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SMW 17: AWS Elemental's Keith Wymbs Talks Live 4K in the Cloud

Tim Siglin: We're here at Streaming Media West 2017. I actually have the first interview of the day. Keith Wymbs, who did a keynote this morning. Keith, introduce yourself and tell me what the highlights were from the keynote?

Keith Wymbs: I'm the Chief Marketing Officer for AWS Elemental. As you're aware, AWS purchased us just a little over two years ago, and so we fit within the Amazon Web Services Business Unit of Amazon.

Tim Siglin: Are you fully autonomous?

Keith Wymbs: Yeah, I mean we're a subsidiary of AWS. This morning we were able to talk about the work that we've done with Amazon Video, which is a separate business unit, but as you know they have the rights to stream Thursday Night Football for the NFL, and so we're a lot of the underlying infrastructure. There's technology that's built around us in terms of the player and different monitoring technologies. That's built by Amazon Video, but the core infrastructure of getting the video into different formats, different codex, doing the ad insertion technology, we were able to show how we do that with the Amazon Video, and then we did a short fireside chat with Jim DeLorenzo, who's the head of sports for Amazon Video, he does all the business side, the licensing. And so we had a nice chat with Dan as well.

Tim Siglin: And, Elemental in the past has been hardware boxes, and then of course you got into the software and Vine video. How much of what you're doing as part of this workflow process for Amazon Video is hardware versus software?

Keith Wymbs: Everything that we're doing with them is actually on the software side, it's all residing in the cloud. If you go back in the day, we were always a software company. We kind of masked it in a way because we had specialized hardware, it was based on GPUs. As you know, you heard about us early, we were doing something unique, and the industry was buying an appliance, perpetual license with ongoing support. But over the course of time, as this industry really did not coalesce fully around standards, whether it's the underlying codecs, or the streaming technologies, or let alone all the different accessibility options with captioning, and how do you handle all of this in the streaming world, we really realized that the core differentiation that we had was not just the power of our systems and our ability to create different profiles, but the flexibility and speed of innovation that we had. And so, we kind of had this exposure party where we said, "Hey, we are about software. We ride on this off-the-shelf hardware technology, and we also believe that this will help us bridge to a cloud environment."

It was clear eight or nine years ago the IT industry was gonna be migrating to massively scaled cloud platforms, and we thought the media world would eventually get there, and we're at the point where that's actually happening.

Tim Siglin: Where do you think we are on that continuum?

Keith Wymbs: I think we're still early. If you look at the major new entrants, I would call them, into the industry, whether it's Hulu, or Netflix, or Amazon Video, they are cloud native. They all utilize AWS technology. Hulu for the live streaming, Netflix for what they do with their on demand offerings, they're all in on the cloud, and then what we disclosed today with Amazon Video, and how they're utilizing the AWS services, those guys are there. The industry as a whole, it's still pretty early. We see different applications migrating, different geographies, but we're proving out now these highest profile events, these ones that are scaled. We talked about the NFL work that we're doing for Thursday Night Football, getting to over 180 countries, the first four games had over seven million viewers. The engagement level is really high for streaming, people will tune in to check it out, but they're staying for over 50 minutes on average.

So it's a pretty high engagement level.

Tim Siglin: Now, is 4K still a hardware play where it's 1080p software?

Keith Wymbs: We've actually proven the ability to do 4K in the cloud. It's easy to do on-demand because you have all the time you want, but we're now at a point where we can actually show it for live as well. I will say that most of the deployments, almost all of them that we've done to date over the last two to three years I would say, we might have 50 of them, they are typically in ground appliances. This is a recent thing that we've gotten to where we can do it actually in the cloud in real time.

