Sector: Arts & Culture
Online streaming for all
In a sense, Douglas Berquist is the Robin Hood of video streaming platforms. As the CEO and founder of the Calgary-based Public Place Network, he’s working to take profits out of the hands of tech giants, and back in the pockets of creators.
“What if I came to you and I gave you YouTube, wiped it clean of all of its content and said, ‘This is now your business. You take this, customize it, change it, make it into whatever works for you, for your business and your business model.’ What would that look like? What would you do?” he asks.
Public Place Network offers a space for users to explore the answers to these questions and more. It’s a customizable video streaming platform built on the same technology platforms like Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo are. It’s what’s known as an OTT — or an over-the-top service — which bypasses traditional platforms like cable, broadcast and satellite television to offer viewers direct access to media over the internet.
PPN offers users a place to custom-build their own site to share videos online. Whether users have one video or twenty, or if they want to build their own online channel and brand, PPN is the public place for them.
In a sense, Berquist says, Public Place Network is to the Internet what public access television was to broadcast television.
“Anybody can come on at any level,” he says. “We’ve democratized the system.”
And much like public access television served a community’s need for connection, Berquist sees PPN playing a similar role in the digital public realm. While there are a wealth of other online streaming platforms and video services available, none serve the market in the way PPN does. Some sites offer video hosting and the ability to customize your platform, but there’s often a high cost associated with them. Sometimes that cost is so high, it’s not economically feasible for community groups.
Thanks to its lower costs for users, PPN allows groups who otherwise might not be able to afford a more traditional online presence the chance to build their own online space.
“We need to take this now new public community space and make it available to artist communities, to the underrepresented, whoever and whatever is out there that needs to get their voice out there,” he says.
“We wanted to treat it like a cell phone. You grab yourself a channel, 300 bucks a month, boom. You pay for your data, do your thing, do your business, total social enterprise.”
After developing PPN in Calgary, Berquist was ready to expand. Thanks to financing through SEF, he’s been able to expand to users across the country – and across international borders, as far away as Spain and Tunisia.
“We’re trying to find anyone and everyone that recognizes this kind of service as a way to help them extend their voice and their monetization,” he says. “You’re already doing all the marketing, you’re already pushing audiences to YouTube. Why are you doing that? Push people to your own channel.”
PPN’s current clients include a wide swath of industries: from tourism and transportation, to arts and entertainment, they’ve all tapped into PPN as a way to build their online presence, and create longer-lasting revenue streams.
One success story Berquist mentions is the Calgary International Blues Festival. Organizers uploaded performance livestreams, which were then monetized with subscription services or ads. Each livestream could also be broken up into individual artists’ performances and sold, and other content could be added throughout the year.
“So now, the organizer has four revenue streams from a single activity, whereas before it was just one,” he says.
By giving total control to creators like the Blues Festival, Berquist says, PPN drives economic growth at a grassroots level.
“Suddenly the community economy starts to grow and share in the opportunities that are available in this video streaming technology that’s been monopolized by the likes of YouTube.”
Calgary’s Blues community is just one that has started to tap into the potential of PPN. Berquist knows there’s lots more that can be done, since every user is able to adapt the platform to meet their needs.
“I’ve got people that I didn’t even have any idea what they were gonna do. I just know that if you give the controls to the people that are creating the content, you will find out,” he says.
“Napster did that, remember, with music? They completely shattered the recording industry by giving every Tom, Dick, Sue, and Wendy the reins. We’re doing that with OTT technology.”
The Sage Seniors Association was one of the first organizations to work with SEF back in our earliest days.