As Moore Foundation gave $100M, skilled UC Davis webcast let the world listen in

The $100 million gift to start a nursing school at UC Davis was by far the bigger story. But the live online presentation of the news was a decent accomplishment itself, illustrating the campus's ability to webcast important events to influential, far-flung viewers.

Last week, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation said it will donate $100 million to create the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California, Davis. The gift set records as the biggest philanthropic grant to UC Davis, one of the largest ever to the University of California, and the largest in the nation for nursing education.

So the announcement needed something more than routine handling when campus leaders gathered at the School of Medicine in Sacramento for a press conference at 10:30 a.m. July 31.

University Communications called on the Mediaworks/Classroom Technology Services unit of Information and Educational Technology to record the event; send it out live through the school's computer security firewalls and across the Web, without interruption; have it ready for viewing on demand; and serve an online audience watching from potentially all over the country. It was a complex assignment.

The Mediaworks/CTS unit has been webcasting for several years, so that piece of the job was ordinary. "For us, this was fairly routine," said Mediaworks/CTS Producer/Director Jeremy Cooke, who oversaw the camera work. "I really had no idea how nervous people were until afterwards. We were pretty confident there would be no problems."

Other parts were not so usual.

"The big challenge on this one was that it was in the hospital environment. We had to work closely with the hospital IT staff to open their network for streaming with our outside service provider Akamai Technologies," said Paul Ver Wey, manager of media services for Mediaworks/CTS.

"It's pretty interesting at a technical level," said Charlie Turner, a programmer who manages the Internal Applications Group for Mediaworks/CTS, and was one of several people assigned to the project. The IET unit used Akamai (the word means "clever and cool" in Hawaiian) to distribute the webcast to viewers.

The technology helps solve a couple of interesting problems, Turner said.

"You can't really anticipate demand for a live event," he said, and if you put a webcast on a network from just one server, that one machine can crash if too many people try to watch. Absorbing demand through the Akamai network of distributed servers "solves that problem really elegantly."

The Akamai network also helps deliver a smooth, jitter-free image to viewers watching from widely separated locations, he said.

More than 500 people watched online as Moore Foundation President Ed Penhoet announced the $100 million gift, according to an Akamai graph. The live webcast drew 1,032 hits between 10 a.m. and noon, said Mediaworks/CTS Media Engineer Alex Antipa.

And according to data collected through Google Analytics, the main story and four related articles had attracted 12,928 page views as of Aug. 7, said Susanne Rockwell, web editor for University Communications. The top story alone had 9,084 page views.

"Not bad for a week," she said. "Just on July 31, people went to the main story 3,953 times."

The live audience included school namesake Betty Irene Moore, who watched from her home in Hawaii; workers at the Moore Foundation headquarters in San Francisco; and "far-flung journalists, foundation trustees and alumni, who so appreciated being able to part icipate in the historic moment online," said Lisa Lapin, assistant vice chancellor for University Communications.

"Your work was highly professional. Just superb," Lapin wrote to the webcast crew and supervisors on Aug. 2. "I know there was considerable troubleshooting involved, firewall issues to overcome, and other obstacles. Many of you worked in blind faith, not even knowing the real news, due to the confidential nature of the announcement."

"[This] great webcast production ... was the most critical component of our communication efforts in this announcement," she said, "and will continue to be valuable for many weeks and months to come."

View the webcast here in either Windows Media or QuickTime formats.