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SMW '19: Mux Talks Measuring Player Performance

Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media West 2019. I'm Tim Siglin, contributing editor with Streaming Media Magazine and the founding executive director of the not for profit HelpMe! Stream. Today I've got with me Steve Heffernan with Mux, and Steve, you were saying just before this that you're one one of the founders. So how long has the company been around?

Steve Heffernan: We've been around for about four years. We started at the the beginning of 2016.

Tim: Okay, and what was your initial role and what's your role now?

Steve: Initial role and continues to be head of product. So since I'm helping to kind of figure out exactly what we're building, a lot of times how we define the metrics that we track or what the APIs look like.

Tim: And for those who don't know, what is Mux? I mean, "mux" is a term that we use in the industry as something, but Mux the company is obviously different.

Steve: Totally, we're a tech startup focusing on video. Our first product that we created in 2016 is video performance metrics. So track things like playback failures and rebuffering. Yeah, we helped CBS stream the Super Bowl last year and continuing to build out, kind of that mechanism and how we track how well video is streaming, and then our second product we came out with about a year and a half ago, which is a video API, and there's going on under the scenes. Behind the scenes it's video hosting, transcoding, and streaming, but you send us a video through the API or livestream, we give you back an HLS manifest that will play in any player, and so that allows us to take a lot of the data that we have and make better decisions about how to stream video for customers.

Tim: When you say send the video and then you send them back something that can be played on any device, are you hosting that video to be played?

Steve: We are.

Tim: Okay so it's a service as well from that standpoint?

Steve: It is, and we tend to work with mid-stage startups or early media companies who don't have the full engineering team that they can put into video. They want a team of experts that has a nice system that can kinda do it of them.

Tim: Okay, got it. Andy Beach and I used to joke in the early years. Andy worked in a number of companies in the industry that we all needed an AI version of Andy Beach who could make those decisions. And ultimately it sounds like, I'm assuming your employing some level of machine learning as well as the analytics.

Steve: We are, yeah. Some machine learning to kind of both help out on the per-title encoding side of things and also on the deciding based on the audiences network, like what are the right renditions for that audience.

Tim: Okay that makes sense. So with the earlier product where you're doing the measurements of player performance, is that being done with realtime user measurement tools that are on hundreds of thousands of devices, or is that being done within the player itself?

Steve: It is in the player taking those realtime user measurements. So we have SDKs for all the players you can think of, and then they're sending beacons to our centralized service whenever an error happens, or even just like play, pause, all those things. We're kind of creating the whole story through events.

Tim: This is sort of a side question, but you mention the HLS model and of course H.264 is there but now there's even some HEVC. What do you all see from an adoption standpoint with HEVC versus H.264? To me, there was hype a couple years ago but it seems like the legs that H.264 has, have been pretty long it seems to be continuing.

Steve: Absolutely, we still see primarily H.264 content, at least going through our system and what our users, even our data product users are using to encode the video. HEVC is certainly coming into play with 4K, like you almost can't do 4K without HEVC and then also user-generated content, like things coming off an iPhone just as you take a photo of yourself or video of yourself. We're seeing a lot more of HEVC from just iPhones using that mechanism setup.

Tim: HEIC for the still formats and, as you said, HEVC for the video formats. That's on the contribution side, but on the distribution side short of 4K?

Steve: It's really, from what we see, there's always a base of H.264, and then you choose to step up to HEVC. If you think your audience will get a benefit from it but it's still kind of few and far between, like I think there's definitely a future there but not a crazy amount.

Tim: A little longer than we all anticipated. So you've been at it for four years now. What's most surprised you in the changes in those four years? I mean you started one direction and you have these additional products that you put out. What sort of has surprised you in the streaming space?

Steve: Well, the thing that comes immediately to mind== 'cause I just gave a talk on it-- was just the concept of low-latency live streaming, and both kind of what that means for the industry, as pushing the edge of how we get the bites of video from one place to another as quickly as possible but it then also just kind of changes the whole experience of what video is. You know, as a player engineer, I'm used to just building buttons that look like your VCR from 10 years ago. But now with this interactivity, it kind of blurs the line on what a player is, and kind of expands what we can do with that and I think that's pretty interesting.

Tim: Valid points. So, the interactivity piece coming into play and what's interesting having been in it for 22 years now, there are cycles were interactivity raises its head. I mean, Flash was a great example of that, and then the whole model of HTML5, eight, nine years ago and then finally Canvas and some of the things that have come along as part of that. Anything else you want to ad?

Steve: I don't think so. It's been a great conference.

Tim: And we'll be right back with our next interview.

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