Well, it looks as though it's official: as reported by TechCrunch and others, Yahoo is discontinuing Maven Networks's third party video publishing activities though Yahoo's statement says it will use Maven technology for internal video efforts. As I've mentioned periodically, I was an early consultant to Maven, which was a pioneer in the video platform space.
Way back then (!) in 2003 most people in the media business still had a difficult time imagining why broadband video was so strategic and game-changing. Maven's team did a lot of the early spadework in evangelizing broadband's potential and building market momentum. Its reward was being acquired for $160M by Yahoo in February, 2008 in what I believe is still the largest pure play broadband deal.
However, the Yahoo acquisition was never a perfect strategic fit, even before factoring in the well-documented chaotic mess that Yahoo has become in recent years. The problem was that Yahoo is a media company, deriving the majority of its revenue from advertising. On the other hand, Maven was a technology/products company (though some in the industry always questioned the true proprietary value of Maven's technology). The most strategic deal for Maven would have been with a larger technology/products company, where it would have become part of broader suite of video products and services. Yahoo was never really well-suited to support Maven's third party video customers (and in reality it hasn't for a while now), and with all its other troubles, this move was widely expected.
For Maven's founders and investors, the company's acquisition marked a successful exit that others in the industry envy, particularly in this crummy M&A market. Still, the Yahoo-Maven deal is yet another example that when selling a company, price isn't the sole criteria for longer-term success.
The move suggests even more vigorous competition is coming to the video management/publishing space where players like thePlatform, Brightcove, Maven, ExtendMedia, PermissionTV, Akamai (StreamOS), WorldNow and others have focused.
I sat down with Anystream (note, a periodic VideoNuze sponsor) president Bill Holding and founder/chairman Geoff Allen recently to learn more about their expansion strategy.
Anystream is well-known in the digital media space as it Agility transcoding platform is deployed in over 700 companies. Leveraging this base of relationships and its knowledge of customers' work flows, Anystream is now "moving north" by focusing on the video management layer. The core technology comes from Anystream's 2007 acquisition of Cauldron Solutions, which has been built out, renamed as Velocity and integrated with Agility.
Anystream's new, broader positioning rests on its belief that the video "Produce-Manage-Monetize" lifecycle elements are deeply linked, and that ultimately a comprehensive, integrated solution will be prized by media companies serious about scaling their broadband video businesses. At the manage layer specifically, Velocity focuses on rights, scheduling, packaging, syndication and asset tracking.
Anystream believes metadata it gains access to, at the start of the video lifecycle through its transcoding role, is a unifying value driver in the video management and monetization phases.
Hearst-Argyle clearly saw the benefits of this approach, citing Anystream's metadata management as opening up new content re-use opportunities and creating competitive advantage. In the press release, Joe Addalia, H-A's director of technology projects, said H-A has cut its production and distribution to online channels "from 30 minutes to 3 1/2 minutes."
I continue to be impressed with how many companies are staking a claim in the broadband video management/publishing space. I'm constantly trying to discern the real competitive differentiators that separate industry players. Like many of you, I often find the landscape quite blurry, with overlapping capabilities. Each player tends to cite its traditional competencies as being the best building blocks from which to build a full scale management/publishing platform.
While it's tempting to say "they can't all be right," the fact that so many players are finding market success today indicates that content owners are not monolithic in their specific requirements and that a giant game of matchmaking seems to be occurring between content owners and video management providers. One day there may be a consensus on who truly has the "best" management platform, but for now that day seems to be far off.
What do you think? Post a comment and let us all know!
The rumor mill of the past 2 weeks proved correct, as Yahoo announced this morning that it has acquired Maven Networks for $160M. By my count this is the biggest pure-play broadband video deal to date, and is an excellent validation of broadband video's growing importance in the media and technology landscape.
Hilmi Ozguc, Maven's CEO and co-founder, provided me with an exclusive briefing about the deal, his first comments following the announcement this morning. (As a quick disclaimer, I did some business development and product strategy consulting work for Maven and Hilmi in the company's early days. I didn't have any current financial relationship with Maven.)
