For Dan Grumley, nothing beats being there. Yet when his father died four years ago, he felt it unfair to ask his children to skip their high-school final exams and fly 500 miles to Los Angeles to attend the funeral services. But the elder Grumley’s death gave birth to a business idea that his son believes will console far-flung mourners: live funeral webcasts.
Far from macabre, the post-mortem medium is in great demand, says Grumley, president and chief executive of Event by Wire. “When we first went into the death-care industry, people thought we were crazy,” he recalls, “but 100 percent of the time, there’s someone who wants to be there, but can’t.”
Often confused with web conferencing, webcasting connects one person or event to many people, with audio and video feeds flowing in only one direction. Web conferencing allows many people to interact with each other. How many webcasters are out there is anyone’s guess, says Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst Dan Rayburn. But indicators, such as the growth of content delivery networks (CDNs) or back-haul operators such as Limelight Networks and Akamai Technologies, are strong. CDNs provide the back-end servers to stream web video. Collectively, CDNs are expected to generate more than $1.4 billion in 2012, from about $400 million in 2008, says Rayburn.
A 20-year-old technology, webcasting has found new life elsewhere as well. And unlike web conferencing, webcasting is typically done beyond the boardroom. Thousands of corporate shareholder meetings, weddings, high school football games and even automobile showings are streamed daily.
Why now? It’s a timely combination of tightening travel budgets, the introduction of a slew of new user-friendly high-definition video cameras and better content delivery tools.
Event by Wire also does a wide variety of webcasts for happy occasions, such as the recent December broadcast of Grumley’s son Travis graduating from Army Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Benning, Ga. But with more than 100 funeral homes leasing its equipment and services, Grumley says funerals now make up 90 percent of the Half Moon Bay, Calif., company’s business.
Funeral homes tend to be tradition-bound, but many recognize the need to go high-tech. “Depending on your faith’s tradition, there are usually three things associated with a funeral: a viewing, a ceremony and an interment,” explains Tom Rocha, vice president and director of operations and customer support at Event by Wire. “Many people, even if they’re living in the same city, can’t attend all three. Now they can, if only virtually.”
To get started, new customers receive a system that includes an HP notebook  preloaded with Event by Wire’s proprietary webcasting software, a Canon High-Def  camera, a Sennheiser  microphone system, a Tripp Lite  firewire and a website link carrying the client’s logo. The cost is about $4,000 for the system, plus a monthly service fee. Once in hand, the client can begin live webcasting quickly.
Rocha attributes some of Event by Wire’s success to its distribution agreement with CDW. Previously, Rocha’s team would need to source each of the products above, configure the notebook, load the software and adjust the camera settings. Now CDW handles all those tasks and centrally images and configures the equipment, which it then sends directly to Event by Wire’s clients. CDW also places asset tags on each piece of equipment for better tracking and ships the package with Event by Wire’s marketing materials included.
“Now, I’m out of the computer imaging business and out of the shipping business,” says Rocha. “We don’t want to be a shipping company. We want to be the broadcaster for funeral homes and businesses, and CDW has allowed us that luxury.”