With Dell Distribution Partnership, Echo360 Lecture Capture Could Make Notebooks and Class Attendance Obsolete

By Michael Carney , written on July 9, 2012

From The News Desk

Ready or not, higher education is going digital. Amid the recent proliferation of flipped classrooms, alternative education options like Udacity or Khan Academy, and traditional universities such as Arizona State University now offering wholly-online degree options, there’s little question that technology is a driver of change in the way education is both delivered and consumed.

Four-year-old Echo360 is the largest provider of “lecture capture” solutions, already reaching more than one million students in 6,000 classrooms worldwide. Today the company is announcing a significant partnership and preferred reseller relationship with Dell. The new relationship will “simplify the purchasing process and make it much easier to significantly expand blended learning technology solutions," according to University of Kentucky CIO Vince Kellen.

In recent years, Dell has shifted its focus from personal computers to data center solutions and enterprise computing. The company also has existing relationships with thousands of higher education institutions and an enormous salesforce that can be used to drive adoption of this modern education technology. Those institutions in North America will be able to purchase “Dell Lecture Capture” packages directly through existing accounts with Dell and presumably take advantage of any discounts and preferred relationship statuses.

Echo360 is the only company in its space to offer end-to-end solutions including both capture hardware and desktop software. The company’s proprietary hardware is a hub installed in the back of a classroom to receive feeds from video cameras, a lecturer's computer, and electronic whiteboards. Each is archived and can then be viewed by students later as if they were attending a live lecture.

This is true whether the student is looking to review the day’s lecture or to attend virtually from halfway around the world. Bookmarks can even be added to the materials for later review. This sure as hell beats out the method employed when I was in college. The week of finals, a group of students would photocopy each other’s notes and a rabid attempt to fill in the gaps where someone missed class, fell asleep, or most tragically of all spilled their coffee. I suddenly feel old.

Echo360, and now Dell, sell this hardware for a fixed cost and offer renewable licenses for the software, with pricing based on the number of full-time students at a given institution. The average cost to install the systems in five classrooms is approximately $20,000, while the annual licensing fee can work out to as low as $400 per classroom or $15 per student. (No word on whether pricing under Dell will change going forward.)

The Dulles, Virginia-based Echo360 has more than 500 university clients in 29 countries, including MIT, Stanford, NYU, and even Qatar University. According to the Campus Computing Survey, which polls college technology officers nationwide, only 8 percent of US public universities and about 4 percent of private four-year schools had adopted lecture capture in 2011. Echo360 says that it already owns 54 percent of this market.

Estimates put global university lecture capture spending at $60 million to $70 million in 2011. That’s essentially a drop in the bucket. Market research firm Wainhouse Research says that spending in the space has increased about 19 percent annually in recent years and can be expected to reach 25 percent over the next five years.

CEO Fred Singer has boldly declared the mission of reaching 50 percent of US college students in the next five years. As big as the opportunity for growth is at home, the company sees the opportunity abroad as even more significant. The increased distribution and resources added via today’s Dell partnership should go a long way to making these growth plans a reality.

There are roughly half a dozen prominent companies competing in the lecture capture market, including giants Cisco and Polycom. As mentioned above, Echo360 is the only one to offer both hardware and software targeted to the education space, rather than corporate training or other parallel markets.

Echo360 spun out of video streaming software maker Anystream four years ago to address the education market specifically. The nearly 100 person company has raised approximately $66 million in venture capital since 2010, including a $31 million round from Revolution Growth in May of this year. The company reports its annual revenue run rate to be $15 million, up from $12 million last year.

Echo360 offers a compelling solution and has a tremendous growth opportunity in higher education. One possible hurdle on the way to complete market domination is its price points. While manageable for higher education, they may present a bigger hurdle should the company one day choose to expand into primary and high schools. With a strong foothold in the university system, Echo360 should be well positioned, however, to modify its offering to meet the needs of a more diverse client base.

Lecture capture technology can solve a myriad of problems. For some, it’s a way to capture and organize every piece of classroom content for future review. For others, it’s a way to access the world’s best educational institutions, regardless of geographic restrictions. For others still, it offers a new method to teach those with alternative learning styles, attention deficit conditions, or learning disabilities.

This is not to say that it's without drawbacks. Expect sleep-deprived college students to find a way to watch these online archives instead of waking up for their 8:00am lectures. Perhaps Echo360 and Dell can partner on an alarm clock and coffee pot integration.

[Image Credit Sean Lockwood, The Pencader Insider]