As Hilmi says below, and as I've said before (most recently in "My Rant About Super Bowl Ads"), broadband video is increasingly becoming the terrain of the big guys - the biggest brands, publishers, technology providers, networks, etc. As the broadband medium continues to mature, its ability to attract ad dollars from incumbent media, particularly TV, is going to strengthen. This process will be accelerated by Yahoo as it seeks to drive Maven's capabilities into its customer and partner base.
Following is a summary of my briefing with Hilmi:
Why did you sell the company?
Broadband video is increasingly going to be a game fought between titans because billions of dollars are at stake and the question is how do you get to the top 50 or 100 global media brands and advertisers? We've focused on building tools and technologies that these media companies need. The time to sell was excellent as was the return for our investors.
Can you describe the sale process?
We had several high profile bidders, although I can't identify them. It was gratifying to see multiple companies validate the product initiatives we put in motion 2 to 2 1/2 years ago. Yahoo has the resources to buy anyone. They took a deliberate approach and looked far and wide and concluded that Maven was the right company to buy. The whole process took several months from start to finish. The deal was for $160M, mostly in cash and it officially closed yesterday.
What group will Maven report into?
Maven will be integrated very quickly and deeply into Yahoo because video is so key to what Yahoo is doing in terms of advertising. This will not end up being a little business unit off to the side somewhere. Our engineering team will be part of Yahoo's engineering team. All Maven executives including me will be staying and have similar responsibilities to what we've been doing. A lot of work has already gone into the integration.
Who do you report into?
I'm not sure I'm at liberty to discuss that, as it would be a little too revealing of Yahoo's strategy, but I think it's in the right place to be within the company.
What does Yahoo bring to Maven?
Enormous reach, 500M visitors around the world per month. An incredible roster of advertisers and publishers who are already in their ecosystem. Interesting and complimentary engineering capabilities. A sheer ability to scale this massively. This deal is all about getting our stuff into the hands of the biggest media, publishing and advertising companies and having it exposed to a massive audience. We started as a media technology company, and evolved to mostly an advertising business. So combining with the leader in display advertising was very logical. Being plugged deeply into a company that sells close to $2B of advertising every 90 days is a huge opportunity for us. It's a massive advertising machine.
Does Yahoo-Maven portend more consolidation?
Absolutely. I just don't see how as a small startup you can have a significant enough piece of the pie when all the giants have now woken up and have video as front and center. Other big players are going to come in more aggressively.
What are the implications of Microsoft's takeover bid of Yahoo on Maven?
We need to stay focused at Maven, and as long as we do that I'm not concerned about any distractions. And I shouldn't really talk about the Microsoft deal either!
What are the 2-3 lessons you've learned about the broadband video market in 5 1/2 years since starting Maven?
When we started virtually nobody really believed in video being delivered on the Internet. We had a singular vision that said, look, once broadband is in enough homes, video is going to take off. So that was our first mission: delivery of bits, playback, HD-quality, etc. As the market evolved, the Akamais of the world solved a lot of the delivery problems, so we shifted our focus to publishing and content syndication, advertising and monetization. Basically, how does a media company generate revenue from broadband? So we evolved along with the market. We tried to stay focused on advertising, professional video and largest media companies.
This is your second successful startup - what lessons do you have for entrepreneurs?
1. Focus is the most important thing and ignoring the naysayers. It's natural to want to hedge, but you have to be bold enough to make decisions. Markets do take time to develop. We were early no question, but the market caught up and we were at right place at right time when it did. 2. Agility is also important and being analytical about what the market is saying. So the ability to shoot a direction and switch. And do it fearlessly. Trial and error is key. 3. Bet on the right people. The wrong people can steer you down the wrong path. So you essentially have to be the world's most capable talent scout, to build a team of people at all levels of the organization. A great team will figure it out.
Where's the broadband video market going from here?
Startups got this space going and created a lot of the core technology and innovation, but this is no longer a game of startups. Big media companies want to deal with big technology companies and networks. Big advertisers want to work with biggest publishers. To achieve this scale independently would be very difficult.
What are the key challenges for broadband video market?
