Online Video Logistik: thePlatform

TV- und Online Videos zu managen ist eine komplexe logistische Aufgabe. Verschiedene Rechte je Gerät, unterschiedlichste Verwertungsfenster, Partner und Business Modelle müssen in Einklang gebracht werden und für 100.000de Assets verwaltet werden. Mit all diesen Herausforderungen kämpft thePlatform bereits seit 11 Jahren. Die in Seattle, Washington ansässige Firma wurde 2006 von Comcast übernommen, wird jedoch weiterhin von Ian Blaine, dem Mitgründer und CEO, als unabhängige Einheit geführt.

Ich hatte die Möglichkeit mit Ian Blaine über thePlatform, die die Herausforderungen der online TV-Distribution und die Nutzungsgewohnheiten der Konsumenten zu sprechen.

Distribution als Management komplexer Beziehungen

Über die letzten Jahre hat sich das Managen von TV-Inhalten für die online Verbreitung gewandelt. Vom Steuern eines Playoutprozesses, dem Transcoding und eines Content Delivery Networks hin zum Managen komplexer Beziehungen von Inhalten, Zuschauern und Business Rules. In Echtzeit müssen je Inhalt, Partner, Gerät und Nutzer die passenden Vermarktungsmodelle, das richtige Format und die Authentifizierung verwaltet werden, so dass Inhalteanbieter die Kontrolle über ihr Geschäft behalten und Gleichzeitig das komplette Potential abschöpfen.

Um diesen Ansatz zu verwirklichen integriert und steuert das System von thePlatform viele weitere Technologien und Services und agiert sozusagen als Gehirn, das Entscheidungen trifft. Mit dieser Positionierung bedient thePlatform die großen Namen im US Fernsehen. Vier der fünf großen Kabelnetzbetreiber und Sender wie PBS, NBC, Universal und ESPN nutzen den Service um ihre Assets und deren Distribution zu verwalten. Interessanterweise wird laut Ian Blaine von den Sendern eine immer tiefere Integration des Systems in die Broadcast Abläufe angestrebt, so dass wir schon bald ganze Sender auf Basis eines Internet-Systems arbeiten sehen könnten und die klassische Rundfunkübertragung nur noch ein spezieller Ausspielkanal wäre.

Distribution: All IP

Schlussendlich sieht Blaine die exklusive TV-Verbreitung über IP als unausweichlich an, wobei er wert darauf legt, dass es noch einige Jahre dauern kann bis es soweit ist. Immerhin müsse das Netz und die Infrastruktur angepasst werden. Das halte jedoch niemanden davon ab schon heute IP dazu zu verwenden um das Broadcastsignal effektiver zu managen. Indem IP zur Steuerung der klassischen Verbreitung verwendet wird kann man deutlich mehr aus der Kabel- und Satelliten-Verbreitung herausholen. Auch sieht er vorerst keine Gefahr der Disruption von etablierten Geschäftsmodellen durch den Übergang zu IP. Durch TV Everywhere und die damit einhergehende Authentifizierung der Zuschauer behalten die PayTV-Operators die Fäden in der Hand auch wenn sich die Übertragung verändert.

Neue Rolle der TV Stationen

Trotzdem müssen die TV-Sender ihre Rolle überdenken. Nur die wenigsten können darauf vertrauen, dass die Zuschauer sich ihre Inhalte abholen. Die Herausforderung für die meisten TV-Sender ist es ihre Zuschauer dort zu erreichen wo sie sich aufhalten und die dafür notwendige Syndikation zu managen. Dies impliziert eine neue Rolle und ein neues Vorgehen im Netz für TV-Sender. Weg vom Mediatheken-Ansatz hin zu einem komplexen Geflecht an Distributionspartnern.

Nutzerverhalten im thePlatform Netzwerk

Spielekonsolen und das iPad waren die beiden Gerätekategorien mit dem größten Einfluss auf die Bewegtbildnutzung über das Internet in den USA. Die Möglichkeit Videoinhalte am Fernseher zu sehen bedeutet deutlich längere Nutzungszeiten und ein höheres Involvement der Zuschauer. Auf der anderen Seite ist das iPad zwar noch nicht so stark in der Nutzung aber es hat enorm viel Aufmerksamkeit von den Sendern als auch von den Zuschauern erhalten, so dass es viele Veränderungen im online Videomarkt angestoßen hat.

