SVG Sit-Down: Inside Signiant’s Acquisition of Levels Beyond With Mike Flathers, Jon Finegold, Art Raymond

The deal combines a top media-workflow–software provider and file-transfer–tech supplier

This month, Signiant acquired Levels Beyond, the company behind the Reach Engine media-workflow software. The blockbuster deal bolsters Signiant’s plans to expand beyond the high-speed–file-transfer technology it is most known for into a full-fledged SaaS platform offering a variety of media workflows and modules.

SVG sat down with Signiant Chief Solutions Officer Mike Flathers, CMO Jon Finegold, and Levels Beyond founder Art Raymond (who will continue to oversee the Reach Engine team as part of Signiant) to discuss how the deal came about, what it means for the media/broadcasting sector, how it will impact Signiant and Reach Engine customers in the near and long term, and what the industry can expect from this newly unified entity in 2022 and beyond.

Mike Flathers: “It is very rare to find two companies that have very similar visions but also so many synergies.”

How did this deal come about, and why does it make sense for both companies?
We’ve known the Levels team for a long time and have worked with them on quite a few industry events. We also have a large mutual customer base, and we believe Levels Beyond’s technology can help take us to the next level. This move accelerates our evolution to “Beyond file transfer,” and, while file transfer will always be at the core of what we offer, we believe that, since we have access to that data in order to move it, there are also a variety of ways we can add value acting on data before or after it moves and even when it doesn’t need to be moved. That opens up a lot of doors. And, certainly, the Levels team has a lot of experience integrating with third-party tools and applications. We had a lot of synergies with where we saw the market moving as well as holes in this market.

Finegold: We have a vision to expand our offerings, and the team and technology at Levels are a perfect fit. The foundation that we’ve laid is in file transfer, and that will continue. As files keep getting bigger, we transfer more and more data every day. But what we have built is a widely adopted SaaS platform that’s the foundation for our file-transfer products. We envision being able to take a lot of expertise and technology from Reach Engine and offer them as productized modules within our SaaS platform in a way that is much more accessible to the market.

Instead of building these big custom systems, you can easily adopt a Signiant file-transfer product and plug in these various modules for different workflows. We are looking to simplify and create efficiencies for our customers, building on top of our existing SaaS foundation.

Raymond: [Levels Beyond was] doing a lot of work with mutual clients, and the world just kept evolving rapidly. We’re seeing [clients] focus more on automation cycles and big-pipeline moves. We have a mutual client that literally is taking thousands of clips on weekends and moving them in pipelines out to organizational members and individuals while tracking individuals and moving the content in the pipeline back.

We were looking into the future, and we knew we needed to be part of a bigger home. We saw [that] Signiant saw the market with that same vision. In some areas, they were ahead of us, and there was a lot of common ground. It just made a lot of sense for everyone involved.

Art Raymond: “I think, when [current Reach Engine users] see our future roadmap, they’re going to be very excited.”

What does this deal mean for current Reach Engine users?
First and foremost, the team at Signiant has committed to support all existing clients as they are today. We’re simply going to work towards the mutual vision of the next generation. And we’re very conscious about working side-by-side. As new features and services come up, we’re going to be very thoughtful about how that impacts the current Reach Engine clients and the current services that are in Reach. I think, when [current Reach Engine users] see our future roadmap, they’re going to be very excited.

Flathers: We’re taking a very calculated approach to this. While we plan on moving as fast as we can, we aren’t going to leave any of the current users high and dry. We have this Signiant SaaS platform that is the basis for everything. But then, we also have these pieces of technology that we’re working on internally as well as technology that Levels was working on. We see it as two sets of train tracks that are merging and eventually will be the same track. We’re committed to providing a path for the current Reach users to stay on their track but also to merge onto this other track in a very easy fashion if they wish.

What does this deal mean for Signiant users who aren’t familiar with Levels Beyond and Reach Engine?
We will bring several core modules of the Reach Engine platform onto the Signiant platform. Earlier in the year, we acquired Lesspain Software and are bringing that technology to the Signiant SaaS platform. We have some exciting announcements coming in early 2022 on that front, and we will follow a similar path with Reach Engine technology, making capabilities available on the platform to customers who already leverage our file-transfer products.

We’ve taken the Lesspain technology and built it into the [Signiant] platform to parse metadata, generate proxies, and those kinds of things. Modules like this will be a core part of our SaaS platform moving forward. Key components of the Reach Engine platform will also show up in the Signiant platform as a platform module to allow you to choose how you want to connect various [workflows] using that technology.

