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The CN Interview with Ben Chodor of Stream57/InterCall

19 April, 2010

Conferencing News: Congratulations to you and Stream57 in getting acquired by InterCall. Why did you decide to be acquired?

Ben Chodor: When InterCall approached us, we were not looking to be acquired; our goal was to continue our amazing rate of growth and strive to become the largest and most technology-advanced streaming/webcasting company in the world. We were at a point where we could have taken on some outside funding to continue our growth and bolster our sales, marketing and development teams, so InterCall's out-of-the-blue offer made us stop and rethink our strategy. On a pure business slant, as InterCall is the largest conferencing company in the world with an extremely large dynamic sales force, their level of access and global resources can enable us to achieve our original goal. Our management team thought the synergies and the opportunity was ideal. It was as if the stars aligned, we now have the best of both worlds.

CN: How will the Stream57 acquisition benefit InterCall?

BC: InterCall didn't own a streaming product, instead contracted out all of their software needs. The buy enabled InterCall to truly benefit from Stream57's webcasting and rich-media software suite, as well as our expertise in the industry. As this field continues to grow and streaming gets solidified as a major part of corporate communications, the sale helps InterCall to continue as the unified communications leader.

CN: What will happen to the brand name of "Stream57"?

BC: Over time, our streaming software will be integrated fully into the InterCall suite of applications and the Stream57 brand will be InterCall's development arm. We will continue to lead the field in developing virtual event, webcasting and streaming technologies.
CN: The term "web events" and "streaming media" can be vague. What is it exactly that Stream57 provides and to whom? Do your web events always include video?

BC: This needs to be answered in two parts. First, all Stream57 events do not include video - do believe that our technology and our team do video better and make it simple to have either high quality, studio-produced events, or easy, do-it-yourself webcam events from anywhere in the world. As a company, we believe that video brings better retention and makes program more dynamic and memorable.
Second, in my personal experience, webcasting, web events and streaming media can all mean the same thing. I like to look at it in terms of three categories:

- Broadcast Streaming: This is the world I started in. Anyone who has been in the streaming space as long as I have probably did too. This is taking a live event and just streaming it on the web, either video or audio, which is ideal for concerts or special events. Broadcast streaming does not focus on interactivity for the online audience, but serves as an alternative to being there or watching on TV.
- Webconferencing: his is ideal for collaboration. Say you have ten people around the world and you want to share a slide set or be able to give control of the program to anyone who has logged on. Traditionally these programs started out with all the audio piped over the phone and the slides on the web, and over time added streaming audio and even lower quality video. These solutions are the Webex’s and Adobe Connect’s of the world, which I believe are an on-ramp for webcasting.
- Webcasting - Now this is where you can have one-to-many or even many-to-many; you can reach large and small audiences with higher quality video and audio all via your computers. There is a much larger focus on interactivity with the audience, such as customized interfaces, live polls and results, slides with builds and animations and even pre-produced video clips, but there is a distinct separation between presenters and participants. Production levels can range from a full-featured broadcast studio to a cheap desktop webcam, while the audience can be watching from their homes, offices, conference rooms or grouped at physical locations. This is where Stream57 excels by enabling the best possible experience for everyone involved.

CN: What goes into the production of a typical web event for a Stream57 client? What are the range of services you provide around an actual event?

BC: This is a great question, but also one that can be answered in many different ways. Stream57 has three kinds of clients: those that ask us to produce their events from start to finish, including customizing the interface, hiring video crews or studios, encoding the video on-site, facilitating and supplying tech support. Then there are the "power users" who can handle most of the programming and managing the events themselves, but still need us to host the content and supply a la carte services like technical support and video production. Last are the licensed clients who manage 100 percent of events on their own and simply use our streaming technology. All three kinds of clients play an important role in the growth of our technology and how we stay at the front of the industry.

CN: Stream57's products use Flash. What's your take on Flash vs. HTML5?

BC: HTML5 will be an interesting discussion when it is ready for prime time, however that is a ways away, as it is going to mandate browser support across the board to be at all viable without Flash as a backup (and why bother?). So true adoption is not even possible until IE9 and we probably won't see deep enough market penetration until much later, so it is a bit of a moot issue for now. Flash is the standard for web video today and it will certainly continue to be for the time being. In terms of user interaction, it will likely continue to deliver in places HTML5 and JavaScript won't be able to right away. Down the road it is possible that HTML5 to truly compete with Flash in some areas, but we think there will always be situations where one tool is more appropriate than the other.

CN: So what's next for Stream57 on the product development front?

BC: This is the real exciting part for myself and the Stream57 team; we never stop thinking about how to make our application better. In order to keep this response short and not take up three pages, I will leave it simple: we are in the process of adding more features to make our application even more interactive and more ideal for education and corporate communications. We love engineering ways to best serve our audiences as more and more physical events are blended with web events.

CN: We noticed a little known fact about you on CN's Key People Directory related to a patient locator system for 9/11 injured people in NYC. That's interesting; tell us about that.
Ah, we used to have ties to the Greater New York Hospital Association, who were one of the first responders to the 9/11 tragedy. We worked with them to develop an online tool where families could locate which New York-area hospital their loved ones might have been taken. We were able to build and test the application in an extremely short time period, and it was used by thousands of people around the world. I am very proud of our team’s ability to act swiftly and help, especially to serve our home town. It is still one my personal favorite accomplishments that I wish we never had to develop.

CN: Good stuff. Thanks, Ben. Continued success.


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