Today is the birthday of Shania Twain, the “Queen of Country Pop”, who is the first female singing artist in history to have three consecutive albums reach diamond status. Shania is 48 today which means she was 34 back in September 1999 when she won the Entertainer of the Year Award at the 33rd annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards show. Shania’s acceptance of the award, along with all other events of the show, were webcast internationally over the Internet by Enron Broadband Services (EBS) back in 1999!
In 1999, live webcasting was not brand new, but it was still considered unreliable on a large scale. Earlier in that year, the attempt by Victoria’s Secret to webcast an event had been such a visible disaster that many in the industry proclaimed that “Net video is not yet ready for prime time.”
With that backdrop, the stakes for fledgling EBS in broadcasting the 33rd CMA Awards show were huge. EBS had already performed webcasts for other events, but the CMA Awards webcast promised to have a much larger scale than any previous event ever webcast in the industry.
Well, EBS pulled off the CMA Awards webcast in stunning, virtually flawless fashion. The EBS engineers who were in Nashville were able to provide real-time, on-the-fly statistics to the CMA staff, providing not only overall volume data, but lots of other information, such as numbers of viewers by geographic location. So impressed were the CMA Awards show organizers that they praised EBS
during and after the show.
To perform the webcast, EBS used its innovative Enron Intelligent Network (EIN) and its Broadband Operating System (BOS) technologies which included the MediaCast application and other software services used in the webcast. EBS continued to improve its EIN and BOS and performed a number of other large webcasts after the successful CMA Awards show event. Arguably, by 1999, EBS had built the most robust and sophisticated infrastructure in the industry for a range of network-based software services.
Remarkably, in their eventual indictments of various EBS employees, the federal prosecutors of the Enron Task Force (ETF) claimed that the EIN and the BOS technologies did not exist or did not “work”. You are probably wondering how the Feds could claim that a technology did not exist which had so visibly functioned successfully. Basically, the Feds’ tactic at the EBS trial in 2005 was to try to re-define the EIN and BOS in ways that suited their purpose. Unfortunately for the Feds, the actual descriptions of the EIN and BOS, as contained in a range of technical documents, including a patent on the BOS, did not support the Feds’ false definitions. As a result, the Feds suffered a humiliating defeat at the EBS trial.
Like Shania Twain, the EBS executives who helped launch the company and who helped guide the development of its remarkable technologies, should have received awards for their achievements. Instead these innocent executives, people like Joe Hirko, Scott Yeager, and Rex Shelby, suffered years of hounding by an over-reaching Department of Justice (DOJ). The EBS legal debacle shows
that the current scandals of the DOJ are really nothing new — the DOJ has been out of control for many, many years.
[Leo Thompson is a frequent contributor to Cara Ellison's Enron Online: The Enron Blog and will also be contributing to this blog from time to time.]