How does this better position you to offer the cloud-based and remote-production tools that have become ubiquitous for broadcasters and content creators during the pandemic?
The distributed workforce isn’t going anywhere, and I think this [deal] elevates us when it comes to serving those needs. Within our platform, [we identified] seven levers you could use related to distributing your workforce and managing them. Signiant was a key infrastructure within those seven layers so we were already heavily engaged with them, and I think that is only going to grow.

We’d already done some great [remote-production] projects together, like remoting hundreds of editors for global sporting events, and those kinds of capabilities are where we want to go. We’re focused on a “just turn it on” [mentality], where you can run 300 editors for a major sporting event like the Olympics or World Cup and you don’t need anything but the frontend of this platform.

Flathers: What this pandemic did was accelerate the inevitable and make things happen faster than they normally would. Fortunately, we were already on this track toward a future where remote editing was going to be a necessity — whether that’s across the world or across town. The solutions that Signiant, Levels, and other vendors have come up with have made those [workflows] a possibility today. When we come back into an in-person world, a lot of these remote workflows will be here to stay. That allows us to move to what we see as the next generation, which is a series of blocks to connect things easily so you take even less time to put [together] a remote workflow for editing, ingest, distribution, and the entire ecosystem. It’s important to make this as easy and seamless as possible.

Jon Finegold: “The plan is for there to essentially be Reach Engine platform modules within the overall Signiant SaaS platform.”

Will the Reach Engine brand and/or Levels Beyond brand continue?
The Reach Engine brand is a really strong one, and we intend to continue with that brand as part of the broader Signiant branding. The plan is for there to essentially be Reach Engine platform modules within the overall Signiant SaaS platform that you can simply turn on. The Levels Beyond name will probably go away at some point, but we intend to leverage the strong Reach Engine brand going forward.

How soon can we expect some of these new features, modules, and integrations to come to market?
Raymond: We see significant future services coming out during the first and second quarter [of 2022]. Coming out one at a time, each one [will be] significantly powerful with its open toolset. Those of us on the tech side see [them] impacting the market almost immediately. We’ve got some pretty good designs already, and we’re ready to move quickly.

Flathers: We certainly have work to do; it’s not like we can just take this stuff and slap it in this platform. But we are working aggressively on these developments. For example, Reach Engine is not multi-tenant, but the Signiant SaaS platforms is all multi-tenant. Bringing the Reach Engine component into a multi-tenant environment that has all the properties you would expect — like scalability and reliability — will take some effort. There will be some re-architecting involved, but I would expect that you will see some fruits of these efforts and this relationship by NAB 2022. Fortunately, we have the platform already built at Signiant, so we’re not building this multi-tenant platform from scratch, and it’s just a matter of bringing Reach Engine into our environment.

Another exciting by-product of this marriage is that, with the Levels team joining us, we now have the ability to enhance our integration play. The team members from the Levels team will be part of our solutions-oriented development, so we’re excited about that as well.

Finegold: Reach Engine does so many different things that I think trying to prioritize which of those modules we roll out and when is actually the bigger challenge vs. doing it all at once. But, once we have that locked down, I think you will see not just one moment in time but a steady flow of these Reach Engine modules being added to the platform. I don’t envision it as a single moment in time but rather something we start and then just continue to build on in perpetuity.

Will there be any major staffing or management changes to either company as a result of this deal?
The bulk of the [Levels Beyond] team will remain in Denver as a technology arm for Signiant. It was important to keep the team in place, so we went to extensive efforts to make sure that happened and that people feel comfortable with the situation. There are no additional changes planned at this time.

Raymond: Everything that faces the customer and everyone that relates to technology is still part of the team.

How excited are you about this deal and what’s coming next?
We’re thrilled. We knew we wanted to be in a better-capitalized home, and Signiant has some great momentum and gives us that capability. More important, we wanted a synergistic home with someone who understood what we do and where we were going. We didn’t want to land with an organization that wasn’t from this industry and didn’t understand who we were. We had spent time with these guys, and we knew them well through all the projects we’ve worked on together. As we looked into potential transactions, the team at Levels weighted heavily that this is where we want to go, which is great. As a group, we are very excited and ready to go.

Flathers: It is very rare to find two companies that have very similar visions but also so many synergies. This was not an overnight courting, and it was very bi-directional. We spent a lot of time together talking about our respective visions, and I can honestly say there was hardly any friction along the way with regard to what our future roadmap looks like. We’re incredibly excited for what’s next.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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