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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column incorrectly switched the name of Ruckus with the company's chief executive in a sentence about William J. Raduchel's background. The article has been corrected here.

Ruckus Seeks to Raise a Digital Community

By Andrea Caumont
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page E05

A new Herndon start-up is hoping to make a ruckus in the college community.

Ruckus Network, fresh from its Oct. 1 launch, offers colleges and universities a subscription-based service that provides legal music and movie downloads for their students.

Ryan Lusk uses Ruckus Network to legally download his favorite music in his Northern Illinois University dormitory room. (Brian Frank -- Ruckus Networks)

In Profile

Name: Ruckus Network

Location: Herndon

Big idea: Provides a subscription-based service to colleges and universities that gives their students access to legal music and movie downloads.

Founded: September 2003

Web site: www.ruckusnetwork.com

Who's in charge: William J. Raduchel, chairman and chief executive.

Funding: The company has received $9 million in venture funding from Battery Ventures and Shelter Capital Partners. "We'll be fundraising for two or three years at least," Raduchel predicted.

Employees: 50

Big-name clients: Schools that have signed up include Alfred State College, Bentley College, Northern Illinois University and North Carolina A&T State University.

Origin of company name: Co-founders Vincent Han and David Galper came up with it. "The origin was the idea of being a little bit edgy, disruptive, because we have to appeal to students as well as administrators," Raduchel said.

"The kids in college today experience broadband unlike [other] consumers because they have better connections and they're more likely to use broadband as a principal source of entertainment," said William J. Raduchel, chairman and chief executive. Raduchel, former chief technology officer of AOL Time Warner Inc. and a former Sun Microsystems executive, said Ruckus fit naturally into his interests. He was recruited by venture capitalists looking for a chief executive for the company that was the brainchild of two former Massachusetts Institute of Technology students, Vincent Han and David Galper.

Raduchel, who was a Harvard University faculty member, hopes to reach students where they spend the majority of their time: at their desktops.

Ruckus also is working with college administrators to provide university content including student-written editorials and reviews, pictures from campus, local songs and videos as well as academic material. "Students are too often passing through instead of being part of the university community," Raduchel said. "College sports, the student newspaper and student radio stations don't have the draw they once did."

Many students download music and movie files illegally from a variety of shady Internet sites, risking prosecution and virus-infected hard drives. Ruckus wants to offer a one-click, legal option for students to get their digital entertainment.

The company has licensing agreements with music labels SonyBMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. It also has a catalogue of 2,500 movies, 50 of which are made available to a school at any one time. To distribute the content on campus networks, Ruckus must navigate a virtual quagmire of copyright issues while simultaneously catering to each school's individual wants and needs. It's not a one-size-fits-all service. "You have to work with the schools," Raduchel said. "We have to help each school solve their problems."

Schools typically pay less than $10 per student per month for access to the service. Once a school signs up, Ruckus installs servers on its campus, taking advantage of high-speed Internet connections to pipe the digital entertainment content to dorm rooms. In addition to music and on-demand movie downloads, Ruckus provides programmed entertainment, including playlists that are updated four times a day and tailored toward what students are interested in at that time of the day or week. "We're evolving toward the concept of MTV and deejays," Raduchel said.

Music and movies might just be the beginning of Ruckus's offerings. "As we talk to our schools and figure out what works, we'll do it all over time," Raduchel said. Students could eventually share photos, maintain online blogs and download video games through the Ruckus service. Raduchel hopes to have between 10 and 20 schools signed up by this time next year, but he says his biggest challenge so far has been learning patience. "You can't walk into a university and say this is a great idea and have them say, 'You're right, let's buy.' You have to educate them, it's learning to adapt a start-up mentality."

Patience aside, Raduchel sees a bright future for the digital media market at higher education institutions. "I think that schools will all have some form of digital-media-based community in three years," he said. "You need to speak to students on the desktop. You can't run an institution unless your kids have things in common."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company