University Students on latakoo

I’m one of those lucky guys who gets to return home and often visit the campus where I once studied to be a journalist. After Professor Rosental Alves (@Rosental) invited me to chat with a group of entrepreneurial students, one of them wrote this story. Thanks Ian and Professor Alves! I enjoyed your class. ~ Paul

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Passion for journalism spurs Texan to help launch video compression service called latakoo

By Ian Tennant

Paul Adrian may yet fulfill his desire to fund public service journalism now that a unique video compression and sharing business he helped create, called latakoo, appears to be taking off.

A former award-winning investigative television journalist, Adrian and his wife, Jade Kurian, also a former broadcast journalist, launched latakoo this summer. Kurian, the president, and Adrian, the CEO, have a daughter named Lark and the Latakoo Lark is a bird found mainly in South Africa — thus the name.

But despite leading a fairly comfortable life as a TV reporter in Dallas, Adrian was restless. The news business was faltering as revenues declined, journalists were out of work and he believed public service journalism was threatened.

“When people disappear in the newsroom, reporting disappears,” he told students in an Entrepreneurial Journalism class at the University of Texas at Austin on Sept. 29.

Believing there had to be a market for quality broadcast journalism, Adrian quit his job, moved is family into his parent’s home in Boerne, and started a journey that was grounded in the reality that his venture had to make a profit or it wouldn’t last.

“The problem is how do you make a dollar doing it?” he asked. “How do you feed the journalist? How do you make the next dollar? That is the profoundly difficult part of founding a journalism company today”

After a stint at the Harvard Kennedy School where he learned about running a business, Adrian and his associates investigated how they could establish a subscription-based service that would offer news outlets, which had cut back on coverage of the Texas legislature, broadcast reports on specific topics like energy or education. They realized that one big stumbling block to providing immediate news in a vast state like Texas was the time it took to upload, store and manage high-definition video files. They couldn’t afford a satellite or microwave truck, so Adrian remembers asking himself how he could upload and download videos in minutes instead of hours: “Surely there must be a tool to do this?”

There was, an open source compression technology that latakoo modified to become what it calls Flight, a stunningly simple service. For a fee, much like a cellphone plan that charges by the minute, a videographer can compress a massive file on his laptop to five percent of its original size, or even smaller, and easily ship that file via email.

In a demonstration at the University of Texas on Sept. 29, Adrian uploaded a video that was approximately 200 megabytes in size. A process that usually takes a couple of hours using an FTP site or a wireless connection at a Starbucks was completed in less than a minute.

The television news industry has taken notice of the service that can save money and time. When Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast in late-August, latakoo was pressed into service by Belo’s Television Group. Reporters and camera operators from WCNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, and WVEC in Hampton/Norfolk, Virginia, were able to file stories from laptops when satellite trucks lost their connections.

Adrian noted that when Texas Gov. Rick Perry flew to Charleston, South Carolina, to announce on Aug. 13 his run for the Republican presidential nomination, the Austin station KTBC balked at spending money for satellite time to transfer video of an event many saw coming. It turned to latakoo.

A second Austin-based broadcast station is home to another latakoo ally, Rick Grinstead, the assistant director of technology for KVUE, who praises the service in a video.

Latakoo also made a splash at TechCrunch Disrupt held in San Francisco Sept. 12-14 where the Texas company offered demonstrations of its product. In a profile, Sarah Perez said TechCrunch TV’s Jon Orlin “was initially a skeptic” about the video transfer service but he was eventually won over. Orlin recounted how his crew had uploaded high-definition files and were editing the videos within 30 minutes. Before latakoo it would have taken six hours just to upload the files.

Prior to TechCrunch Disrupt, latakoo had raised $1.3 million in seed money, which may explain why Adrian is excited about the future. But he also sees a possible answer to the original riddle he and his colleagues tried to solve: how do you finance quality broadcast journalism?

“We haven’t walked away from our core mission,” he assured the UT journalism students. “We think this tool is a big piece of that.”

If latakoo proves to be profitable the company may have the resources to fund journalistic efforts. But more precisely, he said, the affordable Flight service will help news organizations save money — dare they hire more journalists? — while an independent digital journalist has a fast and easy way to market her video to a variety of outlets instead of just the local news station. “You get a much better payday” if you can sell your video to 200 news outlets instead of just one, he added.

Adrian’s passion for latakoo and an informed citizenry are as evident as his Texas accent. In fact, his parting advice for the students of the business of journalism was to follow their heart: “Find something you are passionate about and put it all on the line.”

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