SVG Sit-Down: iStreamPlanet’s Tim Davis on His Company’s Role in a Fast Evolving Media Space
The streaming-services provider supports the Olympics, Super Bowl, NCAA March Madness Live
Over-the-top (OTT) distribution is soaking up a lot of the headlines as the media industry braces for what is expected to be a big year in the migration to digital business and consumption models.
iStreamPlanet has been at the forefront of this evolution, providing streaming-support technology and helping create diverse digital user experiences. The company currently provides the backend for streaming some of the biggest sports events, including the Olympics, Super Bowl, and, perhaps most notably, NCAA March Madness Live, which last year reported 98 million live streams over the course of the month-long event. iStreamPlanet is also supporting vMVPDs, which are revolutionizing the way fans watch digital video.
SVG sat down with Tim Davis, VP, products and services, iStreamPlanet, to discuss the past year at the company, its next steps in OTT–user-experience growth, and coming innovations in sports production and beyond.
What were some of the highlights at iStreamPlanet last year, in your opinion?
From my standpoint, one of the biggest highlights was that we onboarded and delivered NCAA March Madness Live with our partners Turner Sports and CBS Sports. NCAA MML is one of the largest sports OTT experiences in the industry. It’s a month-long event, and we have to bring our A game for the better part of 30 days. During the tournament, we delivered 98 million live streams to fans, which is a crazy amount of volume. MML is fun because it’s super active on Thursdays and Fridays and college fans are so fanatical that they watch not only at home but also at work and on a ton of different mobile, tablet, and other device types. We built some really ambitious technology for the event, too, focusing on innovating in advertising and immersive content. Our customer was extremely happy, and, more important, so were the fans.
Consumer demand for vMVPD live linear TV channels was also a highlight last year. This is clearly where consumer preference is headed. We experienced tremendous growth in this space. We’re now managing over 1,000 live linear channels in North America alone. This is a difficult challenge, and we’ve worked hard to get all of the channels that our customers are asking for delivered at mass scale. We’re also helping customers monetize their channels as well as deliver innovative OTT features.
You also helped support BlizzCon, which is a massive esports event. How did your technology play a critical role there?
We’re a technology company, so a lot of our engineers and operations staff are also gamers! BlizzCon was easily one of our favorite events of the year. We provided both onsite staff in Anaheim, CA, and operations staff from our Broadcast Operations Center (BOC) in Las Vegas. Obviously, esports fans demand low-latency, high-quality video, which gives us a chance to show off fantastic HD scenarios from our Aventus encoding stack.
There was also the Playmaker deal with NBC Sports. How does that shape your business going forward?
We’ve done a ton of great work co-delivering solutions to brands in the sports market with our partner NBC Sports. You’ll see some exciting news over the next couple of months with some large customers — especially internationally — coming onto our joint platform. We’re excited to bring really great sports video to fans.
What’s the latest with your Aventus product? How has that solution continued to evolve for the company?
I’m not even sure I’d call it “evolve” rather than “exploded.” We’ve basically gone from a live-centric TV company to an entire end-to-end media-processing–suite company. Over the past two years, we’ve added digital-rights management and a full-fledged VOD offering called VOD Flow. We have a new product called SwitchCast that delivers personalized channels. This functionality is key for regional–sports-network customers. We’ve added Media Origin, extended archiving, and rolled out instant Live2VOD capture. Really, what we’ve been doing is responding to customer demand. As digital becomes as important as classic broadcast, all of these services are necessary to deliver a complete fan experience. We want to provide everything our customers need to run a complete media-processing stack.
When you look at your client portfolio and the various digital vMVPDs that you work with, what key challenges are they facing?
On the distribution side, our customers need the highest-quality video with no disruption. The broadcast world is a very mature business. It’s highly available and highly reliable — several nines strength — and fans expect that. People look at digital-first not as a science project but as the primary place fans are watching television. The experience needs to be comparable to classic cable systems. It’s quite a challenge to deliver that in the internet world.
Then there’s scale. Managing thousands of signals coming in and out of our facilities is hard to do. There’s a phrase: “There’s no substitution for experience.” That’s what we bring to the table for our customers. We’ve been doing this for 18 years. We know how these things work, and we bring that expertise and quality approach to our customers.
The other thing we are focusing on is differentiation and bringing much more interesting and engaging media experiences to our OTT partners. We’ve built a ton of APIs, platform support, and a strong ecosystem with folks like You.i TV and Globant. We’re making sure we have options that are highly integrated with our Aventus media-processing suite so our customers can build great consumer app experiences.
We have a lot of sports-centric customers who are looking for immersive content rich with fan metadata that is very integrated with social media. We also have entertainment customers who are dedicated to streaming the evergreen content at the highest quality possible. We look at all of these customer needs as core demands on our platform. We love helping our customers create unique value-adds to their content and great fan experiences.
What trends are you looking toward in 2018?
We anticipate that subscriber growth will go bananas. It’s growing daily, and we’re super excited to be part of this. Our customers are putting tremendous investment into their infrastructure, and we’re hustling to stay ahead of their needs.
We’re also expecting continued mobile growth. We know fans are watching more video and TV on more devices than ever, and we are actively adding technology to optimize the experience.
The last big trend that we’re focusing on is personalization and the importance of user data. We realize that we need to capture and enrich the user experience at all times. Fans want content that’s unique to them. They want the power of one-on-one internet personalization applied to their video streams, and that can be a key differentiator in the OTT space.