Creative Street scores with online education

March 2, 2009

The rising popularity of online education is ringing up sales for a local firm better known for video production.

Indianapolis-based Creative Street Media Group recently signed deals with the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations to provide instruction for coaches and member institutions.

The deals with the locally based groups are spreading the small firm's work nationwide, and company officials think the education model could have potential far beyond the world of sports.

More than a decade ago, Creative Street started producing interactive computer programs delivered via CD-ROM and DVDs. In 2000, the firm dove into interactive online programming, developing nursing courses for locally based nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau International.

"We quickly saw the impact and strength of online programming: the quick dissemination of information, the ability to change information and other inherent efficiencies," said Creative Street Chairman David H. Smith. "Just how deep this program goes and the potential is staggering."

The firm's interactive online work accounts for less than 10 percent of the company's revenue, but Smith said it could grow much higher.

"It's not a crazy source of cash, but it is doing very well," he said.

Creative Street was formed in 1984 as a corporate communications firm. Along the way, the firm produced a nationally syndicated television show, award-winning educational videos and documentaries, and well-traveled museum exhibits.

Company principals found the firm's skills in Web development along with its penchant for storytelling through video and audio played well in the online education sector.

Creative Street started in high school and college sports by producing educational programs on gambling regulations and academic eligibility. Early on, the firm also did an online program to track student-athlete eligibility; grades; and violations of morality, tobacco and alcohol codes for the Alaska School Activities Association. The Alaska project targeted coaches, student violators and parents.

Three years ago, when the high school sports federation began exploring developing an online education package for its nationwide membership, it expected to hire "two or three companies," said Tim Flannery, the organization's assistant director.

"We thought we'd need a firm to write the script, a person to produce the video, and possibly a firm to coordinate the entire project," Flannery said. "What we found — surprisingly — was that Creative Street could handle the entire project."

Flannery said his organization's nationwide search yielded numerous firms that work in online education, "but very few that do it to the level and quality that Creative Street does."

"When people think of online education, they think of reading a book online, and taking a test," Flannery said. "This is nothing like that. What they had developed was a very engaging, fast-paced multimedia program."

Flannery said the programs stand out due to their fast-paced one- and two-minute vignettes, followed by intriguing and challenging question-and-answer sessions.

Last year, Creative Street helped the federation launch online courses for coaches. The programs come with databases and the ability to track coaches' test results and certifications across an entire district-or even nationally.

More than 60,000 courses have been taken in 42 states in the seven months since the program was launched. Federation officials expect to distribute more than 100,000 courses nationwide every year.

"We're changing the culture of high school sports with these programs," Flannery said. "We're reaching more people with our messages than was ever possible before."

Each program takes about six months to produce. Creative Street and federation officials wouldn't divulge financial details of their deal, but said Creative Street gets paid an upfront fee plus a commission on each class sold.

An individual course costs $35 to $50, and gives coaches access to the material for one year. There's also the possibility of building sponsor messages into the course work as a means of raising revenue.

Creative Street is helping the NCAA develop programs aimed at educating Division II members, including coaches, athletic directors, faculty and university administrators.

"The interactivity in these programs is a far better way to learn than a four-page handout of rules and best practices" said Mike Racy, NCAA vice president for Division II. "And we're getting high-quality media help at Indianapolis prices."

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