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Thomas Deaton sits in front of a Web cam in Santa Rosa and warily takes a bite of uncooked eggplant stuffed with ground pig?s feet, Spam, nacho cheese, fish sauce and mayonnaise.

His stomach clenches as he tries to swallow the revolting mix. Beads of sweat line his brow.

His co-host chortles as she readies the next vile spoonful. And around the world, a small but devoted audience watches him gag as his online game show streams across the Internet.

Will he hurl?

That looming question is the basis of Deaton?s interactive Web show and serves as its namesake: WillieHurl.com.

Deaton is co-host of the Webcast, part of a new form of online entertainment. And he and co-creator Nat Fast, a Santa Rosa tech inventor, are determined to figure out a way to make money in this developing entertainment market, where audience members interact online with a show?s host.

WillieHurl?s audience are more than just viewers. They are participants equipped with a unique set of Internet tools that let them control various gizmos of vomit-inducing torment in the show?s Santa Rosa studio ? even if a viewer is watching from a computer in China, South Africa or just down the street.

?A mouse click anywhere in the world makes stuff move here,? Deaton said.

Fast quickly added, ?It?s all about live interaction, and live control.?

The show draws its inspiration from the gross-out genre of reality TV made popular by such shows as ?Fear Factor,? ?Jackass? and ?Man vs. Wild.? Although it may seem outrageous, it is a stark example of how the Internet is changing entertainment.

The Web has become a new stage for the creative class, joining radio and TV as a third broadcast medium. But it promises a level of interactivity not possible before ? and could revolutionize how people think about game shows.

?Interactivity is one of the unique elements of live video online,? said Michael Seibel, chief executive of Justin.tv, the fast-growing Web site that streams WillieHurl and other video programs over the Internet. ?And they?re taking that to the extreme.?

With a push of a button, the online audience on WillieHurl can spray Deaton in the face with a goo gun, trigger pre-recorded vomiting noises in the studio, or even pour Deaton a nauseating concoction of pickle juice, boiled hot dog water and whiskey from a custom-built liquid dispenser.

Deaton will drink whatever his audience pours. And in that way, the viewers influence the entertainment.

To say the WillieHurl show is rough around the edges might be an understatement. It?s far from professional TV.

But Deaton and Fast aren?t interested in perfecting production quality. Instead they are working on the software technology that will make interactive game shows feasible. They?re also trying to develop a way to make money from the new interactive medium.

To that end, the duo designed the studio and the robotics that let online viewers shoot the goo gun and dispense the stomach-churning cocktails. They also created a software program that enables them to charge audience members a small sum ? or micropayment ? for every glop of goo they shoot or disgusting cocktail they make Deaton drink.

With the click of a mouse and a small payment to an online PayPal account, viewers interact with Deaton ? effectively changing the course of the show.

On a recent Thursday night, Deaton did his best to not gag as he slurped down a milkshake made from fast-food tossed in a blender ? a Carl?s Jr. bacon cheeseburger, curly fries, an ice cream shake and a 24-ounce soda. As he tried to keep it down, his audience peppered him with vomiting noises. The more the noises got to him, the more his online audience seemed willing to spend money to make the sounds occur more frequently.

?The goal is to be able to pay for entertainment in a new way,? Fast said.

To pay for interactions, the audience redeems tokens that cost $10 for 100. It costs five tokens to pour a shot for Deaton, or one token to shoot the goo gun.

Every time someone pays for a shot, the camera angle automatically switches to a Webcam placed at the end of the dispenser and shows viewers whatever vile combination is pouring into Deaton?s glass. The automated computer program holds that camera angle for about three seconds and then automatically jumps back to a shot of Deaton and co-host Brandileigha Stracner, whose real job is working at a radio station in San Francisco.

The studio is equipped with 13 cameras so viewers can get every angle of the show and its, um, coup de grace.

?We?re finding he hurls about 33 percent of the time,? Fast said.

Fast and Deaton decided to build the show around something grotesque to test their notions of what an audience would pay for on the Internet, where anything goes. The two-dozen regular viewers serve as a test group for the duo, who use the show to perfect the software interface.

Deaton, normally a mild mannered software developer, said the idea of helping design a whole new platform for online entertainers has helped him stomach the role of on-air masochist. Still, both he and Fast recognize he can?t do it forever.

?It?s pretty hard on him,? Fast said. ?It throws his body off for days.?

Once the software is ready for release, which could happen in the next three months, they hope to license it to professional production companies, such as MTV or Nickelodeon. They?ve already been approached by an English company, Fast said.

Deaton and Fast plan to make money by taking a percentage of every payment made using their interactive software.

On average, they make about $1 from every viewer during the two-hour show, or $25 to $80 a night, depending on the size of the audience. They usually do a couple shows a week on Thursday and Saturday nights.

To date, they?ve invested about $8,000, although that doesn?t include the hundreds of hours they?ve put into designing the studio and software.

Both Deaton and Fast have histories of testing out new technologies and markets. Deaton studied artificial intelligence at Stanford University and worked for the hit Web site Neopets.com during its early days.

Fast helped design the Fly pen at LeapFrog, which makes tech toys for kids. He more recently helped develop the critically-acclaimed Pulse pen, an ink pen equipped with an audio recorder that can replay what was being said at the moment its user was writing it down.

Now they are applying their minds to the world of online entertainment.

To reach viewers, they broadcast their show over Justin.tv, a Web site that lets anyone stream live video for free. Based in San Francisco, Justin.tv is growing fast ? about 1,800 percent in 2008 ? and now has 41.1 million unique visitors.

While interactive online game shows are a relatively new phenomenon, there have been a few high-profile examples.

In January, TV star Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Rose, who founded the news aggregation site Digg.com, produced an online game show starring themselves and two other contestants. In the show, called ?24 Hours at Sundance,? the contestants were sent on a scavenger hunt while an online audience provided live clues to the players.

?There are a lot of opportunities for game shows here,? said George Lebrun, president of Rule13, a Los Angeles-based firm that consults on Web 2.0 issues for its clients, such as Fox Interactive.

In addition, because the cost of starting an online show is so small, it opens the door for anyone to develop an innovative show, attract a large online audience, and become the next Oprah or Bob Barker, LeBrun said.

For now, Hollywood studios have not begun experimenting with this technology, but it might only be a matter of time, he said. But the porn industry, as is often the case on the Internet, has been at the forefront of adopting interactive technology. For years, adult Web sites have implemented interactivity and remote-controlled devices, which have also invaded more mainstream sites such as Second Life, a 3D virtual world where users can socialize online.

Still, the technology behind streaming live video is far from perfect, Fast said. The video delay is still a problem, and will either have to be improved or circumvented.

?We?re still just testing this stuff out,? Fast said. ?The end goal is to get people to use the interface.?

You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 521-5494 or nathan.halverson@pressdemocrat.com. Check out his blog at DailyGeek.Pressdemocrat.com or on twitter.com/eWords

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