TV Everywhere (TVE) should not be a way for pay-TV operators solely to deliver existing content to connected devices, but rather a whole new paradigm for offering subscribers targeted packages of custom content to drive new value and potentially incremental revenue. That's the message video management provider thePlatform is conveying this morning with updates to its mpx system. Though many operators are still early in their TVE rollouts, thePlatform is providing a tantalizing longer-term vision of how they can use TVE to greatly expand their video services in the broadband era, far beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all multichannel bundle.
This morning thePlatform is rolling out its latest Player Development Kit (PDK) which offers its media customers the option of turning on a series of video sharing/social media features for their users. Marty Roberts, thePlatform's VP of Marketing, gave me a demo last week. One of my key reactions is that interest in the PDK by thePlatform's customers shows how much media companies' executives' mindsets have evolved in a very short time.
With the player enhancements, users are able to embed video into ten of the most popular social networks: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon, Delicious, Windows Live, Yahoo! Buzz and Vodpod. All are pre-integrated by thePlatform so just a couple of clicks by the user places the video player, complete with its original branding, into these 3rd party sites. All of the advertising logic flows through to wherever the player is distributed, so ads run according to the same rules as they would on the destination site. All of the views are reported in the admin console, including detail on where the videos played.
An additional feature is the ability for users to clip a specific segment out of the underlying video and embed just that segment into these social networks. That means that users no longer have to say to their friends something like "check out the joke approximately 45 seconds into the attached 3 minute clip;" instead they can embed a new segment with just the joke itself. thePlatform has also handily integrated URL shortening, so embedding in Twitter is a snap. It also exposes hash tags in the meta data which are automatically added to the tweet.
Marty explained that thePlatform's customers, recognizing their users' interest in sharing clips, have pushed for these new social features. That's a pretty remarkable evolution in thinking by big media companies, which not that long ago were focused both on driving users only to their own destination sites for online viewing and also on bearing 100% of the promotional responsibility for doing so. By advocating for these new social/sharing features these companies are recognizing that online viewing should happen wherever users decide to hang out (this is the premise of the Syndicated Video Economy I've discussed many times) and that users themselves should be considered a critical ingredient in promoting content.
Gone too appears to be traditional concerns about the environment in which branded video would show up. I can't count how many times over the years I've heard content executives express worry about having their brands and programming end up in semi-pornographic or amateurish user-created sites. I asked Marty about this evolution in thinking and he said that even some of thePlatform's most conservative customers now seem to be over this perceived problem. Looks like Dylan was right, "The times, they are a-changin.'"
Separate, I recently conducted short interviews with a handful of industry executives who attended thePlatform's customer meeting in NYC, and I'm pleased to share them today. Browse below to see several minute-long Q&As with Bill Burke (Global Director, Online Video Products, AP), Ian Blaine (CEO, thePlatform), Channing Dawson (Senior Advisor, Scripps Networks), Kip Compton (GM, Video and Content Platforms, Cisco) and Stephen Baker (Chief Revenue Officer, RAMP). More interviews will be added in the days ahead, so please check back again.
This morning, thePlatform is marking its 10th anniversary by unveiling a new version of its video management and publishing system, dubbed 'mpx" (the prior version was called "mps" for Media Publishing System) and mpx Dev Kit, a complete set of APIs and documentation. Last week Marty Roberts, thePlatform's VP of Marketing, gave me an overview of mpx and a short demo.
thePlatform had 3 primary customer goals in mind with mpx: (1) to provide more efficient management of large content libraries, (2) to enable personalized work flow options and (3) to re-orient the publishing process so the beginning point is the outlet or "publishing profile." As Marty explained, over the course of the 10 years that thePlatform has been in business, the world of online video has become far more complex, with longer viewing durations, more distribution options, bigger content libraries, and more money at stake. Since thePlatform works primarily with big content providers and distributors, improving the ingest process to accept multiple simultaneous files, and then the navigation of existing files, was a key focus of mpx's development.
In addition, having done lots of research on how its users interacted with mps, thePlatform found that they each used it in somewhat different ways and that ease-of-use remained a pain point. This led thePlatform to devote substantial resources to enabling users to create their own work flows, personalized depending on their specific role in the video management and publishing process. In the demo, Marty showed how different people, tasked with different assignments, could configure their own views of mpx's 3-pane publishing console, so that just those things they cared about were visible and accessible. Multiple views can be created and then saved, so the user can quickly return to and cycle through their various tasks.
