SVG Sit-Down: Wowza’s Stubenvoll on the Latest in Live Streaming
Growth is live mobile broadcasting helps lower-tier sports get it on the action
Since its launch in February 2007, Wowza has seen its footprint in the sports sector grow exponentially. With more sports events than ever being streamed live online, the streaming-media company has seen leagues, broadcasters, universities, college conferences, and other organizations seek more–cost-effective, plug-and-play solutions that will deliver content live for fans without significantly driving up costs or personnel needs. With approximately 19,000 customers in more than 170 countries, Wowza serves the streaming needs of ESPN, MLBAM, NHLPA, NYRA, PlayOn Sports, the University of Oregon, and other major sports providers.
SVG sat down with Wowza CEO/co-founder David Stubenvoll to discuss the latest trends in live streaming, Wowza’s role in the growth of live-mobile-broadcasting platforms like Periscope, and how the company is allowing lower-tier sports organizations to live-stream more content than ever.
With the explosion of Periscope and Facebook Live, we are seeing growth in live mobile broadcasting. What is Wowza’s game plan on that front, and how do you see that business growing?
We’ve had the Wowza GoCoder [mobile app to encode and live-stream events] for a couple years now, and we have slowly revamped it and instituted our own protocols to make it work even better. Periscope is powered by Wowza and our GoCoder, so we have understood that this is going to be an explosion in [live mobile broadcasting] for a long time. We have also started offering a private-label version of GoCoder: if you want to use Wowza GoCoder but want it labeled for your university, we’ll get that into the app store and do all that work for you.
We are also now offering the Wowza GoCoder SDK, so folks can have an end-to-end tool to build their live-mobile-broadcasting service. You can customize and brand that live stream however you like, and it’s extremely user-friendly. Plus, it plugs right into [Wowza] Streaming Engine and Streaming Cloud. It’s fast, it’s affordable, and it’s scalable. … We see this having a major impact on our sports [customers].
I’m very excited to see what happens with the Olympics with the Periscopes and citizen-journalist apps. Think about [content] coming from the athletes and from the spectators and from the service providers; it’ll be interesting. I think it’s going to be a great test case. But, by the 2020 Olympics, I think we will have true integration [between traditional broadcasting and live mobile broadcasting]. We feel there is a definite future there, and we’re excited about it.
Can you tell me a bit about the Wowza Streaming Cloud platform and how your sports clients are embracing cloud-based technology for streaming?
Historically, we always sold Wowza in a subscription concept that allows you to scale up and scale down as you see fit. We’ve always fit well with that elastic need. However, with Wowza Streaming Engine, that means you have to find servers, bandwidth, and all that stuff. We began to realize that there were these repeating use cases that we could enable with Cloud and we could do the hard work that [customers] would normally have to figure out themselves.
As we move more to the cloud and you look at Wowza’s capabilities — being able to work with so many different encoders and IP cameras and sources of input — we’re really a natural fit for a great many live things. Whether it’s the Giant Panda Cam for the National Zoo, motorsports across the world, or tennis at the University of Oregon, there’s a way of getting content into Wowza. And, because of our cloud system, we’re infinitely scalable out of the box, so you don’t have to plan for it. With Engine, you’ve got to plan for it.
Have you seen increased interest from universities looking for a low-cost, flexible solution for streaming non–revenue-generating events?
Absolutely, especially for non–revenue-generating sports. What’s great about Cloud is, it’s quite elastic, so you pay for what you use. Combine that with the capability to ingest IP cameras, which allows you to [trim the] production cost of a tennis match or swim meet, [and] you’ve got a number of fixed IP cameras and can take in all that content and stream it out to whoever wants to watch it.
Collegiate sports are unique in that, if a [grandparent] can see their grandson or granddaughter playing a sport live, then they are going to do whatever is possible to watch. My son plays lacrosse, and my daughter’s a rock climber. If it wasn’t for OTT video, you wouldn’t get to see any of that stuff, or very little.
I think we have some interesting opportunities since we’re just introducing the RESTful API for Wowza Cloud. That allows a university to create custom workflows and do that work behind the scenes, so that, hopefully, it becomes as simple as someone hitting a button and it’s streaming. Someone can program the start and end time, and it’s all taken care of. That’s very powerful for the semipro and university level, where you have lots of production people that just don’t have the time to devote to [stream] every sport and every event. Now you can automate that.
How can you help those looking to live-stream at sports venues with little to no connectivity, similar to the work you’ve done with MLB’s Minor League Baseball streaming?
Wowza is very inexpensive and quite robust, but, if it didn’t work as well as it did, we just wouldn’t solve the problem. Some [sports venues], like a minor-league ballpark, have only semi-reliable networks, and little to no infrastructure is in place. Often, the equipment varies dramatically at these locations as well.
Wowza can deal with so many sources of inputs, and we do it really well. When Apple makes changes in the HLS protocol and doesn’t tell anyone or camera manufacturers make changes in firmware, we’re able to deal with that.
We have a phenomenal engineering team that is able to deal with these standards. It’s a matter of having enough experience across the board, not just how to deliver HLS but what’s the impact on the way you encode or transcode and package and deliver. And that’s where the full suite of Wowza technology comes in — from encoding to ingest to transcoding, adjusting the video, transmuxing it, packaging it, and getting it out the other side. We understand the video from end to end, which allows us to solve those problems for our customers.
The amount of sports content being streamed live has exploded over the past five years. Do you see this growth rate continuing over the next five?
In terms of live-streaming sports, you still can’t see everything you want. There are enough niche sports that have as crazy fans as NFL or MLB that demand to see their sport live. And then look at it from an expat perspective: cricket’s not big here, but there are folks living here that will pay anything to get their cricket matches.
I don’t think that we’ve really scratched the surface yet. The model I keep thinking of is the magazine rack. Every magazine rack has big [publications] and then lots of specialty interest. Sports are the same: every individual sport is a specialty interest. I think, when you can make the delivery of that content economical so that someone’s making money off of it, you suddenly can unlock the demand from fans.
Also, when I think of sports like lacrosse and rock climbing, the value of advertising jumps dramatically. My son can’t find out about a new head without searching for something or watching the game. The knowledge that those things exist through advertising is seen as incredibly valuable to those consumers. That’s where you see a huge potential difference between major-market sports, where Ford [advertises], and high school sports, where [football-equipment manufacturer] Riddell could advertise. People are dying for that information about those products.