A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words: Sawyer Media Systems Puts a Value on Video for the Enterprise


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Forrest Sawyer looks like he'd feel more comfortable in a leather club chair situated in front of a fireplace than in dotcom-modern Techspace, located just off Manhattan's Union Square. Techspace, home to Sawyer Media Systems, represents all that is superficially appealing about cutting-edge technology: It's as edgy and chic as a Titanium PowerBook G4. Sawyer, on the other hand, is all homespun charm. Straightforward and well-spoken, he is Sawyer Media's human face.

A self-dubbed "Luddite of sorts," at first glance, Sawyer seems an unlikely front man for a company bent on bringing video to the enterprise. However, the blending of digital technology and human experience set Sawyer Media apart from the content management pack. While the field is crowded with solution providers working every angle of the content space hawking end-to-end or best-of-breed solutions, Sawyer Media has been quietly conceiving Enterprise Media Networks.

With a household name like Forrest Sawyer at the helm, the company's absence from the media since its inception two years ago is nothing short of conspicuous. But according to Sawyer, prior to its official launch in May, the company has been focused on developing some successful applications of its Enterprise Media Network vision with which to lead its promotional efforts. With a client list that already includes Cisco, Citigroup, Handspring, Panasonic, and Sawyer's alma mater MSNBC, it is clear that the company has had its heart in the right place.

But if the technology field is filled with solution providers, it is even more cluttered with jargon, coined terms, and acronyms du jour. Undaunted, Sawyer Media has trademarked its unique blend of offerings "Enterprise Media Networks," combining media programming expertise with the requisite technology platform. Their objective is to help enterprises create, manage, and distribute compelling video content that informs and educates customers, partners, and employees.

What Does it All Mean?
To put it simply, Sawyer's company leverages his media expertise and extensive contact and resource network to help companies create multi-use digital video assets and then provides technological consulting (and some proprietary solutions) to help companies manage and effectively use said assets. The trick, of course, is in convincing companies that they need to use video in the first place, then demonstrate the value of professionally developed video assets as opposed to the digicam-in-the-boardroom approach.

Rob Lancaster, a senior analyst for Internet business strategies at the Yankee Group, says, "At least in the short term, I see video primarily as an internal communications tool for corporate training, elearning, and generic corporate communications. There is certainly a place in large organizations today for using video in this way." But he wonders whether, for this type of communication, professionally produced video is necessary.

He does not foresee immediate opportunities for video to be used extensively in outside-the-firewall communications. Lancaster says, "Though audio is already being used quite a bit as an external communication device, video is a ways off." The problem as he sees it is one of knowing, much less controlling, which video software is installed on a given viewer's computer. He says, "You are relying on users having software in place, over which you have no control, whereas internally IT has control over the desktop." Thus, he sees the initial opportunities as being within large corporations.

According to Yankee Group research, however, there is money to be made in providing video services and ROI for companies smart enough to take the plunge. In the financial services sector alone, Yankee foresees 100% growth in usage of streaming media this year. Employee training, corporate and investor relations, advertising, marketing, and corporate events all fall into Yankee's high-to-moderate growth area in business sectors that include financial services, health care, consumer products, high-tech, and biotech.

Another area in which Sawyer himself sees enormous potential is in the pharmaceutical industry, which has traditionally relied on mass-mailings of VHS tapes to educate doctors and the media about new products. Unfortunately, the likelihood of their actually taking a VHS cassette and putting it into a machine and playing it is not particularly high. And Sawyer says, "Not only that, but companies aren't able to determine if anyone actually did watch the tape. It is like throwing it to the wind."

Sawyer wonders, "What if—and it seems an obvious sort of thing—you produced all of the video digitally? What if you had different ways of delivering it, particularly to doctors under 50 who are very Web-savvy? You could deliver it by email, or via a Web site; you could have that same video available for journalists. While they may not use the whole thing, they might want to use an image. And by the way," he goes on, "for a pharmaceutical company, it is a big win if the press uses a single image. So there are lots of ways the material can be produced and used that are still not being done today. That is an untapped resource that is going to be huge."

Sawyer adds, "That is why putting something in a mailing flyer, hoping they'll watch it, and then praying that you'll learn what they thought about it is literally a waste of time."

In this show-me-the-ROI economy, perhaps the most marketable aspect of Sawyer's proposed scenario is the ability to track the usage of these video assets. According to Sawyer, Biotech and pharmaceutical companies are spending billions of dollars to produce content and much of it ends up "being used as doorstops." According to the Yankee Group, the ability to track, measure, and report on audience ranked fourth in its research of key factors in choosing streaming media solutions.

One Stop Shopping
The factor that ranked the highest in importance in that same research was the ability to obtain a turnkey streaming solution from a single provider. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. And while the streaming technology aspect of the solution may be available from sources like Reliacast or Anystream, the same provider rarely offers the content management aspect. Add to that the actual conception and production of the streaming video itself and many companies will shy away from using video in a significant way. Sawyer Media combines an à la carte outsourcing menu with, perhaps most importantly, the expertise and resources needed to help create video assets from concept to creation that will not only communicate better, but be able to provide reduced costs through multi-usage, and quantifiable ROI through usage tracking.

According to Jonathan Steuer, Sawyer Media's vice president of consulting services, "We found that the results around streaming were hard to measure. The types of reports weren't granular enough for business users trying to justify why, on an ROI, basis, they were doing this. So we put together a solution that we call Enterprise Media Networks, which integrates programming and an end-to-end technology platform to support the production, management, and distribution of content." According to Steuer, the company is currently delivering these capabilities through managed service relationships, "but we are on a trajectory to build and install our own layers of software products by the end of the year." This approach, Steuer believes, will enhance other vendor offerings rather than supplant them. The goal for Sawyer Media's custom solutions is, according to Steuer, "media tools that are purpose-built for enterprises, not repurposed."

