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A Tight Fit - Blue Jeans Network's Primetime Enables Interactive Events for Thousands

December 10, 2014 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Steve Wilson

Blue Jeans Primetime compliments its offerings with Primetime, connecting thousands of participants through large-scale broadcasting and video collaboration

A movie that flopped at the box office inspired a potentially blockbuster idea for Blue Jeans Network, the cloud-based video collaboration service. When Monuments Men came out in February, Harvard University held a round table discussion with academics and one of the movie's stars, Matt Damon, who participated remotely with Blue Jean's help. The live-streamed event went off without a hitch, the sort of routine operation Blue Jeans of Mountain View, California had pulled off on countless occasions. But this time around, the company's executives started to wonder how they could make the experience better for people watching the live stream.

"People physically in the auditorium were able to raise hands and engage in banter with the panel, but people watching the stream could only send in one question through Twitter," recalls Stu Aaron, CCO of Blue Jeans. "People on the remote end of the one-way stream were second-class citizens."

Aaron and the Blue Jeans team started talking about how many times during an online event they couldn't engage with a speaker the way they could in person. They realized the batch of available meeting tools for the level of interaction they and their customers craved didn't cut the mustard. "Video conferencing can be intimate and interactive, but lots of tools don't scale well," says Aaron. "More than ten people video conferencing with each other starts to become unwieldy. At the same time, tools for broadcasting online events scale well, but you lose the intimacy. So we asked ourselves why this gap has to exist."

Over the next few months, Blue Jeans set out to fix that problem, building a tool to broadcast an online event and let the remote audience participate in the same meaningful way as people there in person. By September, the company presented Blue Jeans Primetime to 20 initial testers, including RedHat, Wikia and the Wharton School of Business. This "fully interactive video events service," as the company calls it, builds on Blue Jeans' existing VC technology to let any audience member watching a broadcast on any device switch from passive observer to active participant with the touch of a button.

"The viewers raise their hands and the moderator switches them from one-way mode to two-way mode," says Aaron. "And when they're done interacting, they're switched back. So it's the best of both worlds--the scale of streaming but with the intimacy of switching roles from participant to speaker."

With this mode-switching tech, Blue Jeans Primetime creates a new class of interactive events in which multiple presenters can engage with thousands of viewers in a very direct way. Beyond the obvious uses of this approach (the remote corporate town hall meeting or long-distance university lecture would never be the same), the testers and other potential customers have come up with uses that Blue Jeans never foresaw. Sundance Institute plans to use Primetime for what could become interactive movie screenings at the Sundance Film Festival. ESPN has discussed Primetime fantasy sports events, letting fans trash talk each other directly. Video game companies (whose fans do their own fair share of trash talking) have shown similar interest. Next year, TEDx plans to use Primetime to connect its global community face-to-face in large groups.

Aaron says the potential uses for customers who subscribe to Primetime will only increase as Blue Jeans expands its position in the $10 billion market for business online events and steps further into the $200 billion market for entertainment and media events. It's a transition Aaron says the company is ready to make. "We're already a global platform," he says. "We already have a white-glove concierge service. So Primetime is a very complimentary product to add to what we do."

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