In his quarter century of broadcast journalism, Scott Baker said he has used virtually every expensive and hard-to-use piece of audio, video and webcasting equipment on the market. So last year when he tested Spreecast, a website that lets users broadcast video and interact with viewers, he was shocked.
With just a webcam and a browser, Baker was able to create a daily, hour-long news talk program for tens of thousands of viewers. For free.
Baker, 48, is editor-in-chief of TheBlaze, a conservative-leaning political news site he co-founded in 2010 after three years of helping run Breitbart.com, the website started by muckraker Andrew Breitbart. As part of his job at TheBlaze, Baker anchored a daily webcast. He stopped in 2011 because of the constant pressure to generate fresh content for his website while also launching TheBlaze TV, a subscription network featuring former Fox News host Glenn Beck.
That was until he heard about Spreecast. Now, Baker just fires up his computer, logs in and starts talking to fans for his afternoon sessions, called BlazeCasts. Viewers are able to submit questions and chat with one another in a text box on the side. With his discussions on topics such as gun owner rights, Obamacare and the fiscal cliff, Baker attracts an audience that exceeds 100,000 on some days. And he can work from anywhere.
“I do that show staring into a two-year-old MacBook Pro,” Baker said. “On the road, I’ve done this show in airports using a wireless card with only the internal microphone, and the audience seems to like it just as much.”
Baker is among a growing legion of web personalities ditching high-tech equipment in favor of social media services like Spreecast. While it doesn’t disclose total numbers, Spreecast co-founder Jeff Fluhr said active users on the site jumped 91 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three months. In October, the San Francisco-based company announced a partnership with Viacom’s VH1 Digital and Logo to create original content. VH1 has a regular program on Spreecast called Very VH1, where editors discuss pop culture, entertainment and current shows on the TV network.
Thanks to cloud computing services from Amazon.com and Rackspace, Fluhr has accomplished all of this in less than two years with $11 million in venture financing and a staff that now numbers 18. Fluhr, who previously co-founded online ticketing company StubHub, wanted to create a service that allowed people to turn their Twitter and blog discussions into live interactive conversations.
Google does something similar with Hangouts, but that software is tied to the Google Plus social-networking site. Spreecast’s technology can be embedded on any site and requires just an e-mail address or Facebook or Twitter credentials to sign in. With the touch of a button, the person running the program can pull viewers on to the screen for a video chat. Spreecasts can also be done in a private, invite-only format.
Fluhr said Spreecast is being used by media companies of all sizes, celebrities and ordinary people who just want to engage in online conversations with friends. Last month, actor John Stamos did a Spreecast for his Twitter followers that attracted almost 12,000 viewers. Last week, more than 8,000 people tuned in to watch Fox Sports’ Seth Everett welcome the return of NHL hockey after the prolonged strike.
One thing Fluhr has yet to do is start generating revenue. That will change in the coming months as the company introduces advertising into some shows and pay-per-view options for others, Fluhr said. Most of the revenue will go to the content creators, with Spreecast taking a small cut, he said.
Later this year, Fluhr expects to make money by providing data to producers who want to better understand their audience. Currently, the company offers a brief snapshot of the viewers, but it collects much more information such as how long people are watching, where fans are based and who was asking questions.
“We have a lot of data that we track and have a lot of analytics internally,” Fluhr said. “Eventually some of these analytics will be paid features.”
Baker sees potential value in advertising and analytics. TheBlaze’s website is ad-supported, so inserting promotions has obvious appeal. But more importantly, he wants to keep users engaged and coming back.
Last week, Baker interviewed bestselling novelist Brad Thor during the first half of the program, letting fans ask about the author’s views on gun control as well as personal questions, such as how he stays in shape and organizes his average day. Baker would love data letting him know how engaged his audience was during that half hour.
“I need to create a satisfying experience for the viewer,” Baker said.