Video Killed The Radio Star
And though managing service providers to piece together an efficient and effective digital asset and content management system will certainly help draw clients into the Sawyer Media fold, it is undoubtedly a particular understanding of the video medium that Sawyer (and his assembled team) possess that sets them apart from solution vendors. According the Yankee's Lancaster, "Sawyer Media's differentiator is its programming expertise. Clearly, they have their roots in the commercial media space and the expertise will come into play with external communications because they need to be that much richer, more compelling, and consumable than internal communications where it may just be a CEO talking to you."

Sawyer believes that the asset development aspect is a key part of Sawyer Media's service. He says, "On the programming side, first we like to listen. We walk into a company and find out what their needs are." In other words, before they sit down with Sawyer's team, most companies, other than forward-thinkers like Cisco, for example, aren't even sure they need to use video for communications at all, much less create highly produced re-usable video assets.

Sawyer stresses this point as key to his company's strategy. He thinks that one thing companies must begin to focus on is conceiving of content as being used in multiple ways. He says, "We believe that, going forward, you have to start multipurposing the content. You have to know that there are several ways in which this content is going to be used and think of the initial workflow in that light. If you are thinking of repurposing, you are already behind the curve." So Sawyer Media likes to approach a project from the beginning with the notion that marketing, sales, and human resources may all ultimately use a given group of video assets being created, but in distinctly different ways.

The initial approach by Sawyer's team is to try to identify communication requirements within the organization as well as to identify potential audiences for different types of communication, and then look at how the organization is currently trying to reach them and how effective these approaches have been. Sawyer Media advocates testing the waters through pilot programs. "In challenging economic times with tight corporate budgets," he says, "this is a way for them to put a toe in the water and find out if this is effective. You really need to do proof-of-concept these days. We're happy about that. Take us around the block and we're pretty sure you're going to want to take us home."

Sawyer Media might try different production techniques with the thought of multiple delivery systems like email or Web site delivery in order to multiproduce video from the start. Sawyer says, "It is very different for each client, for each industry. But we start with figuring out what their problem is, then what kinds of stories they might want to tell, and then how to tell a coherent story across different platforms and delivery systems. Then," he says, "we bring in people who are pretty good at telling stories."

Telling Tales
Again, Sawyer's background in television comes into play. While the company's leadership leans heavily toward technology backgrounds—with key players hailing from Scient Corporation and RealNetworks—one company vice president packs a production punch. Janet Tobias, vice president and production and creative group manager, is also currently the executive producer of the critically acclaimed PBS series LIFE 360 and counts Nightline, 60 Minutes, and Dateline NBC among her production credits. Sawyer thinks that he and Tobias bring significant force to Sawyer Media's ability to leverage the video as the next communication medium.

According to Sawyer, "We can reach out to some really terrific producers, editors, and photographers and that brings real firepower to our projects. We like to think our ability to do that is key."

Of his own impact on the company's formula, Sawyer says, "I'm a storyteller and have been most of my adult life. I'm interested in new ways of telling stories. I first started out in radio and went over into television because I was really interested in this strange, plastic, malleable thing we call video."

According to Lancaster at the Yankee Group, "Sawyer Media is going after a specialized market that demands really well-produced streaming video." He sees the value in providing compelling content, especially with video. "Programming helps you draw in and keep an audience and that is Sawyer Media's strength," says Lancaster. However, he is still uncertain what the market for this type of video communication for businesses really is. He says, "It depends on how compelling the story is and what the story is about. Is it about a product? That is the X factor—what products are well-suited to using streaming video."

Lancaster does find the success of Handspring's use of video in the launch of its Treo PDA a positive indicator. Sawyer Media approached Handspring and discussed the potential for using video in various ways, but at the time, Handspring wanted to focus on using their existing video for marketing Treo on Handspring's Web site. Glenn Noga, Handspring's chief information officer selected Sawyer to encode the company's marketing videos and serve the content outside the firewall. "Its not something we could do in house," says Noga. "We'd need to test each player type with different browsers, different settings. From an IT perspective, what my organization does on a daily basis, acquiring that sort of skill is just not something we are going to do. So just like other areas where I'm looking for specific skills, we chose to outsource."

The Treo launch was a very important event for Handspring. Noga says, "We wanted to make sure it is going to perform well,and we needed the bandwidth to handle the demand." Noga was pleased with the results and with the reporting that Sawyer Media provided, which told Handspring how many people were downloading and looking at the video and what kinds of browsers they were using. Though Noga recognized the marketing impact of seeing Jeff Hawkins (Handspring's chairman of the board and inventor of the palm pilot, using the Treo in streamed video), Noga says Handspring just doesn't use video all that often. However, he says they may revisit the use of video when the company makes the move into the enterprise market.

"Digital media allows communication to happen much more easily," says Noga. "It is a great idea that still has to be played out in the marketplace to see if that is viable."

Sawyer sees the digital landscape as "just aborning" and is as curious as anyone about its future, and his company's place in it. "But we can see now that something wonderful is taking shape," he says. "We can see now that there are going to be new ways to tell stories that we've never thought of. We can just get a glimpse of it on the horizon, but what's exciting for us is that we are able to walk in that direction with people. Every time we go to a new client and see a new problem, we see a new way of doing something."

Though Sawyer is hesitant to comment on the impact his name has on the potential success of his company ("modesty forbids... though I'm told it's a help"), one thing is for sure: Forrest Sawyer brings with him brand recognition and a reputation for integrity that will get his company's foot in the door. And these days, that's a big step in the right direction.