Charles Dutoit conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in it's first concert of the season as the Chief Conductor and artistic advisor at Verizion Hall, 10/2/08. Photo by Chris Lee.
For seniors living in retirement communities, getting out to attend cultural events can be a demanding task.
Mark Rupp, one of the co-founders of Rittenhouse-based Specticast, is hoping to change that.
Launched in May, Specticast broadcasts live high definition performances and speaking engagements from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Free Library directly to those communities around the country.
The company, which held its inaugural event with the Philadelphia Orchestra in June, had an overwhelming response, Rupp says.
“We’ve surveyed residents, even people that have been going [to the Philadelphia Orchestra] for years. When they see our broadcast live, it is often that the thing they enjoy the most is being up on stage with the performers,” Rupp says.
“Now they’re able to get up-close and personal and see the conductor’s face.”
According to surveys conducted in 2008, seniors rave about the service. More than 60 percent said they’d be willing to spend more than $16 dollars on a performance. Sixty-seven percent said that the event was more enjoyable than other events scheduled by the community.
They’re certainly not kicking themselves for choosing the senior market.
Though the company originally tested the technology by running tests of the video streams against satellite transmissions of boxing and Ultimate Fighting in sports bars, they decided against the sports segment.
Instead, they honed in on 30,000 retirement communities and nursing homes in the U.S., along with 76 million baby boomers who are retired or are about to retire, and chose to deliver cultural arts content to the senior community. Colleges and universities and community centers are other segments that Rupp says the company hopes to reach.
At the retirement home, the setup is as simple as it can get. A set top box has standard HDMI components that can connect to a projector, DVD player or closed circuit TV network. Plug it into an Ethernet connection and you’re good to go. On the consumer end, that is.
Behind the scenes, the box sends a UDP packet through the router and handshakes with Specticast’s network, opens the proper ports and streams the live video to the target display. The box is controlled virtually, so the Specticast help staff can reboot it, change settings and power cycle should problems arise. If a user is running a downlink that can’t support high definition, the content is shown in standard.
At the venue itself, Specticast commissions a professional production team or utilizes the in-house team to record performances. In the case of the Philadelphia Orchestra, seven robotic camera and two handhelds record the action. A producer, director and editors make sure that the production stays on task. A host emcees the event and interviews the orchestra crew backstage before and after the event.
Fortunately for the tech backbone, Rupp and his partners have done their time in telecommunications work.
Rupp got his start in the field as an accountant, working mergers and acquisitions for Bell Atlantic before moving on to local wireless ventures like Triton Cellular Partners, a Malvern-based wireless company that bought up service areas throughout the Midwest in the late 90s before selling to Rural Cellular for $1.24 billion in 1999, according to a press release.
Years later, after continuing work in the telecommunications industry with a number of small startups and a broadband consultancy group, he met his current business partner Derek Pew
Rupp, along with Pew, was instrumental in founding Network Acquisition, the investment group that purchased the infrastructure built by Wireless Philadelphia when it faced collapse after Earthlink pulled out of its contract with the city.
Specticast relies on a revenue share with its partners and charges its customers based on the size of the theater that the content is displayed in. It’s up to the community, he says, to decide how to charge its clients. There’s a one time activation fee and an annual rental of the set top box.
“They can charge residents, ask for donations, it’s up to the community. The way we target our pricing is roughly around the cost of going to the movies,” he says. For a theater of 100, Rupp estimates that it costs between $400 to $600 per event. Customers can also subscribe to a series of events at a significant discount.
Rupp declined to share revenue or subscription numbers as the company is still relatively new. At the company’s June 5 inaugural event, they streamed content to 30 locations to 2500 viewers around the country. They plan to have hundreds of locations in the short term and thousands longer-term.