Worth a closer look: SOFO

SANFORD, FL (jbeech.com) – Schools, universally facing budget crunches, are hoping technology rides to the rescue. The sooner the better.

In the news this week; reports of declining tax receipts lead to three additional schools being slated to close next year. Added to what’s turned out to be merely the first, it stirs quiet angst. In other news, we learn in-state tuition is going up. Again. I bet it’s the same in your state.

It spells opportunity. When better teachers are in demand but nobody will pay for them, and in an economy where college graduates are having a time of finding work, and when schools are closing, whomever offers solutions will make some money. A pot full of it.

Since follow the money is always good advice, here’s something you may not be aware of.  Sonic Foundry, NasdaqCM: SOFO. They offer hardware called Mediasite, plus archiving services. This last is important.

What’s it for? It’s a one-box Internet-video webcasting/archiving solution. In a nutshell, it means saving money plus schools. First, examples outside the schools.


It’s the end of the day and a police chief learns an 80-year old Alzheimer’s sufferer has wandered off. “I’ll make the silver alert myself.”, he says wearily.

Within minutes, they fire up a couple of $200 consumer video cameras. These are connected to a black box called Mediasite. The chief steps to the podium and says, “Friends, we’ve got a missing . . .”

This goes online in real time, e.g. it’s broadcast – webcast – live. One minute later (10 minutes if he’s got political ambitions), the ‘webcast’ is also available online; it’s archived. Best of all, it’s easy. No postproduction whatsoever.

This is important because with an elderly person, time may be of the essence. It’s available via a link. e.g. on the home page of local government websites, via feed to local radio and television stations, etc. This can be big with police departments.


Alternatively, a public corporation – probably spending more for cameras – but basically the same setup, reports their quarter, or introduces a new product. Again, video goes out live, and is archived for later viewing by shareholders. It’s fast and easy – like Jobs in his prime – but without the hassles. This can be big for businesses too.


However, if every public corporation in America, plus every police system had one, the applicability to schools would dwarf them all. For example, a cash strapped school system buys into the sales pitch as a way to lower costs.

The pitch is easy, build out your e-learning infrastructure, or it’s how distance learners get the same quality education, or perhaps it’s simply because they have homebound students – several kids with mono – needing service.

They purchase a single Mediasite. It’s installed in a classroom along with two cameras (CU and wide angle). There are two mics as well. The lavaliere is for the instructor if he’s the wandering type, otherwise a mic fixed to a podium works. Add to it a handheld wireless microphone to pass around. With this, plus ambient lights they’ve created a studio. It can be done in an afternoon.

All-in it represents $30,000 for consumer-level AV hardware. $60,000 if using pro level cameras and mics. Insiders know consumer/prosumer stuff is plenty good enough for virtually all webcasting. Maybe add in for a computer-whiteboard serving as another video feed to Mediasite (though a cheap camera trained on the blackboard works too). Regardless, it’s chump change in the world of school systems.

One camera and mic can be trained on the instructor. One, or maybe two, cameras aimed at the students, are enough. Getting fancy means instead of the instructor multitasking, because switching feeds with Mediasite’s switcher is easy enough, the class AV-nerd lends a hand.

Subsequently, the math teacher does his lesson plan on solving quadratic  equations. Every hour, on the hour, perhaps with minor orchestration at first, kids shuffle in and out of this one classroom. Before long it’s old hat.

Lessons are webcast and archived. A social studies teacher and the class Q&A about the 4th Amendment, or an English teacher lectures on verb usage. They’re all webcast live and subsequently available via the Internet.

Whether it’s online lecture capture, distance learning, continuing ed, meetings, or cops alerting the public more quickly than a news team can show up, they’re all available instantly. And storage is doing nothing but getting cheaper.

The real money – archiving

Archiving happens on SOFO’s servers. It’s where the real money is for SOFO; the lucrative services revenue-stream. Who’s using it already? They’re big name universities. Foreign governments as well. Our government too, of course. Moreover, after a trial purchases, they buy more. This is a good trend.

Even a cursory look at the list of higher learning institutions, which have made repeat purchases, is compelling. There’s a reason. The technology will certainly make it’s way into local schools where use may be controversial. However, there’s potential for getting world-class instruction online cheaply . . . and saving money.

SOFO is a small issue, there’s certainly no dividend, but it’s early in the game. Do your own homework, e.g. whether there’s a place for it in your portfolio. Now you’ve been briefed on what it is and what it does.

If I were the sales manager responsible for selling this product I’d be arranging dog-and-pony shows at any and every county board that would make 10 minutes for me. I’d hook them for an hour, maybe two . . . and I’d help make SOFO shareholders filthy rich because it’s an easy sale.