Babypressconference.com, which offered new parents a way to broadcast video of their newborns from hospital bassinets to the PCs of family and friends, is gone. But another infant venture has sprung from its remains.
When it was born, babypressconference.com seemed to have everything the technology revolution demanded, including a lower-case name reflecting its dot-com bloodline as well as financial backing and management expertise of its proud and influential parent, the Greater New York Hospital Association.
Yet the business that once seemed to have a shining future was humbly dissolved last October, one of many casualties of the overly exuberant dot-com bubble, said Lee Perlman, who gave birth to the idea. Perlman, who is president of GNYHA Ventures, a for-profit subsidiary of the association, said investors, including New York-based magazine publisher Primedia and group purchasing organization Premier, as well as the GNYHA, the majority owner, lost all of their approximately $8 million investment.
But all was not lost. Using the same technology, a new online venture called Stream 57 Productions is whisking across the Internet with such eclectic digital and video offerings as a weekly Louisiana music show, video mail promoting recording artist Jim Brickman's new CD, surgical training courses and Web-based chat rooms for synagogues across the country.
When it debuted in 1999, babypressconference.com delivered state-of-the-art streaming media technology to hospital obstetrics suites nationwide (Sept. 20, 1999, p. 26). As conceived, heartwarming "press conferences" starring newborn babies would be broadcast to the computer screens of far-flung friends and relatives. Before its demise, the company was used by more than 6,000 families in more than 100 hospitals, Perlman said.
Sounding stung by the failure, Perlman said he still believes it was a great idea.
"Babypressconference.com is still one of the better ideas I ever came up with, but unfortunately the business model did not work in that era," Perlman said. "I am very sensitive about this: I don't want to be risk-adverse because babypressconference.com did not work the way I wanted it to work."
Perlman said operators overestimated the revenue that could be generated from selling products. Provided as a free service to hospitals, babypressconference.com banked on the assumption that parents, friends and relatives would buy photos, CDs or baby presents through the site's electronic gift registry. The registry featured products from participating merchants, who paid a commission on the goods sold. The more hospitals that signed on to the free service, the larger the pool of prospective customers, they figured.
Another thing they did not calculate accurately, Perlman said, was the amount of capital needed to adequately promote the venture. By the end of 2000, when it came time to raise another round of financing to keep the venture alive-as much as $10 million was needed-the pool of interested investors had dried up, he said. Short of filing for bankruptcy, the company was dissolved without ever turning a profit, he said.
But as its owners began dismantling the business in June 2001, a new idea surfaced, Perlman said. Converting from direct-to-consumer to a business-to-business model, they formed a new subsidiary of GNYHA Ventures called Stream 57, which uses the best features from babypressconference.com-the software and tools needed to stream live and archived video over the Internet. The service offers personal computer conferencing, video mail, interactive forms for company Web sites, Web page enhancements and special events and services.
Perlman said Stream 57 is expected to break even this year with about $1 million in revenue and will turn a profit next year, but he would not specify the amount of the GNYHA's investment. The investors who lost money in babypressconference.com were issued warrants that allow them to purchase shares of Stream 57 at an agreed-upon price, he said.
This time around, rather than limiting the potential market to hospitals and healthcare organizations, Stream 57 is promoting itself to the entire not-for-profit world, said Barbara Green, the company's chief executive officer. Although many companies provide streaming video services, its approach of targeting not-for-profit customers is a novel one, she said.
"More and more of this is going on, and I think it will be very commonplace in three to five years, but in the not-for-profit world there is not much utilization," Green said. She added, "We are very affordable for small organizations."
Stream 57 also offers a new generation of babypressconference.com, but now hospitals must pay to subscribe. Depending on their annual births, hospitals pay from $1,000 to $2,500 per month. For a $50,000 annual fee hospitals also can use the technology for other purposes, Green said.
Five hospitals remain customers of babypressconference.com, including 364-bed East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. The hospital connected to babypressconference.com in 2000 and decided it was worth hanging on to even with the subscription fee, said Sidney Williams, the hospital's Web content coordinator.
"We kicked (quitting the service) around, but we had put forth a marketing effort and it had some identity," Williams said. A hospital kiosk where the baby press conferences are staged gets used a few times per month, he said.
Of 31 signed Stream 57 clients-and another dozen pending-probably one-fourth are healthcare- or hospital-related, Green said. Customers have included 1,129-bed Montefiore Medical Center, New York, which streamed video from the opening of its new children's hospital last year on the hospital's Web site, and 30-bed New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, which video-conferences training programs for physicians. Immediately after Sept. 11, the GNYHA used the technology to create a patient locator Web site that in its first few days received more than 2 million hits from around the world, Green said.
Nonhealthcare clients include Synagogue Transformation and Renewal, a foundation with money earmarked for bringing new technology to synagogues across the country, Green said. Stream 57 was the engine behind a live event that was broadcast to synagogue chat rooms. The company also is working with Cox Communications to help produce a weekly Internet-based radio show called "Louisiana Jukebox," she said.
"I gave a lot to (babypressconference.com)," Perlman said. "The only good thing I feel from this is at least we have something now where the technology is being used."