Brian Spencer, owner of Streaming Inc., chats about controlling your own destiny, the revenue chart heartbeat and the art and science of storm chasing
BRIAN SPENCER IS celebrating 20 years owning and operating Streaming Inc., which specializes in producing and streaming live events of all kinds. He has three employees.
Spencer grew up in London and went to Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School. He has two sons, Justin, 26, and Jeremy, 23. He plays guitar and loves the outdoors. That love is manifested, in part, by a fascination with tornadoes and other major storms. He began chasing them in 2007 and has worked as a guide for other storm chasers.
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The concept of streaming is now commonplace, unlike 20 years ago when you created Streaming Inc. What inspired you back then?
I have always been into music, and then later, streaming media. In 2000, I was posting Pearl Jam audio and video on the Internet. The band sued me, but I won and kept running the website until 2020.
In 2003, I was working at 3M and was invited to a quarterly report event, where the president was giving a talk about the Enron scandal turmoil, which resulted in 3M laying off 25 per cent of their workforce. This included my boss at the time, who was just a year and a half shy of an early retirement. That’s when I decided no company would have that much control over my life. I quit 3M and launched Streaming Inc.
How has your original vision changed, or not, over two decades?
I don’t believe the original vision has changed much, but the increase of tools and digital platforms has exploded these last few years, including hybrid events incorporating Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
How did the pandemic affect your business, for better or worse?
Like all other small businesses, the pandemic affected us greatly. At the onset we lost all our booked 2020 events. The losses remained huge until the fall months when we constructed a couple of local green screen studios and switched over operations to virtual, and then eventually to hybrid formats. We will reach our pre-pandemic revenues in 2023.
But looking back, we’ve had to survive other events that have had a big impact on our business as well, including the recession and housing crisis of 2008, the mini recession of 2012 and now the pandemic and its aftermath. Our revenue chart looks more like a heartbeat over these 20 years as opposed to seeing a steady uptick or incline.
Better technology must have made things easier for you, but has it also tempted companies to run their own streaming activities?
Yes, you are correct. A few of our local AV companies now offer some basic, single camera point-and-shoot live streaming services, which is great for our company as we not only offer the same, but also offer high-end multi camera hybrid productions that save our corporate clients money.
You’ve been chasing storms since 2007. Do you still work for a storm chasing tour company?
No, I just wrapped up my fifth and final year as the lead driver for the oldest-running tornado tour group in the world, Cloud 9 Tours. After celebrating 25 years in business, owner and operator Charles Edwards decided to retire. This 2023 season I look to be chasing solo and then back with another tour group for 2024. Exciting!
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How do you balance your interest in tornadoes with the destruction they leave in their wake?
Great question, as I have seen some tremendous damage these last 15 years. Now, the destruction will happen whether I am there or not. However, being in the field and so close to these incredible storms, we do call in the tornado reports to notify the communities in its path. Storm chasers help the warning process, plus most of us are CPR and first aid certified. I love nature, but my interest in severe weather, specifically tornadoes, is strictly for educational purposes as I offer talks on tornadoes to area high schools and post secondary. I bring first-hand experiences from tornado alley to the students, and they love my talks.
Do you have a greatest moment chasing a storm?
After experiencing 48 tornadoes to date, yes, I have a few key moments including three-inch hail crashing through my windshield, chasing a half mile wide tornado for 90 minutes and experiencing the earth shake and being run over by an EF3-rated, 600-yard-wide tornado last season in Lockett, Texas. Interview by Christopher Clark