I was recently able to secure some time with Mr Mikkel Dissing, CEO of RawFlow – founders of the live online video broadcasting platform Selfcast. He was kind enough to answer 15 questions about RawFlow, Selfcast and the live online broadcasting phenomenon.
Key Points to Take Away from the Interview:
- RawFlow’s vision is to be the de-facto network for live streaming online.
- Live broadcasting with Selfcast is as simple as downloading the application and pressing a button.
- Many new features are planned for Selfcast, including widgets that can plug-in to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, allowing embedded live broadcasts.
- In the future, it is likely users will be able to Selfcast directly from their mobiles devices.
- The company will commission the production of exclusive content for Selfcast and establish partnerships with production companies and celebrities.
Mikkel Dissing Answers 15 Questions:
- You are one of the founders of RawFlow, the company behind Selfcast – can you tell us a little about how RawFlow came to be?
RawFlow was set up by Daniel Franklin, our CTO, and I in my bedroom about 6 years ago. I got the idea from listening to streaming services online from the Danish version of BBC Radio – DR.dk – and P2P based file-sharing networks. I thought it was a good idea to put together efficient distribution technologies of content with live media. This was the founding idea of RawFlow and we started developing the P2P platform, which is now the foundation of our Intelligent Content Distribution (ICD) Technology and Selfcast. In 2005, we received financial backing from Benchmark Capital.
- Tell us about the evolution of Selfcast. Has it been a vision since RawFlow founded?
RawFlow’s vision has been and still is to be the de-facto network for live streaming online. Originally Selfcast was developed to allow consumers and smaller broadcasters who couldn’t afford expensive hosting and bandwidth to benefit from our unique peer to peer streaming technology, thereby creating a bigger peer to peer network for the technology to work across. It soon became clear that Selfcast was going to much more than a platform for spreading our P2P technology. It is a unique innovation that can further wash out the boundaries between professional content producers and you and me. Live video broadcasting is the next evolution in UGC video sharing and the excitement the concept has created is telling of that.
- How would you describe what Selfcast is in a nut shell?
To put it simply, Selfcast a free tool that enables anyone to create their own live TV or Radio channel online as long as they have a PC and an internet connection. With Selfcast you just download the application and press a button to broadcast. It couldn’t be simpler really.
- The technology driving Selfcast is peer-to-peer – have you found any resistance to this technology given that P2P used to be a “dirty word”?
There is a stigma related to P2P, but mainly due to the associated copyright infringements which has very little to do with the actual technology. We used to meet more resistance though, but recently many legal applications of P2P have been promoted such as Skype, Joost and VeriSign’s acquisition of KonTiki (used for the BBC iPlayer) – even BitTorrent’s going “legal”! All this contributes to improving the reputation of P2P as a superior distribution technology.
- How is your P2P technology better than other live streaming methods, what are the advantages for users?
The only way for the Internet to become a true broadcast medium is via a distributed approach. Unlike a traditional terrestrial broadcast where there are economies of scale advantages, internet broadcasting adds a cost per user which doesn’t decrease as you add more data traffic, a ’success penalty’ if you like. Peer-to-Peer is one of the few ways this is possible at the moment to distribute rich media in a cost efficient way for the broadcaster. It’s better than other live streaming methods because it is scalable, more efficient than existing technologies, has no restrictions on bandwidth or the number of users at any one time gives people a completely free service where they can broadcast video and audio in significantly higher quality than any other live user generated video service.
- Selfcast is still in beta – are there plans for any more features or changes in the interface, and when is it scheduled for full release?
There are many changes afoot! The joy of being in beta is that we can learn from how our users interact with the service. We’re also doing a lot of bug fixing and testing of both the application and the web portal. Most significantly though, we are developing widgets at the moment so that broadcasts can be embedded directly into social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace. This is incredibly exciting for us. Selfcast will probably be in beta for some time to come, as there are a lot of further development projects – so stay tuned!
- How does RawFlow plan to make money from Selfcast? E.g. Advertising, memberships?
