if Twitter's Periscope brought live streaming video to anyone with a smartphone, the team behind ZCast wants to do the same for high-quality audio. ZCast, from six-person startup Zula, lets you start a live audio recording from your smartphone or computer, broadcast a link to the session through Twitter, and then invite others to join. Listeners can leave comments in real time and broadcasters can reply either via chat or live on the air. The service launches today on iOS and the web.
Unlike Periscope, which lets a single Twitter account broadcast to any number of viewers, Zula wants ZCast to be a collaborative affair much in the same way listeners can call into live radio shows. In other words, ZCast isn't "one to many" broadcasting, but "many to many," says Zula marketing chief Hillel Fuld. He thinks audio rather than live video is a more accessible format for everyday Twitter users. Fuld also feels like podcast production requires a cumbersome amount of time, effort, and expensive equipment, while creators are beholden to companies like Apple for distribution. The goal is to give anyone with a phone "the ability to podcast and interact in real time with your audience," Fuld says.
ZCast is like the Periscope of podcasts
The app is super sleek, with good design and a simple interface. You can start casting with the push of a button or schedule one to go live later on. You can also decide whether you want a tweet to go out to your Twitter followers informing them that you're starting a live podcast, and invite others to join either at the beginning of a recording or during one. There's not much by way of discovery at the moment, given the app has been a closed beta for some time. But there is a search function and any scheduled or active recordings from your Twitter followers show up in "upcoming" feed.
Zula, which was founded in 2013, has been working on ZCast for about 8 months now, split between Israel and the US. The company has funding from Microsoft and a number of other venture capital firms, and it started out as a conference calling apps for small teams. "Then came Slack and game over," Fuld says, referencing the buzzy chat app that's spread like wildfire throughout Silicon Valley and beyond. So the team changed course and honed in on podcasts. "So many companies dealing with video, so many with podcast distribution," Fuld says, "but creating a podcast is still a huge headache."
"Think YouTube for podcasts."
It's difficult right now to predict which function ZCast will be best at performing. You could conceivably use the app as a public group calling service, similar to Skype or Google Hangouts, so long as you didn't care who might drop by and listen in. ZCast also appears more adept at letting users produce on-the-fly live radio shows than it does for helping people with even low-quality equipment produce a traditional podcast. That said, the app may find a specific audience among established internet personalities who already use Periscope's live streaming in unique ways. However, It may be hard for Zula to find ways to make money off its free service when advertisers are more likely to flock toward well-produced podcasts with set lengths.
Ultimately, Zula's goal is to create an entire platform for podcasts that are as easy to listen and participate in as they are to create. "Think YouTube for podcasts," he adds. "No need for a studio or equipment, and you can produce, record, and distribute audio content in one place."