a question or comment to be discussed on camera, or tweet and post to facebook about the action.

Spreecast has been compared to Google Hangouts. In premise they’re similar, but functionally, they’re a bit different. First, Spreecast has the advantage of being social network agnostic meaning users can post to and invite friends from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ from within the platform. Second, Hangouts don’t offer nearly the sophistication of producer tools nor the ability to interact with a live audience beyond the video broadcast. One area where Hangouts has the edge is in the ability to have 10 people on camera simultaneously -- anyone who's ever been on a well attended conference call, however, knows that this is not always a positive.

Spreecast is currently available via the Web only but the company is working on mobile versions to be released later this year. The video platform is powered by Flash, meaning that it does not play nice with iOS devices (an iPad app is among those in development).

Spreecast raised $4 million in seed funding last December from former Viacom CEO Frank Biondi, The Capital Research Group media and technology investor Gordon Crawford, and BEA Systems founder Edward Scott, Jr.

The startup hasn’t begun implementing any “monetization initiatives” as Fluhr calls them, but there are a number planned for the future. Spreecast will likely offer paid premium features at some point. It’s also likely that content creators will use the platform to deliver paid content and Spreecast will take a revenue share. Finally, Fluhr sees opportunities to add commerce alongside live or archived video content.

“Social Video is an emerging area because it’s only recently been feasible,” says Fluhr. “The technical components necessary to have face-to-face conversations in the browser without installing software weren’t really available two or three years ago.”

There are a number of participants in the online video chat space. The aforementioned Google Hangouts is likely the most similar and well known option. Others, which compete with individual elements of the Spreecast platform include Tinychat, Tokbox, Apple’s Facetime, and Skype.

Each serves a unique use case in this new and rapidly evolving space. Spreecast seems to be taking on the “pro” market and offers far and away the best feature set among those I’ve encountered.

Fluhr and his team are well capitalized and in this for the long haul. Live video will continue to become more and more common on the Web and it’s far too early to declare a winner. Spreecast is succeeding, and will continue to do so, by bringing people together and driving face to face conversations about topics people care about.