It’s always exhilarating to start something small and see it take a life of its own.
At a time when the coronavirus has caused chaos in many parts of the world and decimated businesses in towns and cities, tech entrepreneur Sree Sreenivasan has started a new venture. Back in March when COVID-19 was an unknown entity, Sreenivasan, who is the Marshall Loeb Visiting Professor of digital innovation at the Stony Brook School of Journalism, saw the need of the moment – and reached out with solutions.
“During previous crises -- 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the 2011 Fukushima earthquake -- I had found a role for non-field journalists like myself to share timely, accurate information via digital means,” he recalls.
“From a distance, we can play a complementary role to all the great work done by journalists who are at the scene. For each previous crisis, we used the respective cutting-edge tools of the day - email, websites, blog, live audio, so it was only natural that we use a live video talk show format for a 2020 crisis," he said.
Sree’s Daily Global Covid-19 Show started as an online talk show aimed at
tracking life during lockdown, getting experts to share their insights, and make
sense of a difficult situation. It’s always exhilarating to start something small and see it take on a life of its own. His company Digimentors Virtual Events has come up with solutions for our new world.
A screenshot of the Daily Global Covid Show
What started out as a grassroots effort, a simple conversation from his living room to get people together in lockdown and share expertise, recently completed 108 shows, having clocked in 1 million viewers and more than 60 million social impressions. It’s been a global effort with people joining the chats from Dubai to Delhi to London.
“It is my honor to convene these daily conversations around three different crises - the health crisis, the financial crisis, and the racial inequality crisis," says Sreenivasan, who, having been the chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University and the City of New York, is connected to everyone virtually, from thought leaders to entertainment stars.
So whether it’s the rising curve of the pandemic, dipping economic figures or the Black Lives Matter protests, you are bound to get fresh perspectives – and solutions – from the show’s powerhouse guests.
The show has had over 200 guests from 45 cities in 12 countries, encompassing doctors, nurses, lawyers, professors, and experts from every field.
“We've laughed, we've cried, we've learned so much and I'm so grateful to every one of our guests, and grateful for every one of our viewers,” says Sreenivasan.
Thoughtful voices have been addressing the concerns around the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody and protest marches across America, the rising unemployment, and the continuing chaos of the pandemic on the Covid Show.
The show has had noted names from every field including the Chief Scientist of WHO Dr Soumya Swaminathan and the Director of Pandemic and Epidemic
Diseases Dr Sylvie Briand on the 99th show.
This kind of show would have been difficult to put together in the normal pre-
Covid world but with virtual meetings the new normal and everyone quarantined, it’s been possible to reach out to live audiences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
While the shows might initiate from Sreenivasan’s apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, they take you live to the homes of all the important voices which need to be heard in the ongoing pandemic. With his producers Rose Horowitz and Vandana Menon, he’s been able to book amazing guests from day one. “We didn't look for fame - we looked for knowledge, expertise, and a willingness to share. That some of them were the top experts in the field was a bonus,” he says.
As he admits, the daily schedule makes it challenging to find top-notch guests
every day, unlike his weekly show, Sree's Sunday #NYTReadalong, which has been on Facebook Live for 5 years now, a weekly ritual of reading aloud the print edition with guests. The COVID show, being daily, has to be put together quickly, just rushing from one episode to the other.
After about 45 shows, Sreenivasan has entered into a partnership with Scroll.in which ensures that the show is simulcast on the magazine’s social networks. Sreenivasan says, “Their large following has given us access to many more viewers around the world.”
A diehard tech entrepreneur, he proves it is possible to start a business in a
pandemic and garner both sponsors and advertisers. He has also launched Social Media Week with Muck Rack and a new video medical program, She's on Call, with two surgeons, Sujana Chandrasekhar and Marina Kurian.
Recently, Sreenivasan showcased the London-based Art & Co., the
world’s largest online auction which is founded by serial entrepreneur
Bundeep Singh Rangar. Pieces by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Jeff Koons are up for auction, as well as work by relatively unknown artists.
'Once there was a tiger' by Sanjay Sundaram
Rangar and some of the artists were on the show to create awareness and
the funds raised go to 7 frontline organizations and 42 contributing
freelance artists for Covid-19 relief.
With captive audiences, the time is ripe to get important news as well as virtual events out to a worldwide audience. So, is it possible to succeed in hard times?
“The success of our shows - and the resulting virtual events business that we have launched - means that it's always worth pushing and trying new things,” he says.
“I've been telling everyone I meet, ‘Work on something’ - you never know what
will happen if you put in the work and have some luck.”
Sree Sreenivasan’s mantra is “Be bold, be experimental - people are willing to forgive anything in this time of crisis.”
He, however, cautions not to expect overnight success. “For passion projects, if you aren't willing to do them for no audience and no money, you won't be able to do it for all the audience and all the money in the world.”
Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with
Lavina. Read her columns here.
First Published: IST