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The Me Channel

A personal-video broadcasting system from SplashCast brings new meaning to the term “reality TV.”

If you’ve always wanted to be on TV, but you can’t croon sincerely enough to try out for American Idol and you wouldn’t fit in with the 24-year-old adolescents on The Real World, a tiny startup called SplashCast may have what you need: a way to create your own shows and broadcast channels, viewable by millions, on the Web.

Using SplashCast, individuals can create personal video channels and fill them with their own videos, music, or photos or with noncopyrighted content from elsewhere on the Web. This channel, created by opera lover Ken Beare, shows clips from classic Italian operas such as Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

SplashCast channels can be viewed “on demand” inside a special streaming-media player pasted into a blog page or other personal website. Whenever a show or channel is updated, the new content flows out to viewers automatically.

There aren’t yet any SplashCast celebrities; the company just launched the new service on January 29, at the DEMO 07 conference in Palm Desert, CA. But publicity-minded users have already created more than 1,000 channels and filled them with multimedia shows, including video, music, photos, and text.

“Now the average person, without being very technically sophisticated, has the ability to put together any type of media content they want and really be their own broadcaster,” says Michael Berkley, CEO of SplashCast, which is based in Portland, OR, and has a staff of eight running on $1.6 million in venture funding.

Of course, the idea of the Internet as a personal publishing medium goes back to the beginning of the Web in the early 1990s, and it blossomed more fully around 2002 with the rise of blogs and RSS news feeds. More recently, it has become a simple matter to distribute photos or videos by uploading them to media-sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube. And the spread of cheap video cams, easy-to-use video-editing tools, and portable media players such as the video iPod have inspired even newer personal-media genres such as vlogging and vodcasting (the video equivalents of blogging and podcasting).

What’s new about SplashCast’s service is that it marries the concepts of video blogging and dynamic syndication. In the same way that RSS news readers such as Newsgator and Bloglines show the latest headlines from around the mediasphere every time a user logs in, a specific SplashCast player always displays the latest content the player’s creator has added to his or her personal channel. That’s different from previous forms of “embeddable” video players, which are usually restricted to showing a single video. A MySpace user who wants to include three YouTube videos on her profile page, for example, must paste in three separate players. With this older player technology, to use Berkley’s comparison, it’s “as if your TV could only be tuned to The O’Reilly Factor.”

One established SplashCast competitor, BrightCove, allows users to create players that show multiple videos. But BrightCove’s system is designed for professional media producers, and it can’t automatically push new content to players. Berkley and his colleagues also have plenty of other company in the video-sharing category, including several startups that debuted alongside SplashCast at DEMO 07. There’s Mixpo, which helps artists and musicians create video postcards that they can embed in their blogs or social-network profile pages; Panjea, where content creators can upload their video, photo, and music files and either sell them outright or keep a share of the site’s advertising revenue whenever visitors view them online; and Eyejot, where webcam owners can record short video messages and attach them to e-mails.

But while SplashCast is not completely unique, it may have a better-than-average shot at winning the startup lottery. That’s partly thanks to the simplicity of SplashCast’s publishing tools. Content on SplashCast is organized into shows, which are added to channels, which are assigned to players, which can be syndicated on any website. All you need to do to build a show is upload media files, type in text entries (which can be as short as PowerPoint slides or as long as blog posts), or point to files already stored on YouTube, Flickr, or elsewhere on the Web. If you’ve already set up RSS feeds for your Flickr or YouTube accounts, you can drop the URLs for these feeds directly into SplashCast’s show-building console. Then any files added to your Flickr or YouTube pages automatically show up in the corresponding SplashCast show.

To get your new show out to viewers, you add it to one of your personal SplashCast channels and create a player that will show this channel. SplashCast generates HTML code that can be copied and pasted into your blog page or social-networking profile. The next time someone visits the page, this code instructs his or her Web browser to download the player and the latest channel content.

The production process could hardly be faster: in about 10 minutes, I was able to place some nature photos that I had already uploaded to Flickr into a SplashCast slide show and place a player in my personal blog, which I invite you to visit.

But here’s the really cool part: if you happen to like my slide show and you want to see the new photos that I add to it in the future, you don’t have to come back to my blog to do it. You can simply go to the “Menu” button inside the SplashCast player and select “Subscribe to this channel.” You’ll be asked to log in to SplashCast–you’ll have to create an account if you don’t have one already–and the player will then send you a few lines of HTML code, which you can paste into your own blog or personal start page (such as the free, customizable start pages available at PageFlakes.com). Every time you start the player, it will grab my latest photos, as if your page were a virtual digital photo frame. (For more on the coming crop of real digital photo frames, look for my February 16 column.)

As SplashCast shows go, however, my slide show is definitely on the dull side. Highlights from SplashCast’s first week in service, collected in a blog entry by SplashCast community director Marshall Kirkpatrick, include an audio tour of Italian-opera history, a Celtic folk-music podcast, a graffiti-art slide show, a video podcast from the creators of the technology blog Technically Speaking, and a collection of 30 Superbowl commercials.

Berkley and his employees haven’t had time to create some obvious–and needed–features. One is a central SplashCast catalog, so that people can browse through the fast-growing corpus of shows and channels without having to stumble across them on the open Web. Another is a desktop SplashCast widget that would allow Windows or Mac users to watch their favorite broadcasters’ channels without having to open a Web browser.

For the moment, SplashCast’s service is completely free, and there is nary an advertisement to clutter up users’ channels. But Berkley says several revenue-generating strategies are in the works, including a subscription-based “pro” version of the service and a system for adding advertisements to channels. (The company plans to share ad revenues with channel owners.) “We’re also looking at ‘white-labeling’ our technology to the social-networking platforms,” says Berkley, meaning that companies like MySpace might offer SplashCast’s broadcasting services to members under their own brand names.

“We offer a universal media platform to take care of audio, video, pictures, and everything in one location, and that’s very appealing to the social-networking companies,” Berkley says.

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