Most interesting though, is mpx's re-orientation to start the publishing process by creating a "publishing profile" such as a pre-configured video player, or a mobile device, or a third-party syndication partner. In each case, the user first configures the outlet and then specifies exactly what types of assets are required, including encoding specs, formats, sizes, etc. Then, as video is ingested and marked for its destination, the system takes over and automatically runs the various required processes in order to deliver the required files to their destination. The same occurs for assets already in the system; the user finds what's required, associates a publishing profile and prompts the system to run the processes. It's a pretty slick approach, and no doubt will be a real time-saver for users.
Marty explained that thePlatform dedicated 70% of its engineering team to mpx's development for the last 2 years. Scale and reliability have also been key goals, as the company's large customers, especially service providers, have "5 9's" or 99.999% availability requirements. While thePlaftorm is cognizant of the range of online video platform competitors, the company believes the lessons learned over the years, which help it operate at huge scale, are a real differentiator.
Interestingly, Marty echoed what I continue to hear - that homegrown systems are still the most significant competition. However, the advent of TV Everywhere and the rise of paid media appear to be tipping these holdouts toward third-party platforms. With the online and mobile video worlds getting more complex by the day, this can be expected to continue.
This morning Brightcove is making its first TV Everywhere ("TVE") related announcement, introducing its "TV Everywhere Solution Pack" (TVE-SP), which is the Brightcove 4 enterprise edition augmented with new components and services to support TVE rollouts. It is also unveiling a strategic alliance with Ping Identity to integrate its PingFederate security software with TVE-SP, to enable user authentication and authorization. Lastly, Brightcove has promoted Eric Elia from VP of Professional Services to VP of TV Solutions, charged with leading the company's TVE initiatives. Brightcove's CEO and founder Jeremy Allaire briefed me last week.
To understand how TVE-SP fits in, it is important to quickly review the TVE model. To date, most discussion of TVE has focused on multichannel video programming distributors ("MVPDs") providing their subscribers with online access to TV programming through their own portals or services, for no extra charge (e.g. Comcast's Fancast Xfinity TV). Receiving less attention so far is that the programmers who agree to participate in MVPD portals will likely require they are also able to offer their same programs on their own sites, which are an increasingly important part of their brand identity and direct-to-consumer focus.
Something else that hasn't received a lot of attention to date is that not all MVPDs will follow Comcast's model of managing, hosting and delivering the online programs themselves. Rather, some MVPDs will prefer to provide just the barebones online navigation, with TV programmers providing an embeddable video player and also delivering all the programming. Less-resourced MVPDs could end of relying heavily on programmers to power their TVE offerings. Where programmers already have online video platforms such as Brightcove in place, these OVPs are in a position to influence how TVE operates. (As a sidenote, I've heard multiple times that Comcast itself is also offering a white labeled version of its FXTV portal to other MVPDs).
All of this means there's likely to be plenty of heterogeneity in TV Everywhere rollouts. Recognizing this, a key part of Brightcove's product strategy is aligning with Ping to use PingFederate and the SAML 2.0 standard for user authentication and authorization. SMAL is used to exchange data between domains (e.g. between a TV programmer, whose web site visitor is trying to access a certain program and an MVPD which holds that user's subscription profile). This type of secure exchange will be essential for TV programmers to offer their own programs on their own sites in a TVE world.
SAML has been widely used in the SaaS business applications and Ping itself lists Comcast, Cox, Bell Canada and Discovery, among others, as customers. However, I suspect these are likely on the enterprise side, not the consumer-facing side. As a result, Brightcove's approach will require significant testing before it will be deemed acceptable by MVPDs. In fact, Brightcove's new white paper indicates that additional standards are required and that some of this is underway at CableLabs, the cable industry's development lab.
It's also worth noting that thePlatform (owned by Comcast) has 4 of the top 5 U.S. cable operators, plus Rogers in Canada, as customers, and ExtendMedia has the major U.S. telcos, plus Bell Canada, as customers. With Brightcove powering video at 60+ TV programmer websites, there are no doubt some interesting dynamics ahead as these OVPs' customers negotiate their TVE relationships and influence the interoperability of their respective technology providers. For its part, thePlatform, which also supports many content providers' video, introduced last November an "Authentication Adaptor" as part of its media publishing system to smooth the authentication and authorization process for programmers offering TVE shows on their own sites.
Confused yet? This is pretty dense stuff, and illustrates some of the hurdles ahead for TVE's widespread rollout. Meanwhile, lurking over TVE's shoulder are the raft of over-the-top alternatives (e.g. Netflix, Boxee, Apple, Xbox, YouTube, etc.) that are sure to gain additional traction with consumers (as a sidenote, yesterday's Best Buy Sunday circular promoted no fewer than 5 Blu-ray players as Netflix compatible, with each showcasing the Netflix logo).
