NewTek is booming from DIY broadcasting

Jim Plant, president and CEO of NewTek

Avatar and Titanic are just a few of the major motion pictures that used NewTek’s Lightwave 3D software to create special effects.
On the small screen, current TV shows like Terra Nova, a sci-fi drama and Hawaii Five-O also use the software.
Although NewTek is far from Hollywood, the San Antonio-based company is often an integral part of any movie or television show using computerized special effects. And that means the privately-held company is booming.
NewTek now occupies two buildings on San Antonio’s Northside with 120 local employees and 250 overall. It’s doubled in size since Tim Jenison, a pioneer of desktop video, moved the company to San Antonio in 1997 from Topeka, Kansas, where he founded it in 1985.
“2012 will be the biggest year in NewTek’s history,” said Jim Plant, its president and chief executive officer.
And the growth isn’t just coming from NewTek’s software. It manufactures the NewTek Tricaster, a 42-pound portable production system that fits into a backpack and allows anyone to produce broadcast-quality video from remote locations.
The Tricaster appeals to a wide array of customers from the National Basketball Association to production professionals, entrepreneurs, journalists and corporations.
Heng Dai Media, producing Music City Roots, has a TriCaster-equipped RV to travel the country and stream concerts live. Technology reporter Leo Laporte at Twit.TV has recently expanded his Tricaster-based studio.
NewTek has a long history of bringing video to the masses.
NewTek’s flagship product was the Video Toaster, released in 1990 for the Commodore Amiga computer. The product officially went away with the demise of the Commodore in 1994.
But occasionally a NewTek customer sends one in for repair, Plant said.
“People held on to them for a long, long time,” he said.
With the demise of the Video Toaster, NewTek poured all of its energy into developing and selling Lightwave, a special effects software program aimed at television shows and moviemakers. That product drove NewTek’s bottom line for a long time, Plant said.
“We made Lightwave work on everything,” said Donetta Colboch, director of public relations, who has been with the company for more than 20 years.
“The 3-D market was lot different back then,” Plant said. “People had to spend $20,000 to $30,000 for the software and another half a million for a refrigerator-sized computer to run it on.”
NewTek’s mission was and is to make video production affordable and easy, Plant said.
“It’s not hyperbole to say that Lightwave and the Video Toaster changed the entire industry,” he said.
NewTek created the next generation of the Video Toaster based on a personal computer platform and released it in 2001.
And in 2005, NewTek launched the first Tricaster.
“That’s really been the rocket booster that has propelled us through the years,” Plant said.
Schools and colleges also use the Tricaster to cover live events. Brands like the NBA use it along with media companies, entrepreneurs, companies and nonprofit organizations. Individuals like Dick Van Dyke and Adam Carolla have Tricasters to produce their own shows.
“Anybody can start a television studio,” Plant said. “Live production is accessible and doable like never before.”
NewTek is even working with Yoko Ono and the John Lennon Tour Bus to take the Tricaster on the road next year, said Philip Nelson, NewTek’s senior vice president of strategic development.
And every year NewTek holds a contest for high school students to cover the Alamo Bowl. It selects four students to produce the event live using its Tricaster.
“It’s like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket,” Plant said.
Nelson recounts how NewTek’s Founder Jenison was quoted a long time ago saying “In the next 20 years, your favorite TV show will be made by you or someone you know.” That day has arrived and Tricaster makes it possible, Nelson said.

With the Videotoaster, NewTek aimed to democratize media through video tapes. NewTek sent out more than 300,000 copies of its “Revolution” video in the early 1990s, Donetta Colboch said.
“On the average each of those copies was seen by seven additional people,” she said. Then along came the Internet and everything moved from video tapes to digital production online.

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