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Case Study: A Streaming Merit Badge?

How does one bring together thousands of groups from around the country to celebrate a 100th anniversary? With Ustream and AT&T.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) host a Jamboree, or gathering of Scout troops, every four years. The event is held at Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC.

With 50,000 scouts in attendance at the Jamboree site, the BSA opted to try something for its 100th anniversary celebration that it never before tried: a five-hour live stream on Saturday, July 31, to bring those viewers from scout troops across the nation together during a single time slot.

"As scouts, we explore everything from oceanography to astronomy, help communities with service projects, even build and maintain trails and feforestation in Louisiana and Montana," said BSA Chief Executive Bob Mazzuca, after rappelling down a 100-foot video wall set up at Fort A. P. Hill. "During our 100th anniversary, we set out to celebrate and share what we do with the world, so we're proud to be able to share the evening with scouts from around the country."

BSA 2010: A Shining Light Across America was presented by AT&T, and the company's logo adorned the live broadcast for the majority of the show. AT&T had teamed with the BSA to offer prizes for ScoutQuest, a high-tech scavenger hunt that involved Facebook, Twitter and SMS text messages for a geocache around many of Washington, DC's monuments.

Live on stage, during the event, the BSA's chief scouting officer, Bob Mazzuca, awarded an Android-powered HTC Aria Smartphone-courtesy of AT&T and HTC-to one of several scouts who had found the geocache prize.

Beyond the sponsorship, though, AT&T worked with the BSA to put a nationwide spin on the event: Satellite links brought together a variety of locations, from Times Square in New York City and Durham, NC, to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Crazy Horse, SD, to take part in the live production. Fort Wayne, IN, was hosted at the local football stadium; Crazy Horse, SD, brought three scouts from the Black Hills of South Dakota; and Jacksonville, FL, had the rowdiest group, inside a concert hall, complete with neon lights and a band.

While these select locations were tied in via satellite uplink, and shown on large screens at Ft. A. P. Hill, the majority of troops joined in via the Ustream stream as a much cheaper alternative.

"This is the first time we've done something like this," said a Scout representative at the Bristol Tennessee High School auditorium, on the Virginia border and about seven hours from Fort A. P. Hill. "We are watching on Ustream because it would be too costly to view by satellite."

The event I attended in Bristol, TN, used a local auditorium for its viewing party, and included local bands and newspaper coverage from a staff photographer. After two hours of local content, the Ustream connection was established just in time to hear a brief recorded message from U.S. President Barack Obama, the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America.

The viewing parties brought together hundreds of thousands of the 4 million current scouts, as well as representatives over 50 million living Boy Scouts alumni across the country.

"We want to welcome all the troops from around the country, hosting viewing parties," said Mazzuca "or those of you just watching from your computer at home. Just because you no longer wear a Scout uniform doesn't mean you can't still be actively involved with Scouting. There are many ways to be part of BSA programs and activities. You were part of the first 100 years of Scouting, now join us for the next century"

A few minutes prior to the 8 p.m. kickoff time, the event had 5,418 viewers on Ustream.com, and the number climbed steadily throughout the evening.

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