As the TVE story unfolds, Brightcove is sure to be in the middle of the action given its market presence and technical capabilities. But how it all shakes out remains to be seen.
What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).
(Note - Brightcove, thePlatform and ExtendMedia are VideoNuze sponsors)
TV Everywhere is getting another shot of momentum this morning as thePlatform, one of the leading online video platform companies (and a subsidiary of Comcast) is rolling out new features aimed at giving TV networks greater control of their programs in the coming TV Everywhere world.
The key new feature is what thePlatform calls an "Authentication Adaptor," which is a mechanism for networks that want to offer their programs on their own web sites to authenticate users as current paying video subscribers of a multichannel video provider (recall that under current TVE plans it is a requirement to be a multichannel video subscriber in order to access programs online). The authentication adaptor works by instantly checking with appropriate multichannel providers' billing systems and returning a yes/no authentication response for that user.
If the user is authenticated, then the adaptor verifies that the specific program is available for viewing to that user, depending on what tier of service the user subscribes to. thePlatform does this by mapping each individual show to specific channels that each have an ID. The channel IDs are in turn mapped to the multichannel provider's subscription packages. For example if you were to try watching "Entourage" on HBO.com, but you didn't subscribe to HBO the linear channel via your service provider (e.g. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc.), your request would be denied. As one can imagine, with the endless permutations of shows, networks, subscription packages and multichannel providers, linking all of this together and delivering fast response times to the user is quite a challenge.
What's also interesting here is that if indeed a request has been denied, a marketing opportunity has been created for both the TV network and the multichannel provider. In the Entourage example above, the denial message could be accompanied by offers to watch now on a pay-per-view basis or to instantly become a subscriber to HBO via Comcast, or to buy the DVD, etc. Or maybe the offer is just to watch free clips to improve sampling. thePlatform supports the creation of these types of rules and integration to appropriate 3rd parties. This is a great example of how TV Everywhere also opens up the instant-gratification online economy to networks and video providers.
The new features gain in importance as thePlatform is also announcing this morning more than 20 TV networks have recently become customers including Fox Sports Networks, E!, G4, Style, Comcast Sports Group (a group of regional sports networks), Travel Channel, Big Ten Network and others yet to be named. As TV Everywhere rolls out next year, TV networks will become increasingly interested in offering their programs themselves, in addition to offering access on their distributors' web sites.
Separate, thePlatform is also announcing today that it is working with Rogers, which is Canada's leading multichannel video provider, on an online video initiative. Though details aren't provided, Rogers recently disclosed that is also pursuing TV Everywhere, so it's probably logical to put two and two together. thePlatform also provides video management services to large American operators Cablevision, Cox, Time Warner Cable, in addition to parent company Comcast. Between the video provider deals and the TV networks deals, thePlatform finds itself squarely in the middle of the TV Everywhere action.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Surely one of the most enduring questions I and others who watch the online video industry are asked (and in fact often ask ourselves) is: How can video management and publishing platform companies continue to launch, even as the space already seems so crowded?
Personally I've been hearing this question for at least 6 years, going back to when I consulted with Maven Networks, whose acquisition by Yahoo was one of the few industry exits (and likely the best from an investor ROI perspective, regardless of the fact that it was shut down little more than a year later as part of Yahoo's retrenching. With yesterday's launch of Episodic and the recent launch of Unicorn Media, plus last week's $10M Series C round by Ooyala, it's timely to once again try to make sense of all the activity in the platform space.
The best explanation I offer traces from my Econ 101 class: supply is expanding to meet demand. Over the past 10 years, there has been an enormous surge of interest in publishing online video by an incredible diversity of content providers. Importantly, interest by content providers has intensified in the last few years. I can vividly recall 2003 and 2004, trying to explain to leading content providers why online video was an important initiative to pursue. Still, their projects were often experimental and non-revenue producing. Contrast this with today, where every media company on earth now recognizes online video as a strategic priority.
But even as online video's prioritization has grown, many media companies don't have all the strategic technology building blocks in place. In fact, many continue to use home-brewed technology developed a while back. The range of video features needed continues to grow and evolve rapidly. Consider how requirements have expanded recently: live, as well as on-demand video; long-form programs as well as clips; paid, as well as ad-supported business models; mobile, as well broadband distribution; multiple bit rate, as well as single stream encoding; in-depth analytics as well as top-line metrics; widespread syndication as well as destination-site publishing; off-site, as well as on-site ad management. The list goes on and on.
