Webcasting history

Over the years I’ve run a lot of webcasts (from being the tech guy, to behind the camera or mix desk, to creative director, to running my own companies).

Typically (I define) a webcast as including audio and/or video, plus images/photos, plus editorial, plus some kind of user-engagement (e.g. chat) around a specific event. Webcasting has been superceded by live streaming as a more popular term, but streaming just describes the technology (you can stream on-demand too, which is can be much more efficient and manageable if you have high-bandwidth capacity — just allowing uncapped downloads can spike out your network).

They’re usually live, with a strong on-demand (archive) component. Depending on the event, 90% of the audience will be on the live piece, or 90% will be on the post-event on-demand output. For big music events it’s usually 50:50.

I’ve tried to catalogue them all here for reference (and to remind myself).

While a lot it is media-based, some of the more important work included UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s announcement of the Iraq war for Number 10 (before the news was released to the media) and Morgan Stanley’s disaster recovery webcasts after 9/11.

I put the first live simulcast (concurrent to FM) webcasts online for UK radio stations;

  • Virgin Radio
    (the first service of its kind in Europe 1995 beta, 1996 live)
    (in 1997/98 we added a feature where people could listen to the Chris Evans show on-demand after the live show – now called podcasting).
  • Classic FM (1996)
  • Kiss FM (Kiss 100) (1996)

This set the precedent for creating and launching the “streaming radio tuner” on Virgin Net in 1997, where we created (contractual) links between Virgin Net and over 30 stations worldwide (from Brazil to Australia) – it rapidly became the second most popular service on the site and generated a lot of international interest. In 1998 we added our own web-only streaming station “Release Radio”, which I later set up as the first web streaming service available on a mobile handset on Virgin Mobile (1999).

Live festivals including (directing, producing, sourcing, managing and implementing):

I believe this was one of the first live concert webcasts in the country – we had about 300 listeners to the 20kbps audio stream.

An amazing early stage live webcast performance with collaborative composition and audio from over 100 countries blended into the live performance, and Stelarc physically connected to the web.

V97 was audio-only, as streaming video wasn’t up to it then. We also added a whole backstage chatroom, so the bands came off stage, straight into the online chat.

For V98 I added video of the backstage chat (online video rights were a non-starter then), and we had a roving crew going around the audience with a Nokia 9000 Communicator that we’d installed the chat software on – so the fans could chat directly to the bands. Green Day trashed our cabin at one point and Iggy Pop *really* didn’t get it – we had to have someone else type for him and be creative with his answers (which were mostly “what the f* are people doing here?”).

One of my personal favourites were the live webcast shows of NTK from the Global Cafe in Golden Square, and WebShack on Dean Street in London.

Webcast-chat

Working with the Virgin Net community team, we really pioneered the idea of “webcast chats”: blending webcasting and celebrity chat formats in a whole range of different ways. From formal TV-style interviews with 3-camera shoot, to Brian May sitting in front of a laptop with a battery-powered guitar…

After Virgin Net

After leaving Virgin Net I set up my own streaming company, Tornado Productions, which I sold in 2003, but kept on streaming “special projects” (e.g. ResonanceFM, Undercurrents and IFIwatch) and still do (e.g. RinseFM).

At Tornado, we ended up putting all of Emap’s stations online (including Kiss100 and 13 other UK regional radio stations)

I then took on board the iconic festival webcasts for Glastonbury (from 2001-2004) for Playlouder and the BBC, and Reading (including AOL backstage tent). Glastonbury won the “Best use of Broadband” award in the UK in 2001 and we grew the weekend audience to about 700,000 over the years I was involved (now the BBC have taken it back in-house).

In addition to festivals I also led webcasts with;

And this rapidly expanded into non-music webcasts, including

And then a whole raft of corporates

  • Logica & CMG (merger announcements, and end-to-end corporate communications)
  • Shell Plc (end-to-end corporate communications)
  • Rolls Royce (internal communications and masterclasses)
  • Old Mutual bank (corporate communications, annual results presentations)
  • The Royal National Institute for the Blind (utilising voice recognition to make searchable archives)
  • Merrill Lynch (consulting and executing on communications strategy)
  • Cisco Systems (producing global video webcasts for their IPTV networks)
  • Christian Aid (enabling global reporters to self-publish video easily from any location, in 2001)
  • Tate Modern (pioneering indexed, searchable video in 2002, using DreMedia/Autonomy)

Tornado built a formidable reputation as the most trusted vendor in the sector.

Yahoo! Broadcast: “Tornado is a professional, experienced entity and a valued partner”.

Emap Plc: “I would recommend them to anyone undertaking a project involving streaming media of any size”.

Loral Cyberstar: “Tornado processes, staff, technology and above all customer focus all operate at the highest level”.

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