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NAB 2018: Stefan Lederer Talks Bitmovin Toolbox
Streaming Media's Jan Ozer interviews Bitmovin CEO Stefan Lederer in the Bitmovin booth at NAB 2018 to talk about the company's $30 million funding, AV1, and its new machine learning-based encoding.
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At NAB, Jan Ozer met with about a dozen companies with stakes in HEVC and/or AV1. This is another in a series of video interviews he conducted with them.

Jan Ozer: Jan Ozer here. I'm at the Bitmovin booth here at NAB. I'm with Stefan Lederer, CEO and founder. 

Stefan Lederer: Welcome to our booth. NAB is solid, amazing for Bitmovin. It's packed. Great show and with a lot of great announcements.

Jan Ozer: So tell us. You've got two press conferences tomorrow. Why don't you get into what you'll be talking about there?

Stefan Lederer: Definitely, so the big announcement, the first one that we have, we raised the financing around Series B from great investor called Highland Europe. $30,000,000 that enables us to grow the company to build new products to expand a team to invest in engineering and innovation, to work on new things like AV1, like machine learning encoding, and so many more things. And also work on new products that we are going to launch in the next couple of years. And that's an amazing thing happening for Bitmovin.

Jan Ozer: So why don't you go through the product lines that you're showing at NAB. You started out a player company, and then you moved to an OVP, and then you've branched out, quite substantially since then. So, go over the basic product lines that you're currently running.

Stefan Lederer: So, we see us on the infrastructure level, so really having a toolbox of video infrastructure tools. And that is the player, which we started with, that was the first product that we announced and released. Then, shortly after we added the encoding product. And those were the first two pieces out of this toolbox. And then we said, "Okay, actually, we want also to measure how the video is perceived and received at the last mile, the actual user experience, so let's add an analytics product, first as an internal tool for our player team, but then we spun it off as a separate product.

And that's exactly the infrastructure level where we want to be the leader and also differentiate us from end-to-end solutions. So, an OVP is typically an end-to-end solution with asset management and so on. So, we don't see ourselves as an OVP. We want to see us as a toolbox of products in the value chain that you can pick where it fits. Every product is separately useful. Every product needs to survive as a separate product, and if you see that we are doing a good job, you might take another product. You start with the player, you add the encoding, you add the analytics if we're doing a good job. So, you can really cherry pick between vendors and also, can differentiate on the market as a customer of Bitmovin because it's not an end-to-end solution. It's a highly customizable toolbox and you can build a workflow that's differentiated, that's tailored to your particular workflow.

Jan Ozer: Okay, so this is going to be known, I think as the codec NAB. You know, we had Apple's announcement last year. And we've had AV1 in the last few months. You know, you're an online encoding vendor, so you have to supply all the formats your customers are asking for. What are they asking for? What was the impact of the Apple announcement and where do you see AV1 going?

Stefan Lederer: So, the Apple announcement, or Apple sneaking in as a part of the Alliance for Open Media. That was a great thing to happen to see a company like Apple is supporting an open standard like AV1. We see things going on in the standardization. We see, things taking off in the industry. AV1 is one of those huge topics here at NAB. So many people want to come and see our demo. So, there is a lot of interest. 

At the same time, there are a lot of question marks, like where is it going to be supported, what's the encoding efficiency and so on. And that's something where we as a vendor come in and try to simplify those things, provide an encoding product that's competitive with an HEVC product, to provide a player that's supporting AV1 streams in the different browsers, and to make it as easy as possible for content providers to use those products. AV1 is definitely still early in the phase. HEVC today is like five or six years old. So, definitely, there is some time where AV1 needs to be fitted into products. 

Today, we are launching a technology AV1. A technology alone needs more than that. It's not enough. It needs a product around it; tools to encode the package, to deliver, and to playback. And that's what the industry now has to deliver. We are the tip of the spear here from the vendors. We lead deploying AV1 today with partners like Mozilla, for example, and Google and many others. But, it's still much more to do from the vendor ecosystem to make it easy to deploy. 

Jan Ozer: So, what have you seen with HEVC and HLS? How many of your customers are using that?

Stefan Lederer: So, HLS is definitely the dominant format if you're not DRM protected. HEVC is taking off now. I think the AV1 push simplified a lot of conversations around licensing. So, the patent pools are moving in the right direction, but still, they are holding back the success of HEVC. Unfortunately, customers are unsure still and the licensing conversation is definitely limiting the success of HEVC. 

Maybe now it's going to be better in the future. And that's something that we hope for. I mean, we are big fans of HEVC, as well as AV1. So, they're both technologies that are great. There's a lot of effort in both and we are engineers in our DNA. So, we appreciate both codecs and we are supportive of both codecs. But, in the end, it must be possible to use them out in the wild. And therefore, AV1, as a royalty-free codec, is definitely tempting. And HEVC with the patent pool conversations is holding back a lot of the potential that's possible.

Jan Ozer: Okay, so a few months ago, you launched per-title encoding. And very recently, you've launched AI-driven encoding?

Stefan Lederer: Exactly.

Jan Ozer: What's the difference? What's the similarities? 

Stefan Lederer: So, there are things that we think, okay what you can do better? I mean, you have HEVC, you have AV1, that are great codecs. But on top of those codecs, you can do really, really interesting things. Looking into multi-bitrate streaming, you can analyze the complexity of the content and say, "Hey, which quality levels do I actually need for a cartoon versus a soccer game," for example. And that's something where our customers are highly interested in because they can save a lot of bandwidth with this, like small tricks. So, you don't have to wait for new codecs to be in the market. You can apply those technologies on today's codecs, like, for example, H.264, and get a value gain out of that. And that's something that's appealing to a lot of customers.

Jan Ozer: So, what's the difference between per-title and AI driven encoding?

Stefan Lederer: Yeah, so per-title is the first step where you adjust the bitrate letter to the content characteristics. AI is part of the analyze process there, so it's actually an AI-driven per-title encoding, but for the sake of simplicity, we call it per-title encoding. 

Jan Ozer: Okay.

Stefan Lederer: On the AI-based encoding, we'd look into the rate adaptation and we would look into how to optimize, redistribute the bits in the video stream. So, what we do is, we introduce a third pass in the encoding step. So, typical encoders have one- or two-pass encoding steps. What we do is, we add a third pass, driven by machine learning and AI to get a better feel how to distribute based on content, type, and length, and so on, and different characteristics. And that enables us, in the end, to have a more efficient encoding. 

Jan Ozer: Okay, thanks. Well, listen. Thanks for giving us time today. I know it's a busy day for you and good luck at the show.

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