Tim Siglin: I think we sort of have those waves throughout the industry as a new resolution or format comes out, where you rely on hardware for a period of time. Maybe what I hear is the story that the hardware isn't necessarily going away, but it will be used for very specialized things, or very high-end things, as opposed to allowing the cloud to do practically--

Keith Wymbs: It's interesting being part of a cloud company, so ASW, quintessential cloud leader. I think our revenue run rate they said is 18 billion annually. Very, very large. But we also have realism, and we also talk about, "What do customers need?" And there is always going to be a need for what we call ground resources. There's gonna be contribution feeds coming into the cloud. You can't take an uncompressed feed, unless you have a very special situation and a lot of money, there has to be some form of compression that's gonna take place. And so we meet customers where they are depending on where they are in their migration. It may be on the business side, the applications, it may be in monitoring, it may be on software delivery but gradually, we call it, in the fullness of time, this industry will migrate to the cloud in order to keep up with the pace of change, and the need to get to a global scale.

Tim Siglin: One sort of final question on that and as you said, you're part of a cloud-centered company. There's things that have been traditionally pushed back on moving everything to the cloud, because the feature sets weren't the same for the cloud solutions versus the on-ground solutions. Do you feel like on that continuum we're closer, and closer from a cloud standpoint? Or is it a parity match in terms of features and enhancements?

Keith Wymbs: It's interesting, it's probably the core thesis of the acquisition, which is to take all the scale reliability, elasticity, all of the cloud that AWS provides, all those underlying tools for monitoring, for scaling, for notifications, and to bring with it our expertise in very deep video processing. Our expertise in dealing with the fragmentation and the complexity of this market allows us to have parity across the two. We think bringing those two together helps eliminate the resistance that has existed in the past for those that have traditionally been in the data centered environment managing their workflows.

Tim Siglin: Okay. And then on a personal note, I know you talked about this briefly in the keynote, you and I have known Sam Blackman for a number of years. I've known him maybe just slightly longer than you. Briefly, talk about the impact that Sam had on the industry and how the company's doing from a morale standpoint now that he's passed?

Keith Wymbs: Yeah, it's been one of the hardest things for all of us to go through. He was an amazing person, not only for the industry, and not only for our company, but for the community that we're involved in.

Tim Siglin: In fact, we were talking about how some of the things ... Sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, but I didn't realize until I read about his passing in The Portland Business Journal, just how much he's done for your community.

Keith Wymbs: Yeah, I mean the only way we've been able to get through it, there's really two things. One is, what he built was extremely strong, he put a very high focus on not only the quality of the people that we brought in from a technical or business acumen standpoint, but just the quality of the people in terms of their values and things like that, so that is strong. And the outreach from the greater community, in terms of the video community, we've received literally thousands of notes of support. We continue on in his legacy in terms of giving back through the 4K 4Charity, our next one will be at NAB in 2018. We're gonna continue that. We're moving forward as best we can, it's difficult, but because of what he built being so strong, and there are two other co-founders with Elemental, Jesse and Bryan, they are still with us, our executive team. You know, myself running marketing, we have Dan Marshall, Head of Support. The team is intact. It's a testament to Sam that he built something that can withstand this type of loss.

Tim Siglin: Sort of the built-to-last mentality.

Keith Wymbs: Yeah. It was a very traumatic event that we all had to get together, and we're not through it, but we're getting there.

Tim Siglin: And I really appreciate your speaking to the audience, both here as well as on the stream, about that. I was telling you before this that Sam introduced me to food trucks. I was out there to do something on best workflows, where I was comparing Elemental to other companies. Comes lunchtime and he's like, "Let's take a walk." So we take a walk, we go like three blocks down, and he's like, "Okay, now you've got 12 different choices." I'm like, "What is this?" He's like, "These are food trucks."

Keith Wymbs: He's like, "This is Portland."

Tim Siglin: That was a while back, everybody knows what food trucks are these days, but it was like, "Okay, so I can have Korean Barbecue, or I can have Mexican, or I can have this or that." For Sam, it was just like the delight of taking me to see something that I'd never seen before.

Keith Wymbs: Yeah, one of our first meetings he invited me to have an egg cream. I was like, "What?" Very retro. You know, you were seeing the future of how is being served, and I would imagine your time there too, you were seeing the future of how video was going to be processed?

Tim Siglin: Right.

Keith Wymbs: He really did have big thoughts.

Tim Siglin: Because you guys were early on GPU, so you had CPU freed up to do another of other things like you said with the metadata and like that stuff. Awesome. Keith, thank you very much for your time. Always a pleasure.

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