Sports Venue Technology Summit Q&A: Levels Beyond COO Christy King
Since landing $4.5 million in funding back in 2013, Levels Beyond and its Reach Engine media-life-cycle-management platform have continued to build out a significant footprint in the sports-production market with clients ranging from the UFC and NASCAR to the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens. The Reach Engine “don’t call it an asset-management” platform allows organizations to manage and inventory content from concept all the way through distribution – aiming to break down the walls between the ingest, storage, and playout stages of the video ecosystem.
As the title sponsor of SVG’s Sports Venue Technology Summit on June 23 at Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Denver-based company took center stage as it looks to open up Reach Engine to venues and teams. SVG sat down with COO Christy King – who joined Levels Beyond in January following a decade leading the UFC’s Technology R&D efforts – to discuss the company’s rapid growth, its place in the sports venue market, its new partnership with Rightsline, and why she believes the term “asset management” should go the way of the dodo.
I’ve heard you speak a lot about how we need to evolve beyond the term “asset management” and that Reach Engine is about much more than just MAM. What exactly do you mean by that?
Well, the broken record we’ve all been hearing from all people in technology is that everything is changing so quickly now. What was formerly known as asset management really needs to evolve and have a new name, because it’s kind of like: what do you call a TV that now has the Internet? It’s not a TV anymore. Asset management is no longer just about storing archived old stuff and then shoving it around to editors or to third parties when they need it. It really is about live ingest, automating metadata from all kinds of different sources – from closed captioning to statistical information to officials’ records – all of that. It needs to be synced to your media while it’s ingested and also made immediately available for products that are distributed in the immediate. Then you do the archiving, then you do the wrap-up shows, then you push everything else out. There is so much that you are required to do with media now, it’s not just about the stuff you recorded last night or this morning, it’s what’s going on right now and how can you turn it around and use it immediately in as many different ways as possible.
And then, we’ve also been hearing an awful lot of talk about redundancy and backups and multi-site location. [The Denver Broncos] can’t just record video here in Mile High if it’s not available at Dove Valley [practice facility] and vice versa. They have to trade material and they have to be able to do it very, very quickly. Now, for asset management, you really need to think of your media as inventory and make it available to any passable sale you possibly can as soon as possible.
On the surface, the Sports Venue Technology Summit would not seem like the most obvious choice for Levels Beyond to serve as the title sponsor. Why do you see this event as being so integral to your business?
It was interesting to us that we had an immediate response from several people of ‘why would Levels sponsor a venue technology summit, don’t you guys do asset management, period?’ First of all, I reacted to that with ‘yay, people know what we do, this is awesome! People have heard of us, so score for marketing!’ But the second reaction is that people haven’t really thought all the way through the life cycle of media. Again, it’s not just about recording an archive and then using it for highlights shows and wrap-up shows days or weeks later. It’s really about treating your media as an asset that can be used across the organization from beginning to end. So that’s [videoboards], content created for luxury suites, mobile applications, coach’s recordings, any kind of team sales, and then the sales people have to go back and use that media to prove that they delivered what they promised. You just keep going and going — there’s a million uses for all the same media. So you have to make that stuff available.
To us, it made a ton of sense to talk to venue people because they’re usually kind of forgotten about after broadcast. They’re the ones that may need to use that stuff, even live, or very immediately afterwards for all kinds of different sales, marketing, and public-facing RSN deliveries. All those kinds of processes are not necessarily happening in the production truck, they’re happening in the venue, in venue control rooms, and other places. So all of that media needs to be shared by all those people.
Levels Beyond has experienced a tremendous rate of growth over the past 2-3 years. What do you think accounts for this and how are you keeping up with customers’ needs during the rapid expansion?
Interestingly enough, I think my career has prepared me for this particular growth spurt really well. My last job was with the UFC and I joined them when there was 50 employees. Levels had 52 when I was hired. By the time I left the UFC nine years later there were 300 employees and I fully expect Levels to get there. So going from a medium-to-small-sized company to a pretty big company, you go through massive scale challenges. One of the hardest things in the world is to get people right at the point they get good at something. They have to change what they’re doing to do it with ten people instead of two people.
We have a lot of the same challenges internally that any other company does. It’s really tough when you’re good at something – you’re an ace marketer, the ace copyrighter, the ace software coder, and now, by the way, you’re going to oversee five people. You have to train people, you have to introduce new information, people have to be interested and willing to enjoy that change. So at an entrepreneurial level, you really want people that are interested in challenge, interested in learning something new all the time and applying it. Whereas sometimes when you get into giant, huge companies, it’s a little safer place for somebody to be who learned a job and they do it for ten years, and they’re good at it, and they’re happy that way. So we’re at a place where we really have to be careful about hiring people who love change, really want to be part of this dynamic, super, super fast changing technology and make the most of it.
Can you tell me a bit about the new strategic partnership you just announced with Rightsline this week?
The whole purpose of us taking some investment money a couple years ago and turning Reach Engine into a platform was to make a really robust set of APIs based on a rock-solid platform to invite people who really get this industry, especially very specific parts of the business, and build tools on top of our platform. We can see that you can’t solve everybody’s problems, you probably shouldn’t try, so build a really strong platform and let very awesome tools that do specific jobs plug into that platform. So Rightsline is one of them.
We just formed a partnership with Rightsline to handle the rights aspect. Let’s say you have [videoboard] operators and they’re trying to pull movie clips to stick in between innings to make something sound really funny or entertain the crowd. Well, if you pull it off of YouTube and throw it on the screen… did anybody check the rights? Most likely no. So Rightsline actually helped the MLB build a system that handles some of that for their ballparks and we want to build more of those kinds of tools.
As you mentioned, Reach Engine relies heavily on a large community of partners and support platforms. Where can we expect the next round of partnership announcements to come in this ecosystem?
Other partners are coming and we’re talking to several other people about how to do really clever, search-based solutions for finding media, and automating some of the ingest metadata. Image recognition, color recognition, crowd recognition, crash recognition for something like NASCAR. A lot of those things are marked-up by human eyes, but maybe not as fast as a live event. So if you can automate some of that it’s probably going to make it easier for some people to do some things faster. So that’s just a couple examples.