I don't want to say the "R" word that everyone's talking about, but if it comes, I hope it's a mild one. As we know, advertisers cut back quickly in difficult economies. Though I don't think this will happen in broadband because it is so promising and it's still pretty small. Another challenge is getting ad agencies and advertisers to think of broadband as being interactive and capable of more than TV ads. You've talked about that a lot at VideoNuze. And finally the need to scale the technology and infrastructure so it's rock-solid and dependable. That's what Yahoo and Maven will focus tightly on. And I think we have all the tools between us to grab the undisputed leadership position in this, if we move fast enough.
So are you going to do startup #3?
My focus for now is on integration and marshalling all these terrific resources. Yahoo has a great team and has been chomping at the bit to have a competitive video offering to sit alongside their display offerings. They have a killer ad sales force, along with great relationships with the biggest publishers. They have mastered how to play on the media company side, and in being a partner to other media companies. We can't wait to get going.
Yesterday I did an hour-long briefing with Jeremy Allaire, Brightcove's CEO/founder at their Cambridge offices.
If I were to make a list of the 5 questions I've been asked most frequently over the last two years, "What do you think about Brightcove?" would easily be on the list. Certainly a lot of the attention Brightcove has generated relates to its fund-raising leadership. Through three rounds, the company has raised $82 million, including the monster $59.5 million C round closed in January 2007.
By my count the only pure-play, private broadband video company that has raised more is Hulu, which raised $100M in one round from Providence Equity. But Hulu's probably not a fair comparison given that NBC and News Corp are the company's primary owners and are contributing exclusive content. (btw, if anyone has a different take on who's raised more, please leave a comment)
So this briefing was a great opportunity to get a first-hand update and also channel many of the follow-on questions I've been asked about Brightcove. (Full disclaimer, Brightcove is a VideoNuze sponsor.) Jeremy also shared some new stats with me that haven't been disclosed before.
Brightcove's positioning has shifted around in the 18 months since its official launch causing many industry tongues to wag.
Jeremy explained that in the summer of 2007 the company did a candid assessment of its competitive standing across areas in which it was involved. While his original vision included a consumer-facing destination site (named Brightcove TV), this assessment concluded that with YouTube's dominance, Brightcove's goal to be number 1 in that business was unlikely to ever materialize. Further, the potential for conflict with its own media customers had become real. So though Brightcove TV had 8 million unique visitors in August, 2007 according to comScore (making it the number 5 player in that space), Brightcove decided to de-emphasize it and reduce investment spending on it to zero. As a result, Brightcove TV now functions mainly as a showcase site.
The company narrowed its focus to its broadband media publishing and management platform, which Jeremy says is now used by 4,000 professional publishers (sample list here), which Brightcove thinks makes it number 1 among its competitors. These publishers operate 7,000 web sites with an estimated combined reach of 120 million unique visitors per month.
The platform business model includes an annual software licensing fee with upside revenue based on the customers' usage. Jeremy denied that the company is taking ad revenue shares in lieu of platform fees, a rumor that has persistently circulated in the market. Brightcove has also continued to build out a professional support team serving the gamut of design, support, integration and customization required by customers.
Broadband Video Market and Advertising
From Jeremy's vantage point the major media companies Brightcove is serving are aggressively focused on building out their direct-to-consumer broadband video destinations, and only recently have they begun also considering syndication. Brightcove's customers' business models skew overwhelmingly in favor of advertising support, with only negligible interest being shown in Brightcove's commerce capabilities.
On this point Jeremy and I have been in agreement for a long time - the macro factors driving ad-supported broadband businesses are very strong, while those driving paid downloads continue to be challenged. The key catalysts for paid models will be mass connections from broadband to TVs, better portability and improved competitiveness with the DVD platform. In the longer-term all of these will no doubt fall into place, however, for as far as the eye can see, broadband is going to remain an ad-dominated industry.
The follow-up question of course is, what kind of advertising will predominate? Brightcove supports a range of options and Jeremy said that recently interest in overlays is running very high, though 15 second pre and mid-rolls are still used by 99% of its customers today. There's a lot of planning or rolling out of overlays coming shortly by Brightcove customers. People.com was shown as an example of a hybrid pre/mid-roll and overlay model that Jeremy thinks will become more prevalent.
