Inside Thomson Reuters: Creating a Global Webcasting Platform
Streaming Media: As you bring on entrepreneurial talent from young, aggressive, successful companies, how well do they assimilate into the big company culture and all the challenges around a big company?
Cotter: Following each acquisition, I think we’ve been very successful in managing to maintain the spirit and energy of an entrepreneurial working environment in each location. It’s important for the success of our business that individuals feel empowered while still benefiting from the global scale, the unique distribution opportunities, and the brand opportunities at Thomson Reuters. Focusing on innovation, service, and delivering value to our clients is a constant that runs throughout our organisation.
The content creation interfaceStreaming Media: As you created the platform, how did you define the balance between pushing boundaries and cutting new edges and so on, against delivering streams to ubiquitous technologies? If we get right down to some core technology, you’ve got some differences between, say, the ubiquity of Windows Media from a few years ago and the recent uptake of Flash media. We know Windows still has its advantages in the enterprise environment whereas Flash is extremely popular in the media and entertainment market. If you’ve acquired entrepreneurial teams who are used to cutting edges, as you fit into a larger restrictive enterprise space, it must be sometimes a bit stifling for them.
Ball: We’ve preserved the sort of core team that innovates and develops as well, so rather than have a central resource that has to be prioritised along the broad business, we have our own development resource that allows us to be a bit more agile. I suppose that’s the first reason. We are serving a corporate marketplace requiring an amount of rigidness in that sector. Serving the entertainment and media sectors in terms of innovation, as you well know, moves a lot faster, and we introduced Flash over a year ago—a move that was, at the time, not necessarily ahead of the curve in terms of companies out there that were serving the media and entertainment sectors but kind of ahead of the curve for our client base who embraced it. In fact, regarding Flash itself, it’s kind of a bit of a myth that it is the most ubiquitously loaded player. If you are in the corporate enterprise, you may not have Flash loaded because you may not even have permissions as an end user to download anything at all, and you are tied to the desktop configuration that you’re served. So also core to our platform strategy is one of making sure that we’re always compatible, so certainly for the near and medium future we will be supporting Windows Media and Flash alongside one another for some time to come.
Streaming Media: You obviously have the advantage of multicast with Windows Media, which is a nonstarter with Flash.
Ball: Indeed, and there are the caching challenges that you get with Flash in the enterprise. Silverlight is gaining traction in the market as you know, and you can put a small bet on the fact that Silverlight, in terms of the adoption in the enterprise, is not going to lag that far behind in years to come. Our philosophy is that we maximise compatibility and our core technology is operating system-, browser-, and player-independent. Streaming Media: What are your audience volumes?
Ball: In terms of some interesting numbers, as we expand into those other verticals, we’ve done a couple of large webcasts. I can’t disclose the name of the companies, but I can say we had 50,000 concurrent viewers or more on one, and we’ve done webcasts that have had over a period of 10 days more than 100,000 viewers, which is testimony to the scale of the platform in delivering that kind of volume.
Thomson Reuters’ global reporting displayStreaming Media: Just out of interest, any idea of bitrate on that? Have you got fixed bitrates for your streams, or do they vary?
As standard we do 300Kbps Windows Media, 400Kbps Flash, and also a standard multirate 20Kbps– 100Kbps Windows Media for the ever-decreasing audience that doesn’t have sufficient connectivity, and we do customised code rates if required.
Streaming Media: Do you ever have issues where you get such an overwhelming demand in the single enterprise unit that the contention on the WAN link on the way into the building just overloads or breaks with unexpectedly high demand?
Ball: We usually ask those questions and mitigate that in advance of doing the webcast. So among the questions our events team will ask are, "Is this going internally? How many viewers do you have on your LAN? What is your bandwidth?" And then from that we ask, "Do we need to take this to the next level? Do we need to help you cache this stream?" Some clients are more sophisticated and they already have that in place, and we provide them with the technical data in order for them to take our stream. Other clients want us to make sure that they can configure and multicast internally. I suppose there is no set rule or repeatable formula.
Streaming Media: It must get quite hard, because otherwise you could get quite involved, quite hands-on, doing a lot of network re-engineering, which is a secondary thing just to make your primary service sell.
Cotter: Yes, it’s a great point. I think as you get into the enterprise and particularly around internal communications, we find we could get into very involved network configuration kinds of questions where we by far are the domain experts in the area, and we’re helping our clients find the right solution. A lot of clients will come to us because there’s not much we haven’t seen, so whether that’s "How should I communicate a message like this?" or "How can I get a stream to all these locations in the right way?" and everything in between, chances are we’ve seen it and have some expertise around resolving issues.
Streaming Media: Do you have content protection issues? Do you use DRM or any conditional access technologies?
Ball: No, not usually. That’s more your media type, where you want customers to pay for the content. We obviously do security fixes for our clients and IP restriction token authentication but not digital rights management within the stream itself.