Videoconferencing leader PictureTel is offering its worldwide network of host sites, streaming equipment and backbones up to WTC victims, relief personal and their families.
Though the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have sparked heroic efforts from larger telecommunications companies, one smaller outfit has found a novel way to pitch in. Videoconferencing leader PictureTel is offering its worldwide network of host sites, streaming equipment and backbones up to victims, relief personal and their families.
"Between ourselves and our distribution partners, we have lots of facilities," says Ned Semonite, executive vice president at PictureTel. "We want all these people affected by this crisis to be able to use these rooms."
The service is being dubbed Video Relief and has been posted, or referred to, on a wide verity of disaster-relief Web sites, according to the company. The free conferencing effort, which started Sept. 12, has allowed emergency teams, hospitals, and humanitarian relief groups to communicate. Semonite said that the PictureTel technology had been used primarily by the Defense Department and disaster organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But Semonite was less optimistic about how much actual good the service has done. Most disasters in which videoconferencing have been used, like the Seattle earthquake, resulted in far more wounded to treat than the current attacks. These grim events saw the vast majority of victims simply missing and presumed dead. The company Web site, for example, has seen only 10,000 visits, with less than two dozen conferences taking place outside of core government functions. "There were just not enough injured people inn this particular emergency who needed care," Semonite said.
The free service comes at a lean time for the videoconferencing industry. PictureTels last quarter saw its net cash from operations skid 21%, with its operations being merged with large competitor Polycom and the company facing an SEC investigation for filings it made back in 1999.
The companys woes go beyond the recent downturn in the economy, which has clearly hurt it, to a stubborn resistance to their basic product. Modern videoconferencing was developed just after the Second World War and has been demonstrated almost continuously since the mid 1960s with little deployment, according to analysts.
"It has been a very hard sell," says Steve Vonder Haar, director at The Yankee Group. "But perhaps this disaster has created a window for the new technology."
Certainly, many companies are looking at alternatives to travel. And videoconferencing could emerge as an important new alternative. There has been a direct increase in audio conference calls in the past week, according to PictureTel. And the company hopes it will see this demand spill over into video.
"An event like this causes people to stick their head up and look at other options," Semonite said.
Jonathan Blum is currently the New York-based senior writer for The Net Economy where he covers next-generation broadband interactive audio and video, and specializes in venture funded companies. Prior to that he was Entertainment Technologies Editor/Equity Analyst at Technology Investor Magazine, a start-up printed consumer business publication with a circ. of 270,000. Jonathan has also contributed content to The Red Herring, PRWeek, Post and Digital Television.
Prior to that Jonathan was senior producer at CBS Cable, a principle at Seneca Pictures, a writer/producer at CNBC, a producer/designer at ABCNews and a writer/producer at VH1, MTV and Nickelodeon. He has written and developed content for Columbia Tristar, NBC Interactive, Turner Classic Movies and the Santa Barbara Film festival.
Prior to that Jonathan worked in production for commercials, films, TV and live perfomance. His clients included The New York City Opera, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Houston Grand Opera, The Ford Motor Company, Sony Pictures, The Joyce Dance Theater and many, many others.
Jonathan holds several TV ratings records including the highest rated Wednesday night since the Mid-80's. He has contributed to several Emmy Award winning programs and holds several design awards. He is a graduate of the New York City Public School System, he received a BA from Columbia University in New York and attended the National Theater School of Canada in Montreal.
Jonathan covers the customer perspective, including how service providers deal with consumers in billing and customer relationship management. He also covers home networking and consumer devices.