Walton-area residents Grant and Suzanne Davis have been to hundreds of livestock shows in the last few years. And they aren't even farmers.
They're the driving force behind Walton Webcasting, a local small business that's struck proverbial gold by offering live web broadcasts of livestock sales and competitions.
So far this year, they've streamed video at more than 180 events across the country, including several shows at the North American International Livestock Exposition at the Kentucky state fair grounds this past weekend. They estimate they'll finish out the year at between 220 and 230 events.
"It's been a crazy wild ride, and it continues to go on," Grant Davis said recently.
The couple are partners in the business with friends and farmers Kyle and Lynsee Pullen, as well as Lynsee Pullen's parents, Terry and Shelley Shaffer. Together, they manage seven video crews that are sometimes spread across three states over a weekend.
The Davises had started out broadcasting local sports games beginning with a single video crew in 2010. Grant Davis drew on his experience announcing Lewis Cass sports for 19 years as he worked to launch the web video venture. The following year, they added two more crews to cover more local matches, and in 2013 the crews began covering both home and away games for teams in Kokomo. For each live-stream, they showed the action on the field while one or two announcers provided voiceover, like a traditional TV broadcast would have.
"Sports was where we got comfortable," Suzanne Davis said. It also stretched them. With three crews and just two Davises, they had to learn to trust other crew members with the setup, live streaming and tear-down. Then when the North Central Conference asked them to live-stream a championship game, they had to figure out how to take their show on the road.
Grant Davis recalled thinking, "how are we ever taking equipment to Muncie, Indiana? We couldn't wrap our head around it."
It was roughly 70 miles away. They've since traveled hundreds of miles to places as far away as Syracuse, New York, and Phoenix, Arizona.
And they might not have gone so far if not for the Cass County 4-H Fair. The fair board in 2012 had them live-stream the fair queen contest and the tractor pull. In 2013, they asked Walton Webcasting live-stream the Premier Showman contest. The Davises agreed and recruited a couple of former 4-H members as announcers.
For the Davises, it was just another local broadcast, more or less. Their friend Kyle Pullen had other ideas.
"As soon as the webcast got done, Kyle said, 'you've got to take this to livestock.' I was like, you're an idiot," Grant Davis recalled, laughing.
Kyle Pullen insisted. He put the Davises in touch with Travis Platt of Platt Showpigs, who hosts a competitive hog show for his clients each fall. A crew live-streamed the October 2013 Platt Invitational to a web audience at least five times the usual size for Walton Webcasting.
"We were like, holy cow. This is the craziest thing ever," Grant Davis recalled.
Platt, who maintains a close business relationship with Walton Webcasting, said by phone that web video's draw for the livestock industry is the same as for any other.
"Being able to watch it nationwide and not have to travel to see it," Platt said. "There hasn't been anything like it before" in the hog industry.
"I think it's a great tool to have," he added.
And it just kept growing, mainly through word of mouth. Walton Webcasting's third livestock show, counting the Cass County Premier Showman show, was the Crossbred Classic hog show at the Indiana State Fair during the summer of 2014.
"There weren't many practice runs besides the Cass County Fair," Grant Davis said. Their style was borrowed from sports, including the announcers, which Grant Davis said set Walton Webcasting apart from the few other companies that had been streaming web video of livestock shows.
"It was nothing like anybody'd ever seen," Grant Davis said. The business model relied on sales of on-screen advertising during the live-stream. In the hog industry, the Davises found it an easy sell for dealers.
That year, 2014, the Davises partnered with the Pullens and dived headfirst into their new market segment. "There was no turning back," Grant Davis said.
Now, the Walton Webcasting logo includes outlines of cattle and the Davises often spend several days a week on the road, running video crews at different events. They work with a pool of about 15 locals who help part-time and a full-time sales representative based in Iowa.
As livestock shows consumed more and more of their time, they chose to end live streaming of local sports. It wasn't an easy decision for Grant Davis — this year was the first since 1993 that he hasn't worked Lewis Cass sports events, he said.
The Davises said they intend to continue growing the livestock video business, while making sure it remains sustainable. "We're really trying to not go out of control, because I think we could go out of control right now," Grant Davis said.
"This is the biggest venture we've ever been on."