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A New CEO Brings Big Product Changes to Sorenson Media

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Sorenson Squeeze is one of the most revered products in the streaming media space, and one that I use weekly, if not daily. But let’s face it: The software-encoder space has never been a market to make a venture capitalist salivate, and the only hockey stick Sorenson was ever likely to see was at a hockey rink.

So, I was curious early last year when Sorenson hired new CEO Marcus Liassides (right), a serial digital media and broadcast entrepreneur with several impressive successes under his belt. With a flurry of recent product launches, Liassides made his strategy loud and clear—leverage existing compression-related knowledge and IP, as well as relationships in the broadcast space, to sell a new line of products and services to broadcast markets.

I spoke with Marcus about this strategy in a video that you can watch below. Here are the highlights of our discussion.

The first major product announcement is kind of a reverse re-branding; instead of putting a new name on an old product, Sorenson is putting an old name on a new product. That is, Sorenson 360 was a traditional online video platform primarily distinguished by its review and approval capability within Sorenson Squeeze, but with little independent market penetration.

Sorenson 360 will live, but now it’s called Squeeze Stream. The new Squeeze 360 is a service designed to enable broadcasters and other content owners to deliver live and VOD content to computers, mobile devices, and OTT devices. The initial target customers are local stations in the U.S. that need to get online but may not have the in-house expertise.

“We’re very focused on a turnkey solution to get customers up and running very quickly without needing any technical expertise on staff, “Liassides commented.

The product has two components, a turnkey appliance that’s installed on the customer site and provided at no charge so there's no up-front capital outlay. This sends a stream to Sorenson’s cloud facility, which does all the encoding and transcoding. The service is HLS-based, with 128-bit AES encryption and closed captions. It plays on computers, iOS and Android tablets and phones, and other connected devices.

Liassides elaborated on the service’s focus: “One of the big differences around the task we set out to solve is that this isn't just a video stream on the internet. This is taking television and delivering it over-the-top. So it has captioning, AES, lots of things that come from the TV space that haven't really been considered so much in the online space. It takes an understanding about TV and digital to really fuse these two together.”

According to Liassides, pricing will use a simple formula based on time and the number of streams, with no extra charge for HD video. The product is being piloted by several existing Sorenson customers today, and should go live early in 2015. While the first version won't have an electronic program guide (EPG), future updates will include one, as well as other elements that enhance discoverability.

The second major announcement places a new suite of products under a familiar name, Sorenson Spark. Way back when, Spark was the video codec used by Adobe Flash prior to On2’s VP6, and it’s still sold by Sorenson to device manufacturers that need low CPU requirements and power consumption.

In late December, Sorenson announced three new broadcast-focused services; Spark Enlight, which provides real-time analytics from smart TVs, Spark Enhance, which makes connected TV advertising more targeted and addressable, and Spark Engage, which lets broadcasters add interactive content such as polls, quizzes, and contests to their linear videos.

Obviously, Squeeze 360 and the new Spark line represent a major pivot, or as Liassides preferred, “an evolution of Sorenson’s core business.” Yet, despite the new products, Sorenson remains firmly committed to the old.

“Squeeze is a fantastic product line for us,” Liassides explained, “not least of all for the customer base and relationships that we have. We learned a lot from being in the online video space with Squeeze products and we see a lot of the transition that happened in online video happening in television. So we’re bringing some of that learning, more importantly, the IP technology, into television. Which is really the last digital frontier.”

During our discussion, Liassides noted that Sorenson recently released significant updates to Squeeze Desktop 10, and Squeeze Server 3, and promised future updates in 2015 and beyond.

In closing, Liassides commented that Sorenson benefited from the simple shareholding structure under Jim Sorenson, which allowed them the funding to develop the new products and services.

“It’s afforded us the opportunity to invest heavily in new technologies and new products, and we will continue to do that," Liassides  said. "We have products in development that are as exciting as the ones that we’ve announced now.“


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