Total Webcasting: An Up-and-Comer Whose Time Has Come
On May 14, President Barack Obama delivered the commencement speech at Manhattan's Barnard College -- and his address was beamed to the world by Total Webcasting, Inc. In fact, President Obama's address culminated a marathon of 17 commencement webcasts shot and streamed by this company for clients such as Columbia University, Vassar College, and Albany Law School.
To do the job, Total Webcasting dispatched technicians equipped with the company's "TW Mediacart." Consisting of components that can be transported by car and then assembled on a rolling portable cart for use onsite, the TW Mediacart comes equipped with "up to six robotic cameras, eight microphones, a media encoder, and a central control unit that has lower third graphics, transition switching, and picture-in-picture -- all run by a single operator," says Total Webcasting president and founder Robert Feldman. "Once on site, our technician sets up in less than an hour and connects to the various CDNs that we use. We always have more than one CDN built in to our process so we assure delivery of the live content. After all, you only get one chance at live!"
The brains behind this on-site webcast production is Total Webcasting's Total Asset Manager (TAM) software as a service (SaaS). This is a cloud-based system where the company hosts everything and the customer just uses it. There is nothing to buy or install.
"TAM controls everything associated with the Webcast including registration and pay-per-view; multi-format live streaming and on-demand automation across all devices; program indexing, slide integration, document management, real time viewer participation, and viewer verification for continuing ed credit and closed captions," Feldman tells Streaming Media. "With this end-to-end solution, a single technician can manage the entire process from anywhere."
Worth noting: Clients can select "Full Service," where Total Webcasting comes to them and does everything, or they can choose "Self Service" instead. In this latter option, the customer uses their own equipment and staff, bolstered by Total Webcasting's TAM software and CDN bookings.
A Slow Start
Feldman grasped the potential of third-party provisioned webcasting -- what he calls a glass-to-glass solution -- at the turn of the millennium. This insight motivated Feldman to establish Total Webcasting in 2001 in New Paltz, N.Y., a small village about 80 miles north of Manhattan, in the Mid-Hudson Valley. New Paltz is far enough from the city to keep a startup's costs down, but close enough to capture big city business.
The first few years were tough for Total Webcasting, simply because the webcast concept was still too novel for most businesses to grasp. "When I started the company I knew that things would take longer than I would like, since I was building the business without any outside help," says Feldman. But the tech tide has finally turned in Total Webcasting's favor: "It seems now we are gaining momentum and are being called upon for challenging opportunities by very notable organizations."
For Total Webcasting, the big break came in 2007. This was when the governor of New York made it a requirement through Executive Order 3 (EO3) that all state agencies and authorities webcast their public meetings. Under EO3, these webcasts must comply with standards that require "two formats simultaneously, high and low bit rate; live and then on demand within two days, and closed captions," according to Feldman.
The opportunities created by EO3 spurred Total Webcasting into developing TAM and the TW Mediacart. This software/hardware one-two punch made it possible for "one technician to go anywhere in a car and be able to do a high quality multicamera/microphone production ranging from government meetings to lectures, concerts, sports, and all sorts of other applications," says Feldman. Thanks to Total Webcasting's pioneering efforts, "We captured a good share of the initial NYS EO3 work, which seemed to be the beginning of our significant growth."
Business Is Good
Since its big break in 2007, Total Webcasting's business has taken off. In addition to the recent 17-commencement-speeches marathon, the company is providing full-service webcasting to Vassar College, Bard College, and The City College of The City University of New York, among others. "For these schools, we webcast everything from lectures to sports, concerts, and graduations," says Feldman. "The applications for them seem endless, and with our unique solution they are able to do more for less."
For the past 3 years, Total Webcasting has served as the New York State Bar Association's exclusive webcaster. The New York state attorney general's office is also using TAM to deliver continuing education to its attorneys.
"Based on their need, we built an additional feature into TAM that certifies that a viewer is watching throughout a program, based on verification codes and logging," Feldman notes. "Once we rolled that feature out for the [attorney general], all of our other customers got to use it." The company has also expanded its territory and is now staging webcasts for clients in Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles.
That's the full service side of the business. "Our self-service customers range from universities like Albany Law and Brooklyn Law to corporations like Time Inc. and some small governments," he says. "This is an area we will focus on more next year as our solution is very scalable, and is being so well received."
After enduring a slow start, Total Webcasting's business is booming. As a result, the company has grown from a one-person operation to five full-time and two part-time employees, and Feldman says he expects to hire two more techs by the end of 2012.
Things are going so well that Total Webcasting is having to work really hard to keep up. "Our biggest challenge is keeping up with demand," Feldman admits. "As new customers come on -- even though our platform is very scalable -- there is still the challenge of bringing in new people and getting them trained. We have very high standards and everyone in the company needs to believe in what we are doing and at the highest possible competence."
The good news: "We are in a great location and have a lot of resources so we are comfortable with the challenges," he says. Besides, being too busy is better than not being busy enough -- and Robert Feldman has seen enough of the latter to definitely prefer the former.
As for the future? "I am rather conservative when it comes to forecasts," Feldman says. "At least for the next year, we expect to grow considerably in both our full service and self-service businesses. This is new business that is now developing, plus growth from our existing base of customers."
Finally, a Payoff
Looking back to 2001, Robert Feldman is astounded at how fast the time has gone: "Five to ten years has gone in a flash!" That said, he is deeply satisfied that his ambitious startup has grown into a true up-and-comer whose time has finally come.
"We hope to just keep building a great company," Feldman says. "My son is my partner in the business, and my brother is our developer of TAM: We are all deeply committed to the success of the business, and believe we are doing something that is important and has real value."
This article appears in the October/November, 2012, issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "Total Webcasting: After 11 Years, an Up-and-Comer Whose Time Has Come."