Bandwidth issues – especially for Leo's show, which is sent out on 16:9 high definition resolution – are still critical. Usage is pretty steep and consistent, even when only 2,000 people are watching at the same time. Stickam put TWiT Live on a dedicated server cluster, which ensures it can scale to more viewers without slowdowns.
Once past the technical problems, the main challenge that's left is finding the content. This has never been a problem for Leo, who's got more ideas than time and resources. "The audience is pretty tolerant," he says. "They seem to understand that it's an informal broadcast that's not CNN and they kind of like that, I think. I don't have too much trouble filling the time and they seem to be patient when, for instance, I have to get up and go to the bathroom. We don't have commercial breaks and so they just have to sit and wait while I do that."
In fact, the community is active whether the cameras are on or off. When the show is over and the chatroom is open, thousands of people stay all night long to talk to each other. "The programming is the anchor for the community. As a programmer you're really providing the core, the reason for getting together, but ultimately what makes it work is the people. They become part of a community and so the chatroom is critical to the whole thing. It's very important to have a chatroom attached to the video, so that people who casually wander by know immediately, 'Here's the community and here's how you can be part of it.' It really changes the experience of watching TV when you're watching it with other people in a community."
Although Leo's on the other side of the camera, he still sees himself as part of the community. "I'm staying on air as long as I can every day because ideally I'd like this to be 24 hours, which means I have to get more hosts. It's hard to turn the cameras off because it's so much finished with TWiT at 4.30pm I was still talking to people for another two hours. I'm part of the community too, and just as people find it hard to leave the chatroom, I find it tough to leave the community and get on with my regular life."
Originally, Leo didn't want to include any advertising on TWiT. He wanted it to be a direct medium supported by the people who listen to it, but that turned out to be too idealistic and few people were donating. It was enough to support the network initially, but to grow it to the size it is today, Leo had to strike ad sharing deals (as happened with Stickam).
Now TWiT is a proper corporation with four employees, including an accountant and a book keeper, and Leo expects to gross a very respectable $1 million this year. However, he says he still makes his living with radio show The Tech Guy and ploughs all the money he'd be making back into TWiT to develop it.
In the future, Leo would like to add a gaming, a mobile phone and an audio book podcast, but right now the resources aren't there. The focus is on beefing up TWiT Live. Only recently, Leo installed a Tricaster Studio (newtek.com/tricaster), which means he can switch between up to six cameras and several computer screens to show the Skype callers. "That's the advantage of being the sole proprietor, the guy in charge," Leo laughs.
"You get to do what you want. Internet broadcasting gives you complete and utter control. I have to say it's very intoxicating, it's very addictive. Once you have control over what you're doing and the audience you reach, you don't ever want to do it any other way. The mistakes you make are all your own, and I made more than my share, but I get to do what I want and that's the fun part of the creative process."
And so, at 51, Leo Laporte doesn't show any signs of slowing down. In fact, it's difficult to imagine the web without him. He is both the voice and the face of internet broadcasting.
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