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SendtoNews founder Keith Wells at FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China (SendtoNews/SendtoNews)
SendtoNews founder Keith Wells at FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China (SendtoNews/SendtoNews)

news tech

Breaking news quicker than a cab, cheaper than a satellite Add to ...

Back in 1998, when TV was emerging from the dark ages into the bright new world of digital media, Keith Wells had a vision.

A sports reporter for BCTV at the time, Mr. Wells was covering the Winter Olympics in Nagano, an assignment which, due to budget constraints, consisted of a live two-minute report each day, beamed back to his newsroom in Vancouver via satellite at a cost of $750 a minute.

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Meanwhile, he noticed other journalists were shooting footage with miniature DV cameras and using desktop software to edit their stories on-site, but lacked a quick and cost-effective way of delivering that content to their newsrooms.

"They couldn't feed video easily because of bandwidth limitations," he recalled. "But with the new mini-DVs and programs like Final Cut Pro, I saw the possibility of being able to shoot, report, edit and feed a completed story from anywhere in the world."

Thirteen years and several quantum leaps in technology later, Mr. Wells is the founder of SendtoNews, an Internet platform that allows journalists and other content creators to deliver high-definition, broadcast quality content cheaper and faster than ever before.

The backbone of the company's business is a high-speed file transfer utility, capable of uploading massive wireless data feeds in minutes. The technology was originally developed to deliver trailers for major movies studios.

The news clips, press releases and background footage uploaded by SendtoNews clients are linked to Amazon cloud "server farms" around the world and made available free of charge to newsrooms.

SendtoNews clients - universities, government institutions, media relation firms and sports organizations - are charged $50 each time a newsroom uses the materials, up to a maximum of $200.

"It's a kind of pro-active media relations tool that connects content providers with newsrooms," Mr. Wells said during an interview at the SendToNews head office near Victoria's Inner Harbour. "Our customers are any kind of an organization that has a story to tell."

A self-described "serial inventor," Mr. Wells earned a reputation for devising technical solutions during his 20-year broadcasting career, including a portable teleprompter called the ProPrompter, and the SeeEye2Eye teleprompter designed for webcam use. He sold the rights to both products to Bodelin, an Oregon company specializing in technical accessories.

A long-time sports reporter, Mr. Wells recognized that organizers of sporting events not covered by the mainstream media needed a fast and inexpensive way of delivering clips of their events to TV newsrooms in time for broadcast deadlines.

"Back in the day, the PR people at Hastings Park used to film their feature race on a Saturday and then send the tape to the BCTV newsroom in a cab," he recalled. "Now Hastings Park is one of our customers."

After researching and developing the basic prototype for SendToNews, Mr. Wells launched his company in 2008 and partnered with local software experts Marc Hoelscher and Peter Beblo to design the system.

The first big test came during the 2010 Winter Olympics, when the company landed a deal to embed itself in the Robson Square media centre, a facility that hosted more than 1,400 news outlets from around the world.

SendtoNews provided an easy fix for new organizations that weren't allowed access to official Olympic venues, but still needed a cheap and effective way of filing background stories about the region.

It's not as instantaneous as a satellite feed - a 200MB clip still takes about two minutes to upload, depending on the connection - but the SendToNews delivery system is already "100 times faster" than a conventional FTP software, and the technology is evolving.

More importantly, the service is "disproportionately inexpensive" compared to satellite delivery, and far more efficient than mass mail-outs of CD-laden press packages, a practice that persists, despite the advent of new technology.

SendtoNews has roughly 200 content providers, including the RCMP, the Western Hockey League, the B.C. government, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, along with about 500 newsroom subscribers, mostly in North America.

Mr. Wells is currently attending the World Aquatic Championships in Shanghai, helping Swimming Canada package its coverage of the event and showcasing SendToNews to other media outlets from around the world.

Swimming Canada communications director Martin Richard said his organization receives limited international media attention outside the Olympics, and SendToNews offers a cost-effective way to "showcase our sport and tell our athletes' stories on an ongoing basis."

The rapid evolution of the smart phone has given SendtoNews an edge, too. It's now possible for reporters to produce and file completed news stories from remote locations with nothing more than an iPhone and a wireless connection.

In April, SendtoNews unveiled a new mobile application that allows the delivery of high-resolution video from an iPhone 4 direct to newsrooms around the world.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently purchased 100 iPhones equipped with the SendtoNews app for its reporters in the field. Another client, KGO radio in San Francisco, is using the SendtoNews app for instant wireless delivery of audio clips from breaking news stories.

"Our platform is tuned up to accept mobile video, and we have this app to deliver content in the highest quality possible … so from that standpoint, we are right on the cutting edge," Mr. Wells said. "We are going to make some noise in this space, there's no doubt about it.'

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