Earlier this year, there was an event at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that was held in conjunction with the upcoming release of the movie "The Monuments Men." The talk included a live audience, but also was streamed to others remotely via Blue Jeans Network's video conferencing technology.
Actor Matt Damon, one of the movie's stars, was among the guests invited to speak at event, but attended virtually over the video technology.
During the event, Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer at Blue Jeans, and other company executives were struck by how different the event was for those in the building and those getting the event streamed to them.
Those in the audience were interacting with each other and were able to participate easily simply by standing up, asking their question or making their statement. There was an easy back-and-forth, some banter, Aaron said. However, for those attending remotely, it was a different situation. Their experience was more passive: There was no interaction with the crowd and little of the intimacy that those on-site experienced.
"It was a much different experience for those in the audience and those remote," he told eWEEK.
Blue Jeans realized there was a huge opportunity that modern meeting tools were not addressing. There are video conferencing systems that provide immediacy and intimacy, but they don't scale. On the other end, there is technology for large conferences that scale to thousands of users, but it creates a one-way environment where it's difficult for those users to interact and engage with others.
Blue Jeans officials believe they now offer the technology to fill the gap between those two options: Blue Jeans Primetime, a large-event video conferencing platform that enables presenters to engage with thousands of viewers and essentially make any of those viewers active participants in real time. The company over the past couple of years has been building out the capabilities of its cloud-based video conferencing platform, and officials saw a way of extending those capabilities into larger "any to many" events that include thousands of remote participants, Aaron said.
Blue Jeans executives wanted to create a platform that would let an event "be viewable by thousands, but where people can interact and engage with others when the time is right," he said, adding that the role switching capabilities in the technology "lets participants go back and forth at the moderator's discretion and switch between being a spectator and an active participant."
The role switching feature lets attendees into the event in a view-only mode but enables them to virtually raise their hands and be promoted to an active role—they can ask questions, talk with presenters or join a panel. In addition, people can attend the event from a broad array of devices, from room-based video systems to PCs and mobile devices. Scheduling, hosting and participating in an event is easy, and moderators are given a range of tools to enable them to do such tasks as promote attendees, record the meetings and mute participants.
Aaron said customers in such areas as business, technology, education and entertainment have expressed interest in Blue Jeans Primetime, which currently is being tested by some customers in limited availability and will be generally available in the first quarter of 2015. The technology has been in trials since September with such customers as Red Hat, the Sundance Institute and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
There are a large number of situations where this technology could fit well, he said, including town hall meetings, education and training, game shows, movie premieres and interactive events. Aaron envisioned a fantasy sports draft, which now tends to be done online. Rather than simply sitting at a computer punching in draft choices, Blue Jeans Primetime would enable participants to easily interact with each other and swap smack talk.
It's a significant opportunity, Aaron said, sitting between the $10 billion market for video conferencing and Webcasts and the $200 billion in conferences, movies and concerts, according to Blue Jeans. While the technology is in public beta, it's free, Aaron said.