By Neil Cotiaux | Photo by Jim Baron
Two years ago while downing brews at Harry Buffalo, wine and beer distributor Alex Bernot and friend Jesse Kracht noticed the many patrons who had their eyes fixed on mobile devices instead of socializing.
It was a passing observation but one that led the two to found InTouch and come up with an app that allows bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues to reach out to prospective customers just outside their doors.
The app, dubbed Smart City, influences “in-the-moment decision-making,” Bernot, the company’s CEO, says.
Partnering with InTouch, 90 clients, such as Society Lounge and Erie Island Coffee, can now alert passersby to happy hour, a new menu, a musical performance or any other happening via Bluetooth beacon technology, beaming such information to would-be clientele up to 250 feet away.
The app represents “a new form of ad infrastructure,” Bernot says.
With tens of thousands of visitors pouring into the city this July, Bernot and Kracht (now COO) are working with the GOP convention’s host committee to have delegates, media, and others make use of their app, currently utilized by about 1,200 locals.
Bernot sees it helping to showcase the entire city.
On July 9 the RNC + CLE Scavenger Crawl departs from Public Square. The Smart City app and strategically placed Bluetooth beacons will guide individuals and team members (some in political costumes) through six neighborhoods: Playhouse Square, Gateway, the Warehouse District, The Flats’ East Bank, Tremont and Ohio City. Beacons will flash clues to the group and cash and liquid prizes will be awarded.
“We want people to take the time to take in their surroundings,” Bernot says of the crawl, part of the kickoff for the new Public Square. “The main goal of this is to leave a lasting impression.”
Bernot anticipates growing use of his app by community development nonprofits in places like Little Italy and Gordon Square. He also hopes city landmarks will eventually be programmed to explain their backstories to visitors.
Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism agency, will be distributing a welcome kit to convention VIPs and Bernot says InTouch will be featured. “We will be mentioned in the program guide,” he says.
By the time the Grand Old Party leaves Cleveland, many newcomers will have roamed the Rust Belt-turned-high-tech city, Smart City app in hand.
Like InTouch, BoxCast’s technology allows individuals to share real-time information in a heartbeat but not just down the street.
The company’s “TV station in a box” allows event organizers to live-stream high-definition (HD) video to public or private audiences. Free of buffering and advertising, the streamed content can be viewed globally or in a single neighborhood and on either a free or pay-to-view basis.
Compared to images that are uplinked from satellite trucks, “the actual quality of the picture and size of the picture can actually be better” but less expensive, Gordon Daily, BoxCast’s founder and president, says.
Further, “an organization can stream HD video from a camera versus lower-quality video from a phone,” Sam Brenner, vice president for marketing, says.
BoxCast’s three-part process – access power, plug the BoxCaster into a camera, then plug it into the internet – allows the client to stream video, share it on social media, check audience analytics, and retrieve archived video when desired, all with real-time support.
During his first year in business, Daily and his crew were monitoring a live stream for the Iowa-based Family Leadership Summit when they noticed an interesting speaker: Donald Trump.
It was a softer, more measured Trump who spoke on immigration and trade, with none of the incendiary comments that this year have touched off a political firestorm.
“It’s hard for me to run for office because I’m doing so many things,” Trump said, exhorting the crowd to “make America great again.”
Today BoxCast streams more than 50,000 events a year, including a large number of religious, municipal, and NCAA activities, Daily, a former college athlete, says. With the candidates hopping from one public forum to another, “We stream Bernie, we stream Hillary, we stream Donald,” he notes.
Municipal business represents a growing opportunity for BoxCast, Daily says, allowing the three-year-old firm to help keep elected officials accountable.
Shannon Dolan, vice president of marketing at EventWorks 4D, a BoxCast partner, approached Daily about live-streaming city council meetings in Brook Park and says doing so resulted in “increased political energy.” Up to 800 citizens at a time have viewed proceedings live or archived, and more people are showing up at council chambers, she says.
“It’s transparency. That’s the magic word,” Daily says. “It raises the game for all participants because they know they’re on-air.”
“We just hired a salesperson specifically for the municipality space,” Brenner adds, as BoxCast takes on additional public-sector clients and increases its stature as a conduit for civic dialogue well beyond this month’s convention.