Eine Veränderung ist, dass deutlich mehr Katalogtitel gesehen werden, da über bessere Interfaces der Zugriff einfacher wird und die Sichtbarkeit der Inhalte steigt. Das iPad sorgt so laut Blaine für mehr Abrufe von Longtail-Inhalten.

Chancen im Markt

Noch offene Probleme und Chancen sieht der thePlatform CEO vor allem in der Discovery, die momentan noch von zu starkem Silo-Denken geprägt sei. Hier fehle es an guten Suchansätzen und neuen Konzepten, wie man einfacher und besser auf Bewegtbildinhalte zugreifen könne.

Als weiteres Feld sieht er die Business Modelle, die überarbeitet werden müssen. Mit TV Everywhere gäbe es zwar einen guten Ansatz aber man stehe hier erst am Anfang der Entwicklung und müsse noch mehr Forschen um zu funktionierenden Internet Geschäftsmodellen für TV-Sender zu kommen.

Expansion nach Europa

Als nächstes steht für thePlatform die weitere Europaexpansion an. Diese sieht man in Seattle durchaus realistisch. Europa bestehe aus verschiedenen Teilmärkten mit unterschiedlichen Bedürfnissen und zudem sei es wichtig das langfristige Commitment für den Europäischen Markt zu unterstreichen. Hierbei gelte es den Markt zu entwickeln und den Teilnehmern klar zu machen, dass thePlatform als verlässlicher langfristiger Partner zur Verfügung steht.

Die Herausforderung für thePlatform ist also einerseits die Internationalisierung und andererseits die Weiterentwicklung des eigenen Produktes, denn wie Ian Blaine so schön sagt:

Ultimately software makes everything a commodity. That’s what it does.

Deshalb müssen Softwareunternehmen konstant neue Innovationen vorantreiben um nicht zur Commodity zu werden.

Ian Blaine im Interview

Lest das komplette englische Interview, in dem Ian Blaine auch auf die Konkurrenz, den Vergleich von Europa und den USA und die Gefahr zur einem $0 Service zu werden spricht.

thePlatform isn’t very well known in Germany could you do a quick intro of you and thePlatform?

My name is Ian Blaine I’m the co-founder and CEO of thePlatform. That’s a business that’s been in place for eleven years. We’re based in Seattle, Washington and we are a cloud based video management system that helps media companies and TV operators to really extend their businesses out to all devices. So we help with the logistics of thinking through the policies and everything you need to do to prepare content so that it lands in a consumer’s device safely and in a way that honors business models for the customer. We have customers in the United States like 4 of the 5 biggest cable operators. We also deal with media companies like PBS, NBC, Universal, ESPN and others like that. Really the mission is to make it as easy and as efficient as possible to take this valuable content whether it is television or movies or other things and distribute it.

If I look at the US market it’s quite sophisticated. You have a Hulu. You have a Netflix and big TV operators offering TV everywhere. What consumer needs are still there that need to be addressed?

I think that there are a few areas that are still fairly nascent and one of them is discovery. There is so much content made available: massive libraries of VoD content, massive numbers of channels on you television and it’s still pretty hard to find what you’re looking for. Search is one way that’s getting better but it’s not search that operates across all those services you just named so it’s still very siloed in terms of how you access media. I think there are opportunities there to think about more universal search but I also think a lot can be done to leverage metadata of content to get better results to give me better recommendations and better related items. To me that is really important because there are so many options and it’s getting harder and harder to find the signal you’re looking for. That is one.

I would say there are still some things fairly broken around business models. TV Everywhere is a very interesting thing. It’s an extension of the value proposition for the subscriber to Television and I think there is still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to best monetize it if you should monetize it. So to me we’re still very much in an exploration mode in a lot of the things you talked about.

You talked about thePlatform empowering media on different screens and different devices. I saw the numbers of Netflix and Hulu and they see tremendous usage on Post-PC devices like iPads or Consoles. What are you seeing in the market? What are consumers doing?

