6pm, Streaming Media East Conference, New York City.
You look back and you try to remember when you first didn't believe in Santa Claus anymore. Sure, there's the spirit of Santa Claus, and that goes on forever, but for the three or four of you and me too, there was a moment in all of our lives in which we had to succumb to the jeers of our peers and admit the inevitable. There is no fat guy who goes all over the world in one night and gives toys to every kid who deserves them.
And so it goes with my visit to the Streaming Media East conference in New York City. As the three or four of you know, we stream live video of my show every morning. And we've been doing it off and on for more than five years.
We moved from our old studios behind a Chevy dealer next to an electrical parts distributor so that we could start, as I envisioned it, a web TV network for northwest Indiana. We don't have TV in northwest Indiana, as you know. We get our TV from Chicago. We do have a public television station, and they did news and covered local events for a long time, but they don't have impact. Sorry, but it's true.
For a long time - and to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars - I have addressed this challenge.
700,000 people in northwest Indiana - no TV network.
So why not start one? That's been an underlying dream of mine. So on a regular basis I take the profits from doing radio and plow them into starting a television network. And to this day, with all the time and money that I've poured into this venture, it has yet to take in one dollar of revenue.
Why, the three or four of you are no doubt asking, would you:
1. share your failure with us
2. continue to plow money into what very well could be a losing venture
3. think you're handsome enough to make decent TV.
Good questions. These are some of the many questions that I set out to answer by coming to this conference in New York City. It's a conference for those of us who want to blaze a trail by streaming video of whatever it is we do. There's a lotta people here who stream sports. And there's a lot of developers who write the code that allows people who stream sports to do so on the internet. There's vendors here who make front-end interfaces that allow you to stream games, talk shows, recitals, movies, documentaries, weather forecasts, gaming, etc. The keynote speaker this morning was a guy named Serge Kassardjian, who talked about all the cool stuff that his company, Google, is doing to accommodate streamers and developers.
One thing is missing in the hundreds of video streaming wannabes - there isn't one radio guy here, unless you consider Mario Armstrong one. He's the guy you see on the NBC Today Show talking about personal digital devices and Twitter and Facebook. Mario comes from radio. He gave a presentation called:
How to do Live Social Broadcasting. Comparing Facebook Live, Youtube Live and Periscope
Mario actually live streamed on Facebook while he gave his talk. It was great. All he did was log on to Facebook, click live broadcast, then he pointed his phone at us and talked.
Easy peezy. He also tried to do the same with youtube and Periscope (Twitter's video feed), but that didn't take as well. After the presentation, which was the first breakout session of the day, I approached Mario.
"Hey, as a radio guy, I have one question. If you were gonna stream your talk show live in video, what would you do?"
"How old's your demographic?"
"35-54 is the heart of it."
"Hands down, use Facebook live. It's new and not that many people are using it, but they will."
"What about the three camera shoot that I built along with Wirecast and the V-4Ex mixer that I've already invested in?"
"Time to pivot. Take your smartphone and get one of these..."
And he showed me this tripod clamp doomajiggee that can hold two phones.
"And put your phone or iPad on this clamp," Mario said, "and stream straight to Facebook. And then get another phone and clamp it to this other station and stream directly to Twitter's periscope. That's what you should be doing."
So in one short interaction, Mario plucked the balloon that I've been working on filling for five years. All this equipment - lights, shades, video mixers, cameras, the studio itself - it's all for naught in Mario's world.
But not so fast. I also sat through a breakout session with one of the head developers from Roku. Now as the three or four of you might predict, I have never used Roku, although I've recently been urged to by a guy out of Indianapolis who helps WJOB and JED.tv with our streaming. He says we should think about getting a Roku channel.
Anyways, the developer today, Chris something, showed in a rather technical manner how easy it is to get a Roku channel. There wasn't any talk of radio stations having one of these, but he got me thinking. He gave me hope that maybe just maybe all of this investment hasn't been for naught. Developer Chris talked about the need for content - any kind of content - from independent producers to populate Roku, and he gave a crazy stat:
5.5 billion hours of video viewing on Roku last year.
