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An app for 'good' — BYUtv technology aimed at furthering network's mission

BYUtv technology aimed at furthering network's mission

Published: Thursday, July 21 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Ryan Holmes poses for a portrait behind the brainstorming wall for the recently released BYUTV App at BYU in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2011.     (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Ryan Holmes poses for a portrait behind the brainstorming wall for the recently released BYUTV App at BYU in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

PROVO — See the good, do good, be good.

Whether it's a classic sporting event, a devotional with a general authority or family-oriented content, BYU digital media hopes its new BYUtv mobile application will influence viewers to live more wholesome lives.

"Hopefully, if you see the good and do good, you will be good, and people will be better off for it," said Ryan Holmes, director of digital media at BYU. "We want to engage people in good principles."

Holmes manages the team of full-time employees and students that developed BYUtv's new app, launched July 6. This new application was created primarily to distribute values-based programming to a wide audience, Mormon or otherwise, using popular technology.

The BYUtv application is free, requires iOS 4.3 or later and is compatible with multiple devices, including iPad, iPad2, iPhone

Emory Cook and Chad Mustard update a blog at BYU in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2011.   (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Emory Cook and Chad Mustard update a blog at BYU in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

3GS, iPhone 4 and iPod Touch. BYUtv is working on a web app (a mobile version of the website) for Android and other mobile devices.

Axis41 and Blink Software Solutions, a couple of design firms in Salt Lake City, helped BYUtv with the app and other projects.

The app is evidence that BYUtv has come a long way in a decade.

The first 10 years of BYUtv's existence carried the tagline "Keeping You Connected," and targeted alumni and Latter-day Saints. Content included religious programming, devotionals, forums and LDS general conference.

"Basically, the Mormon channel," Holmes said.

Then a series of miracles occurred. BYUtv quietly grew from less than a million households to 60 million U.S. homes through DirecTV, Dish Network and nearly 600 cable systems nationwide. In 2007, BYUtv launched an international station in Spanish and Portuguese that serves Latin America. Add to the list the release of BYU radio on Sirius XM. BYU and LDS Church administrators realized they had a tremendous asset in BYUtv and it was being under-utilized, Holmes said. That's when the decision was made to shift focus from "Keeping You Connected" to a new vision, "See the Good in the World."

Ryan Holmes stands behind the brainstorming wall for BYUtv's new app. It was created to distribute values-based programming to a wide audience.   (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Ryan Holmes stands behind the brainstorming wall for BYUtv's new app. It was created to distribute values-based programming to a wide audience. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"We have to use these incredible technologies to fulfill our charge and mission of helping our audiences to see and hear the good in the world like never before," said Derek Marquis, managing director of BYU Broadcasting. "We believe the future of our industry really is with digital media."

Work on the BYUtv app commenced about a year ago when Holmes came to BYU from a video game development company.

He was charged with helping to build a digital distribution platform that was state-of-the-art. "We had been streaming video online for a long time and wanted to take it to the next level," Holmes said.

Because resources were limited, emphasis was placed on developing applications for iPads, iPhones and iPad touch. "iOS was kind of a no-brainer. It was a huge segment of the market," Holmes said.

BYUtv's new app is free, but it requires iOS 4.3 or later and is compatible with multiple devices.   (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, BYU) BYUtv's new app is free, but it requires iOS 4.3 or later and is compatible with multiple devices. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, BYU)

David Pratt, a senior architect at BYUtv, loves the application for its on-demand football feature. "It's cool to have that library with you wherever you are," he said.

In addition to on-demand football and basketball games and live television, BYUtv features family-friendly programming with shows such as "The Food Nanny," a reality show that helps bring families back to dinner; "Chef Brad," a source for healthy eating; "The Generations Project," a reality series that helps uncover hidden identities in family history; and "The Story Trek," a show where reporter Todd Hansen conducts random, door-to-door interviews to reveal how interesting lives of ordinary people are. Also accessible are hours of devotionals, forums and biographies, along with other university and family programming.

"The future of BYUtv lies in its content. That will drive the future growth of the channel," Marquis said. "(A new broadcast) facility and these digital platforms add the pressure on us. We've got to create incredible content."

BYUtv's new app is free, but it requires iOS 4.3 or later and is compatible with multiple devices.   (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, BYU) BYUtv's new app is free, but it requires iOS 4.3 or later and is compatible with multiple devices. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, BYU)

"A changing of the guard is coming," Holmes said, "A transition from traditional television to other integrated distribution models. Devices such as the web, mobile device, Over The Top, Xbox and connected Blu-ray can all stream video directly from content publishers to consumers."

The app can stream video from one device to another. The app is connected to BYUtv's entire digital media platform.

When a person goes to BYUtv.org to see a live stream or the video-on-demand archive, the app accesses and uses those same web services and delivers the video. The app is also linked to the website. A user can create a login and someone will track his or her playlist and history.

"In theory, you could go to the website and start watching a football game, and pick it up on your iPhone or iPad, drive home, then pick it up again on the website and we would track that as you jump from device to device."

Thousands have already downloaded the app and Holmes says the goal is to have hundreds of thousands and millions. The growth in the delivery of video through BYUtv's platform has jumped by a factor of 10 since launching the app.

"We are major now in terms of our footprint. We're as big as anyone in the country," Holmes said. "In terms of viewers, it's a marketing job now. We need to make the content compelling and it's going to take time."

Students such as senior Daven Rosenbaum of Spanish Fork and junior Cameron Dumas of Eagle, Idaho, have gained valuable experience working on the BYUtv app.

They marvel at what has been accomplished in a few short years. When it comes time for graduation, the students will miss brainstorming ideas by writing on the transparent walls of the "War Room" and using the latest computer technology.

"Ryan likes to be on the cutting edge. He is always pushing us to learn the newest technology and web standards. We are in a great learning environment," Dumas said. "It's fun to say that I was part of this."

It's been fun for Holmes as well.

"I have built businesses and sold businesses, my life has been a series of projects and start-up companies, which is fun, and this sort of feels like that," he said. "It's innovative, fast-paced, dynamic and I love the people. We are focused, we're innovating every day, and working on technology and really cool projects that fit into a bigger mission, and that's compelling to me. It has been an important thing for me to be engaged with. I hope to be here a long time."

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