So interestingly the Television still dominates in terms of overall viewing hours. It’s still the place most people watch. So that hasn’t changed a whole lot. Domestically Game Consoles and particularly the iPad have been the two devices with a lot of focus recently. Part of that is because Microsoft has announced a new service they’re going to launch that basically has TV apps in the Kinect environment and there is a lot of them deployed – like 25 Million domestically – that are hooked up to the internet. That is a very big footprint. And so it’s an interesting one. Then the iPad was very transformative even though the viewing numbers are still nothing besides TV or anywhere close to it. It changed the market. It’s a new really valid viewing experience. So those domestically are the big ones. We will see with the Android custom devices. I think that’s bound to come.

You talked about the upcoming Microsoft XBox service and about Apple and it’s alleged that Apple is figuring something out in the TV Space. Most likely it will be IP based. So Microsoft going IP Based on the XBox and Apple going IP based is OTT taking over the traditional Cable distribution?

You know that’s a big question. I think that’s an aspiration although if you look at what XBox’s been doing it has really been done in conjunction with the operators. They are offering these services that authenticate against the billing system of Verizon or Comcast so I think in that case it’s really just leveraging the device saying „Hey here is a new way to experience a service you’re already paying for.“ So I don’t know if that’s really as much of an over the top threat as it is a new device metaphor. With Apple I mean there’s been rumors about them launching a subscription service for a while and I think that would probably be their own service but I can only conjecture on that.

So you think we will deliver over IP but the business stays as it is right now just authenticating against a different backend?

It might be and I think the other big consideration is that high volume distribution over IP has a lot of network considerations that still need to be addressed. There is a huge infrastructure to deliver cable and satellite in the US and that is also true in other countries in the world and it’s very efficient. That doesn’t mean you can’t use IP for modeling everything and managing everything. But once you move to delivery over IP and you think about HD and 500 channels and hundreds of thousands of assets there are some network implications that have to be thought through. They will be. It’s inevitable but there are maybe a few years of transition at least before IP as pure delivery is mainstream.

You manage these vast amounts of content and you deliver the streams. You know what’s going on. So what are the users doing. Are they watching more, are they watching niche are they changing their habits or is it just more of the same?

There is more exploration of the library happening on some of the secondary devices and it’s mostly because the interface is better for discovery. If you think about traditional Television it’s still pretty limited in terms of finding new things and a lot of the editorial process is focussed on the short tail. very popular content and I think that is not a constraint of your computer or an iPad App. There is still high use of popular content don’t get me wrong but there is more use in the long part of the tail. More of the library is exercised. Netflix has seen that. They get a pretty high amount of usage across a pretty large amount of their library because they put it in new places and made it accessible.

Speaking of putting content in different places. You enable a lot of syndication models with stuff like business rules. How important is syndication to the video ecosystem right now?

I think it’s pretty essential. Especially for media companies. Their job is to put content where people are. Because it’s very hard unless you are a big brand to drive everyone to you and to your site or your brand. So their job is to as efficiently as possible get the content to the places where consumers are and do that in a way that still honors their business model. So they still need to be able to track it to advertise against it or authenticate for the view. That’s where a lot of the complexity is today. It is managing those relationships because there are the rights that are time based. They maybe geographically based and they may differ on the device and all of that has to be managed and modeled and all done in realtime. It’s all very dynamic.

So that’s your business? Because as I see it transcoding, video delivery and all the other stuff has been around some time and has very much become a commodity. Everyone like Content Management Systems tries to integrate these features. Do you face the challenge to become a feature and no longer be a business?

I think that there are aspects that are very well defined and they may change but it will be small evolutionary steps. Where we sit today is very much as a hub that integrates a lot of other technologies and manages the logistics and I don’t see that commoditizing soon because that’s actually the brains of the operation. In fact you see the opposite happen. We’re seeing a transition to say if we’re managing this other devices very effectively why don’t we manage TV that way too? So we’re actually seeing larger opportunities to take a bigger logistics role for more of the businesses that TV companies are running. Ultimately software makes everything a commodity. That’s what it does. But I think because we’re still adding more and more to what we do and tackle the market we got a lot of innovation wrapped and a lot of value.

From my perspective I think you compete with Brightcove, Ooyala and Kit digital. Do they challenge you? Is there a fight going on?

