CreativeLive: Streaming Free Educational Classes to the Masses

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CreativeLive is using live streaming video to build a successful online business and disrupt the education space. The company produces five 24/7 live video channels just like a TV network. The programming features highly produced interactive classes, helping viewers learn creative and real-life skills from top instructors in their fields. Anyone can watch live for free. Students only pay to watch a class on-demand or download it. So far, CreativeLive has educated more than 2 million people while streaming more than 1 million learning hours per month. And the founders say they are just getting started.

The company was founded in 2010 by photographer/ director Chase Jarvis and entrepreneur Craig Swanson. The CEO is Mika Salmi, who founded AtomFilms and was president of global digital media at MTV Networks/Viacom.

CreativeLive started out from the founders’ frustrations with the higher education system. Jarvis had a passion to be a photographer, but that didn’t fit into the traditional education model. He found it hard to get started as a professional photographer because there weren’t any formal education programs available that would teach him what he needed to learn. So, he taught himself, learned from the school of hard knocks, and found his own mentors.

After 10 years, he had earned a well-respected name and business as a photographer. Reflecting back on his career path, he says, “I realized there was nothing out there that was providing this kind of skill-based lifelong learning, and once you have been in a higher education program, you know how broken it is. So I thought that if I was in a position to change that, I would.”

Advances in streaming technology also played a role in launching the company. Jarvis says the first week that Ustream launched, he bought a webcam and presented the world’s first live streamed photo shoot. Twenty-five thousand viewers showed up to watch, which was quite a surprise. At that point, he realized, “Oh my God, this is the future.”

The 500-plus classes offered on CreativeLive are not your typical single camera or computer screencast training videos. Instead, the team at CreativeLive takes a broadcast TV mentality to the education world. They have two robust production studios in each of their offices in Seattle and San Francisco. The large studios are more than 12,000 square feet and look more like a television production set than what you would expect for an educational video.

The studios are equipped with four to eight Sony EX3 cameras including a large jib and a studio bird’s-eye view for bumps. Some are manned during the classes, while others are locked down. One of the studios in Seattle uses robotic cameras as well.

The Importance of Interactivity

The cameras are not just pointing at the instructor. One of the key features of CreativeLive’s different approach to online learning is that each class has a studio audience that also appears on camera. The in-studio students, usually ranging from three to 15 people, ask questions of the instructor during the class and act as a proxy for the viewers at home. The viewers watching online can also participate using a proprietary chat tool to ask questions and discuss the class with fellow students.

A community moderator from CreativeLive monitors the questions and passes information to the on-air hosts who are also on set. These hosts read the viewer questions to the expert instructor and help emcee the show by keeping the discussions lively.

Studios used for CreativeLive classes are equipped with multiple Sony cameras, including a large jib and a studio bird’s-eye view. 

This important ability to have an interactivity community is one of creativeLIVE’s keys to success that drives its high engagement. If one student has a question, it’s likely others may have the same question. Also, many ideas for class topics and instructors have come from the community.

Behind the Scenes

Back in the control room, a director operates a NewTek Tricaster HD switcher, mixing the camera shots with the screen captures from the instructor’s laptop. An audio operator runs a PreSonus digital mixer, managing all the wireless mics. Another production staffer oversees the live stream encoding, which is done using Wirecast software to make a single bitrate 720p stream that gets sent to Ustream. Ustream then transcodes the stream to multiple bitrates and formats. Finally, CreativeLive embeds a Ustream player on its live channel pages.

While the live class is underway, attention is still being paid to the future show archive. A production staffer in the control room creates a real-time log, making editorial notes and keeping track of any technical issues. If any changes are needed, the post production editor can use ISO recordings made on each camera via a Ki Pro to improve the line cut. Editors create a final version for video-on-demand playback and also cut highlight clips to help promote the classes on CreativeLive’s YouTube channel.

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