Selfcast is absolutely free for the users. We want people to use the site, create and watch content for the site. In the near future, there are plans for advertisements on the site as an obvious income stream and we will work with brands for customized WebTV channels on Selfcast. We are also excited about the potential to create an income for the broadcasters themselves: One of the things we have on our road map is the facility to provide an end-to-end platform for UGC video distribution where viewers can pay to download the broadcast or pay-to-view. Implementation of a micro-payment system will also be revenue generating for Selfcast.
- Who do you think will use Selfcast and for what purpose? There seems to be a lot of people broadcasting themselves sitting at their desk not doing much – will there be more interesting and productive uses?
It’s very hard to predict who will be the main user group of Selfcast, and before releasing Selfcast we developed many user scenarios. However, there were many more we could never have envisaged. For example, at the moment there’s a psychic telling his viewers “I can feel you, I can feel you, you are healed” with his open palms up to the camera as a healing device. There’s also a real “dude” from California with a long beard, chain smoking and explaining to people how to use Selfcast! Of course, there’s certain content which benefits more from being live than other stuff: Live gigs, sports, “life cast” (people who are live 24/7), online radio stations, 24 hour bar/restaurant cams and (funnily enough) hamster cams! The possibilities are endless.
- What’s more popular on Selfcast – 24/7 live streaming channels or traditional time-slot broadcasts?
At the moment there is a pretty even mix of both 24/7 live streaming and time-slot channels. It’s early days so who knows how this will develop?
- There seems to be a new video sharing site popping up every day – is there a danger that online self broadcasting is just a craze of “Generation Y” that’s going to burn out? Will natural attrition see the consolidation of video sharing sites and demand for quality produced content?
Did explosion of free email services (Hotmail, Gmail etc) end up in people no longer sending email? Were social networks a craze that died out after a bit of hype? No! For any disruptive innovation there’s usually a sudden increase in the number of competing offerings, and then it’s up to the market to decide which services to go for and the market will be consolidated, and only the best and most popular services will survive. In other words, we can expect there to be a decrease in number of video sharing technologies and sites, but that does not mean that there will be an end to video sharing! At RawFlow we think that the world has only seen the start of what live user generated broadcasting can do, and the quality of non-professional content will just increase as the tools of production and distribution will become cheaper or completely free and easier to use. We like to say that we’re part of a democratization of media where anyone can create their own TV!
- Are there any plans for cross-integration of Selfcast? For example, being able to Selfcast from a mobile device? Or IPTV delivery to lounge rooms?
At the moment we’re focusing on web only, but we’re keeping a watchful eye on network speeds, upload in particular, on mobile networks…
- Will you ever commission and fund a live TV show to be produced exclusively for Selfcast?
Yes. Exclusivity is important. As it happens we are developing concepts for both scheduled and 24/7 channels as we speak and in the next couple of months there will be some exciting stuff happening on Selfast.com that you can only watch on our website. We’re also working on establishing partnerships with production companies and celebrities.
- It appears that you have content streams coming from other sites (such as wwitv.com), why is that?
When you have a live distribution platform you can never really avoid some content infringement, but we are working on minimizing this.
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen so far broadcast live on Selfcast?
That’s a tricky one – the most interesting thing? There was an avalanche in the Alps -but maybe the psychic guy, he’s pure entertainment value. Also, there’s been a couple of unsigned bands broadcasting live, but we believe that live gigs online could prove very interesting, and even more so when have our widgets ready for MySpace and other music related social networks.
- What’s the future for Selfcast and how do you see the online video market evolving in the next 5 years?
Five years is “forever-and-a-day” when it comes to the internet! In 5 years Selfcast will be bigger than YouTube in terms of traffic and we’ll have millions of people broadcasting themselves live using their mobile phones. On computers, Selfcast will have turned into a production suite for live TV with editing tools and possibilities for inserting text and images into the live streams. Perhaps there will also be an IPO or a merger/acquisition on the horizon? The online video market will have consolidated but there will be many niche specialized video platforms. We can also predict that most of the brands that have made it online will be transferred to mobile and other platforms like IPTV.
Thank you very much to Mikkel Dissing for doing the interview! Check out Selfcast.
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