As media company interest has grown, technology executives and investors have taken note. Venture capital firms continue to see online video as a high-growth industry (even if the revenue model for content providers is still developing, as are many of the platforms' own revenue models), with significant macro trends (e.g. changing consumer behavior, proliferation of devices, improved video quality, etc.) as fueling customer interest. Another important factor for platforms is rapidly declining development costs. As Noam Lovinsky, CEO of Episodic told me last week, open source and other development tools has made it cheaper than ever to enter the market with a solid product. With ever lower capital needs, a new video platform entrant that can grab its fair share of the market has the potential to produce an attractive ROI.
Of course all the noise in the platform space means media executives need to do their homework more rigorously than ever. I'm a strong believer that the only way to really understand how a video platform works, how well-supported it is and how well-matched it is to the content provider's needs is to vigorously test drive it. Hands-on use reveals how comprehensive a platform really is, or how comfortable its work flow is, or how well its APIs work. While I get a lot of exposure to the various platforms through the demos I experience and the questions I ask, I'll readily concede this is not the same as actually living with a platform day-in and day-out.
Another complicating factor is that while there are some companies purely focused on video management and publishing, there are many others who offer some of these features, while positioning themselves in adjacent or larger markets. When I add these companies in, then the list of participants that most often hits my radar would include thePlatform, Brightcove, Ooyala, Twistage, Digitalsmiths, Delve, KickApps, VMIX, Grab Networks, ExtendMedia, Cisco EOS, Irdeto, KIT Digital, Kaltura, blip.tv, Magnify.net, Fliqz, Gotuit, Move Networks, Multicast Media, WorldNow, Kyte, Endavo, Joost, Unicorn Media and Episodic (apologies to anyone I forgot). Again though, this list combines apples and oranges; some of these companies are direct competitors, some are partners with each other, some have a degree of overlap and so on.
There's a long list of platforms to choose from, yet I suspect the list will only get longer as online and mobile video continues to grow and mature. At the end of the day, who survives and succeeds will depend on having the best products, pricing the most attractively and actually winning profitable business.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
The Big Ten Network has selected thePlatform to manage its two main streaming video initiatives - "BigTen Ticket," a live and on-demand package of all televised men's football and basketball games, available exclusively for international (non-US, Canada and Caribbean) audiences, and a package of 200 webcasts of other sports (women's basketball, volleyball, etc), for domestic audiences. Big Ten Ticket is available for single game pay-per-view and for school and conference-based subscriptions.
The Big Ten Network is a joint venture of Fox Cable Networks and subsidiaries of the Big Ten conference. It has been operating since August 2007 and gained carriage into 30 million U.S. homes within 30 days of launch, attesting to the appeal of its big-name conference members. The network's increased commitment to online video delivery is part of a broader trend in major sports to augment broadcast/cable TV rights deals with consumer paid live and on-demand delivery.
Online sports distribution represents a new level of complexity for video publishing and management platforms because they are live, not just on-demand, require multiple monetization paths, involve unpredictable audience sizes and must implement strict access rights, by both geography and package. Sports are on the leading edge of online video with widespread syndication and distribution to multiple mobile devices still ahead.
At VideoSchmooze on Oct 13th, we'll get great insight into online sports from 2 of our 4 panelists, Perkins Miller, SVP, Digital Media and GM, Universal Sports, NBCU Sports and Olympics and George Kliavkoff, EVP & Deputy Group Head, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication (and formerly EVP, Business at Major League Baseball Advanced Media).
In its release, thePlatform notes that its "role is to make online video publishing a seamless process for our customers...." That's a commonly-shared goal among video platform companies, yet I continue to hear from various content providers that stitching together the various pieces they require into a total solution can be difficult. That's why these kinds of programs, where partner products are pre-integrated, add a lot of value for customers.
Among the many companies thePlatform cites as new partners are quite a few I've written about previously on VideoNuze (click to see each write-up): Aspera, Azuki Systems, BrightRoll, EveryZing, Transpera, Visible Measures, YuMe and others.
(Note: thePlatform is a VideoNuze sponsor)
Please join me for a complimentary webinar thePlatform is hosting next Tues, Aug. 18th at 10 am PT / 1pm ET, "How Broadband Video Players Can Align Business Requirements and User Experience." I'll be moderating a discussion with the AP's Bill Burke, Global Director Online Video, PBS Interactive's Joshua Kinberg, Director, Video Product Management, and thePlatform's Marty Roberts, VP of Marketing.
The webinar will be highly interactive and will focus on how to use player technologies to meet online video business requirements while also providing outstanding user experiences. AP and PBS have extensive affiliate networks, making them both aggregators of online video as well as producers themselves. As a result they've faced key challenges in managing and presenting their video in a compelling, up-to-date manner. Bill and Joshua will share their best practices, and Marty will provide a broader perspective from thePlatform's dozens of customers.