Well there is absolute overlap with those companies you just named. And I think it really is in the media side of the business. The more complex the needs of the company gets I think the better suited we are and the much more competitive we are. So we find ourselves mostly targeted at premium content companies that have complex distribution needs looking at a lot of devices.

We’re competitive downstream from that as well but it gets more competitive because that is in some places the sweet spot of Brightcove and Ooyala. And then on the PayTV side we don’t really see those companies as a competitor. We see Kit digital as competitor there but not really Brightcove or Ooyala yet. And I think a lot of that is because the complexity is much higher if you’re dealing with authentication. You’re dealing with subscriptions. You’re dealing with very complex policy and you have to integrate with back office billing systems, back office identity systems. It’s little bit of a different challenge.

I’ve observed the Online Video platform space and there were new platforms popping up like flies. In the last year however I’ve seen a lot of consolidation going on in the market. What’s your take. How will it pan out?

I think that the very low end of the market will be commoditizing very quickly. Getting a video on a web page is a pretty solved problem and you can do that pretty much for free these days. And I think it’s not long before that becomes slightly more sophisticated and the folks that are trying to make money 10 bucks a month or 100 bucks a month head to free pretty quickly. It will be a business based on advertising rev-share or something like that. And folks like Google are simply well positioned to move up the stack a little bit and on the other hand I think there is a certain amount of consolidation based on commoditization or going to free.

I think you’re going to see a really interesting landscape emerge around Television like managing Television. Because you’ve got incumbent companies that manage cable systems or satellite systems and they will not go softly into the night. They want to transform themselves and then you have folks like us who have come from the internet from a world where everything is IP from the beginning and we’re both headed towards the middle there. Lot’s of opportunity but it’s not without heavy competition and I expect as that emerges as a visible opportunity to more and more people there will be more investment made there in around that transformation of Television.

You choose to expand to Europe. You hired some people there and you established a presence. What’s your take on the European market?

I don’t even think you can call it the European market is what I’m learning. That’s the first thing you have to learn as an American. It’s not the European market. Actually every country is its own market and there are some similarities across some of them but vast differences across others. So the first step is understanding you have to target a country and you have to understand both sides of the landscape. The PayTV operator landscape and the media landscape and understand the general rules. What’s free? What people pay for and what devices are popular because it can be different.

And I think mobile is much more prevalent and usage of video on mobile devices is much more prevalent in many countries in Europe than it is in the US. That’s one shift and I think game consoles may not be as prevalent.

So we can’t just take a cookie color of what we’ve done in the US and believe that it applies. You have to get in and really understand the market. I would say it’s different like in the UK with Freeview and YouView making attempts to sort of standardize parts of the market is just radically different than the US. But there is a place for us to play there we can see it. It just takes being flexible and being willing to listen to what the customer there says and shape your offering based on that. That’s the first barrier the second is I think you have to have a willingness to invest in the long haul. People want to know that you are establishing yourself there. Customers are making fairly big decisions and if they are making a big decision they want to know that you as a company are there to stay and that is what we have to proof.

Is it just different or are there areas where we’re ahead or lacking?

So I would say that there are many efforts in IPTV that are actually in advance of what’s happening in the US. There is more that’s happened on the set top in Europe than domestically. In general I’d say transactional models matter more in europe. Like subscription sort of dominates in the US but it feels like there is more of an expectation around transactional payments in Europe and that’s got implications around how you’re going and sell things.

I think someone like Sky has done some really interesting things that are very advanced. Just around how they think about TV Everywhere. How they package their content and breaking apart and bundling things differently. I’d say there are lessons to be learned for the folks in the US.

So for thePlatform what are your next steps. Are you focused on your move to Europe, are you working on your product what are your upcoming targets?

We have to do both. We have to expand internationally and Europe as a generality is a very important market for us. Because there is a lot of transition happening there now like there is in the United States. It is not necessarily the same but there is change which means there is opportunity and so getting ourself established there is very important but that can’t happen without continuing investing into the product. Because the opportunities really are around how to help people transition to modern infrastructure for their television services. We have a great offering now but it’s has to continue to evolve. So our feeling is we can never stop innovating we’ll never be done. The market is evolving so rapidly so we have to invest in both.

Thank you very much!

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