Business & Tech, Features

BU alums’ virtual live streaming platform excels during pandemic

Over the past two years, COVID-19 struck many small businesses hard. In Massachusetts, the stay-at-home advisory resulted in a 37% decrease in the number of open small businesses in April 2020, according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker by Harvard researchers.

hovercraft
The interactive live streaming website, Hovercraft. The interactive live streaming platform Hovercast, started by two Boston University alumni, thrived during the pandemic due to increased stay-at-home orders. TAYLOR COESTER/DFP STAFF

However, with stay-at-home orders in place, it created the opportunity for another type of business to thrive – e-businesses, one of which was Hovercast. Hovercast — a live streaming service — experienced a surge in usership and overall growth during this tumultuous time.

Founded in 2018 by two Boston University alums, Hovercast has provided live streaming services for some big names including Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and PC Gamer Magazine.

“The pandemic obviously accelerated the need for virtual events, and we were sitting there with a two-year-old company that had the perfect tool for helping audiences connect and collaborate on a live stream,” Eli Stonberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Hoverast, said.

The humble beginnings of this successful company began with the friendship of Stonberg and co-founder Jeff Greco at BU in 2004.

“I met Jeff, my co-founder, in The Towers freshman year, and then we became roommates in Warren Towers sophomore year,” Stonberg said. “We became great friends and started working together and collaborating in college.”

Stonberg and Greco shot music videos for bands like “Portugal the Man” and “Foster the People.” They advanced to commercials for brands, including a project called “Old Spice Nature Adventure,” which was a live action video game on Twitch controlled by its viewers.

The interactive videos were their “specialty.” Hovercast also uses these features as a unique selling point, Stonberg said.

Now, the cross-platform, customizable product is used for both political campaigns and gaming companies alike with features such as live donations, polling, chat display and other graphics layers.

“We believe that live streams should be more gamified, even if it’s a political client,” Stonberg said. “We delight in the mashing up of different genres that you wouldn’t think would go together, but they work quite well together.”

However, the company wasn’t always a powerhouse in the field. It began as a small startup with a forward-thinking mindset.

“I was not buying DVDs [in the 2010s] because I knew they would be outdated,” Stonberg said. “I’ve always felt like the world is trending more interactive, this idea that you just watch something is changing to instead of [just] watching, audiences are playing.”

Jack Greiner, the product manager at Hovercast, was one of the first four members of the team and was integral in developing and polishing Hovercast’s capabilities.

The company now consists of 10 employees, four of which are BU graduates.

“We have a strong BU connection and [it’s] part of our company’s DNA,” Greiner said.

As a former intern at Hovercast, Greiner’s first big break was running the production of a daily live stream show for Scott Rogowsky, former host of “HQ Trivia.”

Recently this year, Hovercast transformed Electronic Entertainment Expo, a trade event and exhibition for video gaming, into an interactive live stream for 100 episodes.

“We had a host who would walk around with a live streaming backpack that I built, and they would get requests by the viewers like, ‘Hey, can you go here?’ ” Greiner said.

Hovercast has crafted its own space since its focus on aesthetics is one-of-a-kind in the interactive live streaming sphere, he said.

Unlike other similar live streaming services, Hovercast has integrated graphics into its program. Greiner describes it as an “Adobe product but for live streams.”

Customers of the product have lauded Hovercast’s easy customization, great customer service and vast functionality.

“One of those fundamental advantages of Hovercast is that it ties together input from all these different platforms,” Evan Lahti, the editor-in-chief of PC Gamer Magazine, said.

Lahti said Hovercast ensures all comments from all platforms — YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more — can be included.

Lahti appreciates the “bespoke” and “open-ended” quality of Hovercast’s back end programming and features, which explains why PC Gamer’s contract with Hovercast has been renewed since 2018.

Stonberg said he hopes Hovercast can inspire audiences to have more power in their interaction with media.

“Our mission is to empower audiences to interact with the content that they’re viewing and have meaningful interaction,” he said. “I really am excited about giving power to audience members and unlocking a little bit more play in their life.”

 

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