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SMW '18: THEO Technologies' Pieter-Jan Speelmans Talks Modular Player APIs
Streaming Media's Tim Siglin interviews THEO Technologies CTO Pieter-Jan Speelmans at Streaming Media West 2018.
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Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media west 2018. I'm Tim Siglin, contributinge editor with Streaming Media magazine and the founding executive director of the not-for-profit Help Me! Stream and today, I have Pieter-Jan Speelmans from THEO Technology, known for THEOplayer. I have to ask about the name. Was there a guy named Theo part of it at the beginning?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: There are stories that involve a guy named Theo. But the real story was when we started the company originally, we had a completely different name. And at the point when we started to realize that that original name was horrible, we actually switched to the name to "OpenTelly." But that was also causing confusion because we were not an open-source product, so we launched a video player at that time so we were decided that we needed a name for the video player that should show that it's a player. It should show that be somehow related to the other brand that we have. So we started looking for it and at a certain point, the idea was we need “the O player” or something similar. Then we were like okay, that sounds a little bit weird--

Tim Siglin: Weird. Especially since it sounds more like “the open player.”

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: Yes. And that's basically where the idea came. Let's make it THEO and then there are all kinds of other stories. We have a giraffe in the office now, which his named THEO.

Tim Siglin: A stuffed giraffe?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: Well, it's not a stuffed one but it's like a garden statue.

Tim Siglin: Okay.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: Yeah, it's a funny story as well but yeah, that's more or less where it came from

Tim Siglin: And the company, of course, is based in Europe but you've come over for a number of shows. I think NAB and the streaming shows.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: We are here for all of the streaming shows. We've done NAB, of course, in Vegas. We did NAB in New York a month ago.

Tim Siglin: Yeah, I was actually at the AES show with a client up in the launch.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: Yeah, we're in the states quite often. We have a number of pretty big customers here.

Tim Siglin: Nice. So what's kind of the core focus of the company at this point? Obviously, you've got a player. The player does really well but if I remember correctly, you've also sort of expanded across the supply chain in the ecosystem.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: Our goal in the end is to deliver as good as possible a viewer experience in the end, so making sure that our customers can deliver their stream as optimally as possible and of course, a very big part of that is the player. So the player definitely is the main focus that we have. Doing the player, we get a lot of insights in the rest of the chain, in the encoding, in the packaging, in the delivery, CDNs, and of course also integrations with analytics, DRM, advertisements. It all comes together in the player in the end.

What we're doing now is we're still focused on the player but we actually integrated over the last years with so many different components in the ecosystem that we’re making it not just a better viewer experience for the viewers but also an easier integration for our customers.

Tim Siglin: That's very important for someone. So better API hooks, documentation, that type of thing?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: We've always been API-driven. The founders were three engineers, so that's kind of the defect that we have where we're very API-centric, but also making sure that, for example, if you would try to integrate, say, an analytics platform, all you have to do is basically set a checkbox and fill in like the tracking ID and all the other stuff, we will take care of it. That's the general idea behind it.

Tim Siglin: So it's more than just an API.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: It's really API-based, but something we are doing at this point is actually putting that into a UI as well so that our customers basically have a portal where they can log in, configure which modules they want loaded or which modules they don't want loaded to reduce the size of the player. And then they just hit go, and they get a customized build specifically for them with all the integrations configured in the way that they needed, of course, for all of the different platforms that we're covering these days.

Tim Siglin: And are you handling multiple codecs or just AVC at this point?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: It's an interesting question. We do do multiple codecs already at this point. We have a few customers who are doing HEVC. We have some who are using VP9. The bulk of it is still AVC at this point. But we've seen a growing interest so it's always interesting.

Tim Siglin: From your standpoint, if HEVC replaced AVC, it wouldn't necessarily change anything significant in the pipeline? Would it be true of VP9 or AV1 if those become the de factos there?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: In our pipeline, we can actually switch it out pretty easily.: We have the modular approach, so we just load out the different module to handle the codec’s specific parts. We've looked at it even if we needed to swap out existing codecs. With AV1, for example, we've done some interesting POCs there to see if we could bring it really across all the platforms and all the devices even without the hardware decoding so we know that it's possible. We've not seen the market demand for that specific aspect yet, but when a customer has a question, it wouldn't require a significant change.

Tim Siglin: And then one last question. You mentioned modularity and I think one of the relatively hot topics seems to be microservices. With the idea of having essentially that module approach across a whole SaaS model. Is microservice something that you run into your potential customers asking for, or are they just looking for the holistic ecosystem and they don't really care how you're dealing with it on the back end?

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: We don't do the backend, so we integrate with other partners who do the backend. The microservices idea is actually very interesting, not just on the backend side but also on the player side. It's not services for us but we call them modules. We have those modules with all their own responsibilities, which can be used for all kinds of different things, so it's very similar to microservices. But if you look at the bigger picture and then the remainder of the tech industry as well, microservices are definitely the way to go. It scales a lot better across the cloud and in software development, you see it coming back as well.

Tim Siglin: That's where the interest is. I get that you can put it in a container but ultimately, if it's forcing better code in smaller modules or objects and that sort of thing.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: It's more maintainable. You can pick the parts that you need. You can remove all the others because they're overhead in the end. Why have a very big server if you only use a very small part of it?

Tim Siglin: Right. And to your point about your player, when you have that ability for people to check or uncheck modules and keep it combined.

Pieter-Jan Speelmans: It's the same idea. Making sure that whatever the customer needs, he has all of it but there's no fat around the edges. Just cutting it all off, making sure that you reduce the player size but also making sure that you reduce the things that can go wrong because if you don't have those other modules, then there's less variables in play.

Tim Siglin: Sure. Well, thank you very much for your time and we'll be right back after a short break.

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