That's a 72% increase over 2014. Chris the developer talked about streaming video taking over the living room. There's a term these streaming geeks use. It's called "the 10-foot lean-back experience." Essentially that means you watch it in your living room like old-time television. This is what I've been driving at ever since we started streaming in 2010, and ever since we built our own vertical video streaming system using Wowza in 2011.
I wanted to develop a local northwest Indiana video network that you could sit down and watch when you got home from work... instead of watching a Chicago station.
It hasn't happened yet. And as I write this for the three or four of you, it comes to me in a moment of clarity that by trying to project WJOB radio into connected video, I really gotta concentrate on one of two things:
the phone, or
the living room.
... So where does not believing in Santa Claus anymore come into this discussion?
For the longest time, I had this vague vision that if we just put our radio shows on the internet in video... that since there's no local TV around here, we'd attract big numbers of watchers. Peepers. Curious onlookers.
This hasn't been the case. When we streamed from our old studios in 2010 to 2015... we would sometimes get 2-300 peepers for the morning show. But since we streamed it ourselves from our own servers in the back, we'd break our system. People would get knocked off all the time. It was even worse for doing high school football and basketball games. We could only take about 200 viewers and then WHAM, the system would crash and you couldn't even listen to the game through our app, let alone watch it.
Oh, and did I mention the app? We developed an app that had two buttons on it. One to listen live to WJOB. And the other to watch our live stream of video. Once again, feast or famine. Most of the time we had like 10 viewers. And then during a big basketball game or when the mayor of Hammond was saying something a little crazy, which would happen from time to time, then our viewership would blow up and the system would crash.
... So where from here? I came to this conference to basically determine if I wanted to continue to invest time and money in streaming video of our radio. And what I come up with is this.
I do not want to continue to throw money at establishing a TV network for northwest Indiana. Let somebody else climb that mountain.
And I really don't want to live stream all of our radio shows. What it really requires is a video producer or two to make it a quality video experience... and we really don't have the money for that.
These realities are hitting me like I don't believe in Santa Claus anymore. What started as an experiment with producer Stew and me putting a camera in the studio so we could see where the hosts were setting the dials... and then a continuation of the experiment by putting the live stream on our website... and then a bunch of people watching the stream. And then us thinking that we could make a kajillion bucks someday if we built our own streaming network instead of using livestream or ustream.
And the moving to brand new studios on the Purdue campus so we would be on the street and everyone could see us doing live video. Step after step led to a moment of realization less than an hour ago three floors down in the Gramercy conference room of the New Your Midtown Hilton:
There is no Santa Claus, Jimmy. He doesn't exist.
... But, aha, is there a silver lining in all of this? I remember as a kid when I first started asking my mom about Santa Claus. My neighbor Joey Chruby, who was my age but had older brothers, told me that Santa Clause wasn't real. He chided me about "still believing." When I brought this to my mom, who's been dead now for almost 30 years, she smiled:
"The spirit of Santa Claus is real, Jimmy, don't you ever forget that."
And I have not forgotten that. I have repeated this dictum about Santa Claus often to my stepson, daughters, my nieces and nephews and even kids of friends. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. It did not die in me with the harsh words and ridicule from my best friend Joey Chruby growing up.
I also believe in what's known in venture capital investing as a "pivot." It's the one term that isn't fake to me of all of the buzzwords in venture capital books. You can keep "minimum viable product" and "this space" and "customer reinforcement" and "tranches" and the rest of the terms. I believe not in Santa Claus venture capital. I believe in the spirit of the pivot.
Where, the three or four of you ask, does that lead me? I really don't have time to go into that right now. We'll do it later. I'm supposed to meet my daughter Jeanie, who lives in New York City, and her boyfriend Daniel, who grew up here, for dinner in an hour at a place called "The Atlantic Grill" on the upper West Side. I'm guessing that it's expensive and I'm guessing that I'll have a couple glasses of cabernet sauvignon and, since I'm not driving, I'll get a little tipsy.
By the end of the night, I'll hug my 23-year-old daughter and as I kiss her on the cheek good-bye, maybe I'll even cry one tear behind the cheeks below my eyes.
And then I'll come back here to my room and try to change my flight from 8pm tomorrow night to a much earlier flight. I've already gotten the answer that I needed from this streaming video conference:
There is no Santa Claus. Believe it.
But there is the spirit of Santa Claus. Believe that too.