SportsPost NY Q&A: Nick Rhodes and Danny Gold of Levels Beyond
Video content is being produced at a blistering pace, and sports is a big driver of that trend, even in postproduction. Managing content and sorting out rights agreements and contractual video obligations can be a complex task for any media creator or league. As U.S. sports look to go more and more international, video distributors must meander a maze of rights requirements while tackling a wide variety of video formats and rapidly evolving technologies.
Companies like Levels Beyond are working to alleviate those pressures, using automation and technology to help streamline the process, eliminating tech troubles for content creators, and opening up the opportunity to create more-creative video.
At SVG’s first-annual SportsPost:NY event at HBO’s Michael Fuchs Theater this week, Danny Gold, co-founder, strategies and solutions, and Nick Rhodes, president/COO, Levels Beyond, sat down with SVG to chat about some of the company’s newest initiatives, overarching trends in the content space, and plans for the upcoming NAB Show.
Reach Engine Studio is pretty much everything for you guys right now. What are some of the aspects that make it a special product in your market?
Gold: Reach Engine Studio is our on-site infrastructure: connect to your encoders, connect to multitier storage, connect to all of your NLEs [non-linear editing systems], and manage your local flow of content. It’s all about organizing, searching, and automating the processes that go on day-to-day, from a raw camera file out to finished content and how you deliver that. That’s really been our bread and butter.
[These are] the unique features of Studio: [The ability] to build a dynamic workflow (say, a one-click post to YouTube), take that YouTube URL, post it on Facebook and Twitter with a social-media message, and then track the analytics back. The ability to set that up as an administrator of the system and make that a right-click option for just the marketing team. The ability to have one application that can work in every group inside your organization and custom-tailors and simplifies what they see.
We’ve got some early-stage clients on Reach Engine Stage, which is our cloud platform. [That] is our primary solution for Studio: to run on-site and push proxies and metadata to Stage.
It serves multisite. If you are in New York, L.A., you’ve got libraries in each. Users can browse the content; they can request content; they can move content around, regardless of which library it’s in. It also gives you a turnkey licensing frontend with kind of a shopping-cart interface. The first users of that have been promo groups: basically, if I need to post packages with all the artwork, closed-captioning, alternate audio, all the promo materials, I want my partners to be able to come in, find what they want, choose clips, choose the formats they want to deliver it in, and automate it.
So our focus right now in 2013 is to remove the burden on the creative side. As the technology arm, that’s our benefit: to take the burdens out, automate it, so they can get more content out.
Typically, when people think sports, they think live events. What about the sports-market postproduction interests you? What are the opportunities?
Rhodes: It’s the last bastion of whole-numbers ratings watched live. Most of the rest of the world is TiVo-able or can wind up later as a stream in a variety of other services. Sports is a shared social experience. People watch it together in a live environment, there’s a great deal of passion, and you don’t know what the outcome is. From our product standpoint, there are multiple cameras, and, historically, only about 10% of what’s shot has actually ended up in the live mill. With all the new platforms and because all the live rights are tied up for years to come, you have to be looking at ways to monetize [that unused] content from the locker room, from the B roll, and from the library.
Levels Beyond got into sports with UFC. How is that relationship now, and what things have you done with the UFC?
Rhodes: We’ve helped them grow from two countries to 130. Now, their product quality allowed them to do that, but we were part of [letting] the major distributors and other potential partners come in and feel comfortable that they can fulfill and access the content they needed to make the rights deal.
Gold: The UFC has, kind of, the perfect demographic: a young male audience. So they get to play around with really groundbreaking Xbox apps. A lot of the pieces we have automated for UFC are packaging and delivery to the over-the-top platforms: their VOD, their Website. As Nick mentioned, we are able to help them much more easily get content out internationally. Then, we’re able to serve their licensees by having them log in and pull the content; we do full rights management and contract management to track who has access to what content, who’s pulling it, their profile for the formats. I think it’s what everybody should be doing in this space, because we know, from being on the inside of all the leagues, that everybody has this rights-management/fulfillment problem and they fix it with bodies when they could fix it with technology.
How can a really good asset-management tool or operating system like Reach Engine prop up the live event?
Gold: One of the biggest things we see is needing the ability to quickly turn around promos, using one live event to tease the next. That’s always about pulling a bunch of library content and a mixture of highlights and feeding that into the live event. So, basically, in the world of file-based workflows, the need to pull highlights and to extend beyond just the melt, to extend into multi-angle for a new shot, to tie that into the production of the live event. Then, the preservation of metadata and content, as Nick mentioned, all of the isos, all of the angles that you don’t normally see — we’re really working to pull that into the archive even if it has a short shelf life. There are so many shows, so many promos, so many ways to keep that story going and keep content active and building up for the next event. There’s a lot of things outside of live rights that can help nourish a sport.
In January, you announced that you got $4.5 million in Series A financing. What opportunity does that open up to the company?
Rhodes: The company has always been profitable, but the growth trajectory has been such that, the larger the customer base got, the more opportunity we saw in the major media markets. To bring in private-equity investment allowed us growth capital and working capital to open up in London, L.A., and New York. So it was really about scaling up the services side of the business to allow for more engineers, to have 24/7 quality control and customer service, and to build a sales and marketing effort so the product can reach its potential.
Sounds like you have a pretty interesting NAB Show campaign lined up. Do you want to tease that a little bit?
Gold: As part of the investment, as Nick just said, we’ve got to do more of a marketing pitch. We’re working with the Tier Ones; we’re working with some huge clients; we’ve got great partners and clients. We feel like, with our partners, with our clients, it’s all about the story that you’re trying to tell. Our campaign around NAB is, come and “whiteboard your future” with us. We’re going to have whiteboards on every surface with engineers at the booth; we’re going to have our solution-architecture team there. We’re going to bring people in, get them to collaborate and to cover every surface of our booth with workflows, diagrams of ideas. We’re going to be really interested to see what comes of that.
From a business angle, what is your vision of the future for Levels Beyond?
Rhodes: Everything that we do is to enable customers through the next generation of business models. The existing business models have been wildly successful, but everybody can feel that the video world is changing. The over-the-top–viewership numbers are going up and up. The live-event rights are tied up for a long time, but all the smart operators know that they’ve got to monetize their content across multiple platforms. We want to enable [them] to get the analytics back and automate it to deliver the content, figure out what’s working, and how you can use that to monetize with sponsors and even the rightsholders over and above the live event. Most of that does come out of postproduction.