CreativeLIVE gives online education a Hollywood touch

By Richard Nieva , written on April 26, 2013

From The News Desk

In Mika Salmi’s classrooms, instead of a bell signaling class has begun, a producer yells loudly “15 seconds to live...” and begins to count down. And it’s not so much a classroom, but a production studio.

Salmi is the CEO CreativeLIVE, a website that live streams courses daily in subjects like design, business, software proficiency, photography and more. Salmi is also the former president of global digital media at Viacom.

The videos are free to watch, and are intensive six hour courses that usually span three days. The site usually produces one to two classes a day taught by experts in different fields. The one going on today is a course in Photoshop productivity, teaching designers how to work quickly so they can take on more projects and earn more money. It’s taught by Dave Cross, an inductee of the Photoshop Hall of Fame (yes, that’s actually a thing). Some other teachers include author Tim Ferriss and the director of photography for “House.”

Classes take up a big chunk of time, and people may want to rewind videos to study them more closely, so users can purchase course videos to play back on demand for $29 to $149. Speakers get a revenue share of the purchased videos, and Salmi says some speakers have gotten over $100,000 for one three-day course.

With the explosion of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, video courses have been a hot topic in education tech. The purpose of CreativeLIVE, Salmi says, is to capitalize on the continuing education market, which he says is worth $100 billion, based on what people pay for things like community college courses or flashy seminars. The obvious competitor is, another educational video service that also teaches courses in similar subject matter like animation, business and photography. That site pulled in an impressive $103 million from Accel and Spectrum in January.

But Salmi says the sticking point is the live production. There are about six to 20 students physically present at the studio to interact with the teacher, and on average 30,000 viewing online. The biggest audience for a course was 150,000, during a week of Photoshop classes. Web viewers can chime in with chat comments and Tweets during each class session.

If it all sounds a bit Hollywood, that’s the point. (At least as a state of mind. The company is actually based in Seattle and San Francisco.) “It’s a huge differentiator. It draws people in,” says Salmi. “Coming from Viacom, I know what a good production looks like.” He says there are three to seven cameras filming each broadcast, and for larger shoots where the class is filmed on location – like at a wedding for a photography shoot or at a conference – the number of crewmembers on set ranges from 15 to 20 people.

CreativeLIVE also has partnerships with two major talent agencies: Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Endeavor – Ari Emmanuel’s agency (aka Rahm’s brother and real life Ari Gold from "Entourage.") The firms help put CreativeLIVE in touch with clients to teach the virtual courses.

Salmi says he’s taken a few lessons and experiences with him from his time at in entertainment to help him with his educational endeavor at CreativeLIVE. Particularly, at Viacom, he thought a lot about how to make viewing experiences more social for the TV shows on the company’s networks, which includes MTV and Nickelodeon. (This was in 2009 before many of the second screening practices became more common.) Creating that interactive experience in a learning environment was key, he says.

It’s an interesting operation, and the company is expanding. It’s building two studios in San Francisco so the company can do four courses a day simultaneously. Allowing for more content should be a sound business move.