Putting a TV Network in Your Network

CIOs at some companies have been responsible for supporting video broadcasts and conferences for years. But in the YouTube era, users and executives expect video to be far easier to create and more ubiquitous than ever before. Since specially equipped conference rooms can cater to a limited number of participants in a videoconference session, the better way to reach the mass market of employees is to act more like a TV broadcaster.

Streaming video on the intranet makes that possible, but it’s rarely an initiative that comes from the IT organization. “It’s not typical for a CIO to say, ‘I’ve got all this bandwidth, so let’s find a way to use it,'” says Ira Weinstein, an analyst at Wainhouse Research, a market research firm that specializes in video and rich media. Rather, the demand tends to come from a corporate communications department, or from top executives eager to see their smiling faces broadcast across the enterprise.

But supporting video will soon become IT’s problem–and it will be a big problem if CIOs aren’t prepared.

Mark Tarleton is an “accidental” information technologist. He was a video production professional in Raytheon’s corporate communications group back in 2000, when he first experimented with streaming video on the corporate network.

Raytheon, a large defense contractor that has grown through acquisition, had experience supporting video in other forms, such as videoconferencing with dedicated conference room equipment and broadcasts over satellite networks. But streaming video over the corporate data network posed different challenges.

Getting started wasn’t all that hard. He got a bit of help from an IT staffer and used free tools from Microsoft to encode video to Windows Media Format and post it to a Windows server.

“The next thing I knew, I got e-mails from on high saying, ‘This is great, make this happen everywhere,'” Tarleton recalls. “Pretty soon thereafter, I found myself standing in the CIO’s office explaining why I had committed them to making this happen everywhere.”

As a video guy, Tarleton saw only the benefits of online video on the desktop, calling it the holy grail of corporate video, which was previously available at only a few select locations. “We had never had the equivalent of a TV in every room,” he says.

But by letting the genie out of the bottle, he had unleashed a demand to support corporate Webcasts that soon crowded out his duties as a video producer. Tarleton wound up being transferred to IT, where he is now manager of Webcast operations.

While the first experiments were easy to get started by publishing video to a Web site, Raytheon has since had to master the challenges involved in deploying the technology on a much larger scale. The company conducts about 300 Webcasts a year–about two-thirds of them as simple audio Webcasts and the rest as video. Nearly every divisional manager conducts at least a quarterly Webcast.

On the technology front, Raytheon implemented Qumu’s Video Control Center management software, installed racks of video encoding appliances and tweaked its network for more efficient transmission of video. But there is a caveat: “A lot of our communications people would love to take a link to a video and e-mail it out to thousands of people, but we ask them to roll them out in segments,” Tarleton says. “Otherwise, they could do real damage to the network.”

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