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Courtroom Connect Streams Disney’s Defense

The Delaware Court of Chancery in Georgetown, Delaware—population 4,751—might seem an unlikely venue for a high-profile trial. But that’s exactly where Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors are defending themselves against a lawsuit brought by unhappy shareholders who think that former Disney head Michael Ovitz should have been shown the door in a manner that didn’t include a $140 million severance package.

Rather than hold the trial in a larger venue that would allow reporters and more spectators to view the proceedings in person, court chancellor William B. Chandler III decided to rely on streaming media technology to make sure that the public and the news media would have access to the events. With help from Sonic Foundry and BxVideo, Courtroom Connect is delivering both live and on-demand audio and video from the courtroom to more than 60 users in the media, financial, and legal communities.

"The courtroom only holds about 45-50 people, and 35 of those seats will be occupied by litigating attorneys," says Mary Ellen Greenly, assistant to the chancellor of the court. "And that’s after the court limited the number of attorneys who could participate." It’s not exactly the Wonderful World of Disney, but it is yet another example of the power of streaming media to provide a narrowcast solution to a problem for which broadcast wasn’t an option.

No television cameras are allowed in the courtroom during the trial, which began on October 18. Courtroom Connect is charging journalists $1,500 for access during the entire duration of the trial, while other business customers are paying $600/week for access, according to Michelle Beaudry. Access to live Webcasts, shot with the courtroom’s existing security camera, is available to Delaware media and residents for free; users outside of Delaware can watch the proceedings on-demand, with the morning session going live between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. the same day and the afternoon session being available between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. the following day. Courtroom Connect is coordinating the service at no cost to the court or the state of Delaware, Beaudry says, as a way of promoting the service. The company also provided a plasma display for the court’s lobby, so that local media and the public could view the trial on-site.

The Disney trial represents the fourth time Courtroom Connect has drawn on the combined services of BxVideo, a rich media services provider and licensed reseller of Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite presentation system. Because of their previous experience, it only took BxVideo a few days to get their RMXPRES hosting service online from the courtroom, says David Briet, the company's CTO. "We set up and tested the configuration several days before the trial started to validate operation and performance," Breit says. "After a few minor firewall adjustments, we were up and streaming from the courtroom."

One of the biggest challenges in project was the unpredictability of usage levels. "We had no way to predict whether we were going to have 100 or 10,000 streams," Breit says. "We had to be prepared for an extreme number of viewers and by monitoring over the first several days, adjust the model up or down as needed." Courtroom connect staff onsite can monitor activity online throughout the day and access ad hoc viewer reports within the RMXPRES portal.

"Depositions, interrogations, and trial videos are a perfect fit for streaming media technology," says Sonic Foundry CEO Rimas Buinevicius. "This isn’t CourtTV, which is an entertainment vehicle and applies broadcast and post-production values to what they show."

Whether via Mediasite or another vehicle, Buinevicius points to streaming and on-demand video’s time-shifting flexibility as its greatest strength. "If you have an eight-hour court day and you’re watching the trial later on demand, the non-linear scrubbing capability and time-indexing make it much easier to get to exactly the point in the trial you want to watch than if you were to watch in on broadcast television or tape," he says. "If you’re an expert, 90% of the testimony might be irrelevant to you, and you can go in and just view the elements that are relevant to your concerns."

In addition to journalists, Greenly says that attorneys for both sides who weren’t able to participate in the trial are viewing the proceedings either live or on-demand. Taking advantage of Mediasite’s ability to handle all RGB-source graphics, the Courtroom Connect service gives remote viewers a truereplication of the courtroom experience complete with video from multi-camera feeds and audio synchronized with the evidence presented, such as documents and expense reports.

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