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Get a Life: New Tools Put Lifecasting Within Anyone's Reach
Lifecasting has grown wildly popular, with new tools available that let anyone webcast their own Truman Show. The big question: Is there money to be made, or is it just a passing fad?
Fri., Sept. 5, by Ron Miller

This article appears in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription

About 10 years ago, Jim Carrey was in a movie called The Truman Show, in which his character discovers that his whole life is a television show. This was 2 years before CBS’s Survivor put the idea of reality TV into the public consciousness (although MTV had been broadcasting The Real World since 1992) and years before the widespread proliferation of broadband. But The Truman Show was onto something well before its time: People could be interested in watching the mundane aspects of everyday life on TV (or on the internet). Fast-forward to 2008 and "lifecasting," as it has come to be called, is very real.

Cell phones and cheap video cameras have put the means to create and broadcast video instantly into the hands of ordinary people. When you compound that with new online tools that make it dead-simple to upload video or stream live from a cell phone, virtually anyone can broadcast their own lives or what they are seeing in the world around them. Whether this has any real commercial potential beyond novelty and narcissism is still very much open to question, but there is little doubt that The Truman Show’s screenwriter, Andrew Niccol, was a visionary.

What Is Lifecasting?
Lifecasting is really about consumers sharing their lives instantly, explains Sarig Reichert, co-founder and VP of marketing at Flixwagon, a site and service that enables individuals to broadcast video from a cell phone in real time. Flixwagon’s tag line is "Your life … live." Andrew Hyde, marketing director at Rawflow, Ltd., a company that runs a site called Selfcast, describes it in more general terms. "Life or self-casting is ultimately different things to different people. Some people will want to broadcast; some will want to watch. For some it’s a creative medium, a political medium, or an educational one. Selfcast.com is simply a broadcasting platform that enables all these things," he says.

Rawflow president and co-founder Mikkel Dissing adds, "The company started back in 2000 when I began developing live streaming technologies with a business partner. The idea for Selfcast was always in our minds; we saw the technologies we were developing as being socially liberating—now everyone could have their own TV station broadcast online."

But Steve Rosenbaum, CEO at Magnify.net, a site that allows users to upload video to their own "channel," says it’s important to understand that there is a commercial side to this as well, and some people are hoping to make money from this type of broadcasting. "There is a pretty bright line between diary lifecasting and people trying to build a business," Rosenbaum says. The way he differentiates this is by describing someone who goes to a bar every Thursday to sing karaoke. This person, he says, isn’t likely to think of himself or herself as a musician. But a person who plays guitar and sings every Thursday night, puts out a tip jar, and hopes to get a recording contract has a totally different mind-set. "Most of the people on Magnify.net are building businesses, not hobbies," he says.

Who Is Doing This?
When you look at sites offering these types of services, the types of content are as varied and unusual as you would find on YouTube or MySpace, or any blog for that matter. And as Rosenbaum points out, there can be an entertainment or informational component, but at the same time, there is a desire to monetize the content. Hyde provides an example of a pet store owner who broadcasts live from an aquarium and does so for both reasons that Rosenbaum cites.

"The pet store owner has a camera inside a reef aquarium in his shop broadcasting 24/7—at nighttime the camera switches to infrared so you can see in the dark. Hobbyists study changes in the reef, chat about fish-keeping, help each other, and so on, whereas other people have the live stream on in the background while they do something else. It’s quite relaxing. And of course let’s not forget the shopkeeper—he is promoting his business online, attracting lots of attention in the community and has seen real business growth as a result of self-casting," Hyde says. (You can view the aquarium at www.selfcast.com/tropicalandmarines.)

Bhaskar Roy, CEO at Qik, a service that allows you to broadcast live using the video camera in your cell phone, says he is surprised every day by the way that people are using Qik. "We started with people using it for sharing their personal experiences, but people are using it for healthcare, to record the news, a few TV stations and newspapers (like The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, and CNN) are all using the service to capture news and support news live. We are seeing uses across the board for a variety of reasons," he says.

Rosenbaum describes two different approaches to using Magnify.net. One is used by Jeff Hibbard, who broadcasts from the cab of his pickup truck several times a day. "Jeff Hibbard is this guy who records and broadcasts from the cab of his truck. Everybody here loves this guy … There is one of the 364 videos [on his Magnify.net site] where he shows his [video and computer] set up. It’s hysterical…There is never a day you are not going to find Jeff Hibbard in his truck," Rosenbaum says.

Another example Rosenbaum provides is from a Native American couple named Geronimo and Little Bear who started a video sharing site for the Native American community called Native American Tube. In just 6 weeks, they had collected thousands of videos and had almost 500 community members. "They have literally from a cold start gathered thousands of videos," Rosenbaum says. He adds that this ability to build a community of like-minded people in this fashion is another side of the lifecasting phenomenon.