Clinton coverage is a milestone
Against odds, campus units engineer first public-event webcast

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

14 February 2002 | For two hours late last month, as ex-president Clinton spoke to a capacity audience in Zellerbach Hall, hundreds of others watched the event, from student residence halls, homes and offices, in real time over the Internet. It was a campus first.

Until the week before Clinton’s visit, webcasting of campus events was something that campus techies spoke of in future tense.

Then came the morning of Jan. 23, when Zellerbach opened its box office to distribute free tickets to Clinton’s talk. Within 30 minutes, all the tickets were gone, hundreds went away empty-handed — and efforts to extend access were set in motion.

Proponents of a webcast sought money to fund the project, and found support from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray.

Already the campus has a robust and growing program for webcasting classes over the Internet.

The technology has other exciting possibilities as well, said Gray. “It lets us extend our outreach and impact as a campus, and expand the campus community by exposing a broader group of people around the state, nation and world to the intellectual richness of Berkeley.”

By the end of the week, both permission from Clinton and funding were in place — leaving only days to make the campus’s first public-event webcast a reality.

“It was definitely pushing the limit,” said Victor Edmonds, director of Educational Technology Services. “It was something we thought we were going to do one day. But here it was; we were doing it immediately.”

The organizational and technical challenges, said Edmonds, were “pretty Herculean.”

A host of units — among them Educational Technology Services, Central Computing Services, Cal Performances staff at Zellerbach, and the web team in Public Affairs — were involved. Communications and Network Services had to set up a fiber optic cable route for the signal to travel from Zellerbach to the central control room in Dwinelle.

“At one point in the discussion,” said Edmonds, “there was talk of bringing cable through the trees on Strawberry Creek between Zellerbach and Dwinelle.”

Then engineers figured out a scheme to connect pieces of fiber to other pieces of fiber — from the video camera in Zellerbach to the hall’s lower basement, to Sproul, then Doe, then Dwinelle.

Ingenious, but would it work?

All across campus — when the signal first reached the Dwinelle control room during testing, and again as the webcast opened, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, with a view of a bare stage, a podium, and flags — techies cheered.

“It was a partnership between different departments, and it worked beautifully,” said Edmonds. “Everyone chipped in and worked hard, worked fast and worked smart.”

In Evans Hall, technical staff watched to see how quickly the campus’s 300 licensed webcast “seats” were filled. By 2:36 p.m., “all were taken,” said Ann Dobson, associate director of academic computing services in Information Systems and Technology.

As some logged off, others took their places. In all, more than 1,500 connected to the live webcast — with the only advance publicity being a Public Affairs web story Tuesday morning announcing a webcast that would link to the campus home page.

After the event, more than 5,000 individuals logged onto for coverage of the Clinton event.

“This is a prototype of something we all really want to follow up on — to have a special events webcasting service,” Edmonds said. “It’s a real service, not only to the campus but to the world, making available video of the incredible events that happen here.”


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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