Not surprisingly, Jeremy's extremely bullish on broadband's future growth and sees opportunities galore to grow Brightcove's revenues by deepening its penetration of existing customers, driving more international business, especially in Asia, and expanding its fledgling presence in the enterprise/government sectors, where there's also been a lot of recent interest.
Regarding competition, Jeremy says Brightcove still sees internal development as an alternative being considered by some major media companies, though to a lesser and lesser extent recently. He also volunteered that both Maven and thePlatform are two companies Brightcove sees most often competing for deals. When asked what differentiates Brightcove, Jeremy cites product quality, ease-of-use, customer/market leadership, quality of its people and R&D. On this last point, he believes Brightcove's relatively deep pockets have helped it maintain a far more aggressive R&D budget, which grew by 300% this year.
Key upcoming priorities include launching "Brightcove Show", its new HD initiative, "Aftermix", its mash-up feature, which just finished up its beta test, multimedia capabilities (photos and audio) and enabling a slew of social/sharing features.
I couldn't resist asking Jeremy about Brightcove's last round valuation rumored to be north of $200 million. I've heard much skepticism in the market that the Brightcove's platform-centric strategy does not justify this lofty figure.
Jeremy's response is that based on the company's current revenue and recent growth trajectory, it has "grown into" its valuation and that its multiple is comparable to others he's aware of. His main objective is building a "significant global business" and if that's accomplished then there will be numerous options open for what ultimately happens with the company. He wouldn't comment on M&A, IPO or other potential exits, only saying that he feels no pressure from his investors to liquify their positions any time soon.
To achieve his global ambition, Jeremy says he's focused primarily on what actions Brightcove needs to make to dramatically scale the business, which he thinks can drive a real premium for Brightcove's valuation. To the extent that broadband remains mainly an ad-supported business, I think Jeremy correctly understands that scale - in customers, streams, usage, geographic reach, etc. - are absolutely central to success. When asked the classic "what keeps him up at night?", he cites as his chief source of insomnia the challenge of building out every part of the organization to support his goal of massive scale.
As Brightcove continues to evolve and grow, one thing is for certain - all eyes in the broadband industry will be watching its progress.
Maven Networks got a lot of ink today with 2 announcements, first the launch of a new broadband ad platform and the second, the launch of a new industry collaboration dubbed the "Internet TV Advertising Forum." These have been in the works for a while and Maven gave me a heads up on both over the summer.
The Ad Forum is noteworthy, as it appears to be a genuine "good guy" effort to move the whole industry forward in optimizing the ad model. Ten companies signed on for launch, including heavies like Scripps, Fox News, Oglivy, TV Guide, Microsoft, DoubleClick and 24/7.
I caught up by phone with Kristen Fergason, Maven's VP of Marketing to learn more. First, the Forum is completely open to everyone. Though initially underwritten by Maven, over time it will probably take on more of a "dues-paying" model. And to show that "open" really does mean open, I asked what happens if competitors like Brightcove for example, wanted in? Her reply: "we'd happily accept them".
The forum is mean to bring together agencies, content providers and vendors to build consensus about how to move past the market's current reliance on pre-rolls. Kristen said industry players have been "chomping at the bit" to get involved and Maven received 40 applications today alone. Importantly, the Forum is meant to augment IAB initiatives, not compete with them. The Forum will run focus groups and collect research based on ideas generated by Forum members to see what works and what doesn't. Results will be available to everyone.
Maven believes that a "rising tide lifts all ships", but because its ad platform is ready now, it will benefit disproportionately. That's where today's other announcement comes in. The demo I saw shows how new ad units (videos, overlays, banners, etc.) can be dynamically inserted, not just at the beginning of the video, but throughout. The result is that a lot of new inventory is available. The below graphic shows "cue points" for manual insertion, but an algorithm can also be used to insert based on what the system knows about things like clip length, average user session time, click-thru, etc. Note I didn't see this feature in action, so I can't say for sure how well it actually works.