The Streaming Toolbox: Vistex GTMS, Agora, Transmit
This installment of Streaming Toolbox is all about tools to help run streaming businesses better. The first company manages content licensing, the next provides transport protocols and software development kits (SDKs) for interactive media app developers to ensure low-latency media delivery, and the last offers a new spin on advertising. If I were starting a new streaming service, say Nadine+, I could and would use all of the following products. Now the first question is, what kind of content should I offer?
The boom in streaming has made tracking royalties and licensing exponentially more difficult, and that’s where Vistex comes in. Broadcasters, sales and distribution companies, studios, and direct-to-consumer platforms use Vistex’s Go-To-Market Suite (GTMS) for licensing and royalties management. Vistex claims to be one of the larger companies in this space, and recently it created a cloud version of its applications—or rather, two versions. One is directly from Vistex, and the other is available via SAP (which also happens to be an investor in the company).
I’ll focus on the Vistex direct product, which manages an inventory of rights. Once you have that information, you can use your content in whichever way you need, says Amos Biegun, global head of rights and royalties for Vistex. "A very common use is in sales and distribution to run availability reporting, or avails, to see what I can sell." Another use is paying out royalties to content owners.
"There isn’t a typical use case, because what I’ve always found in media is that every use case is slightly different," says Biegun. So we talked through a hypothetical streaming service that he and I would create.
Starting a Streaming Service
"We own nothing. We go to the market and procure content. The first thing we need is an inventory of the content that we’ve just procured and the rights associated with it," says Biegun. "So what tends to happen is we could go to 10, 20, 30 different suppliers of content. Each one will grant the license to us and provide us with content which has contract and rights information that differs. So the first thing we need to do is homogenize that into a single standardized repository of rights."
Then, GTMS allows us to start scheduling content for specific markets, territories, periods of time, languages, and different elements cleared for the market we’ll be broadcasting in. After content is consumed, GTMS tracks any associated payments or royalties and calculates them on the contract and what is due to the parties that provided this content.
"If you’re getting data that’s using standards like [Entertainment Identifier Registry], that’s extremely helpful for us, but even if it’s non-standardized data, we have tools that will help you ingest the data, map it, embellish [it], validate it, and then ultimately store it using this best-practices data model that we configured," says Biegun.
Future Business Models
GTMS has the ability to support future business models like payment-by-viewing-session rather than upfront payments. "We’ve allowed customers to configure ever-evolving business models," says Biegun. "That’s one of the areas where we have done a lot of forward thinking on streaming." So, if a producer decided to sell content and receive royalties on viewing, Vistex would be able to track these transactions.
Vistex offers no public demo or pricing.
Agora's platform as a service provides tools for creators to deliver low-latency, interactive, two-way video via its proprietary transport layer. The goal is eliminating the delays caused by a traditional CDN, so interaction can happen naturally without pauses. Some of the types of applications Agora helps power include interactive live streaming, real-time messaging, interactive whiteboards, video calls, and interactive classrooms. It also supports augmented reality and virtual reality applications.
"Most of what you see on Agora is about engagement, because we believe people want to engage with the content rather than sitting
there and just watching it passively," says Reggie Yativ, Agora’s chief revenue officer and COO. "Traditional media companies understand that engagement is going to keep them current."
Agora provides building blocks, via an SDK, to connect to the software-defined network running in its 200-plus data centres. Lately, these data centres are seeing a lot more mobile traffic and an increase in web traffic with video. "There’s a lot more moving parts in video than people are aware of—the location of the audience, the location of the host, what kind of network situation will impact you, what will be acceptable latency for the use case?" says Yativ.
The self-serve platform is geared to developers. According to Yativ, "The developers will do the implementation, but there’s a whole ecosystem around the developers that will make decisions, and we’ll participate [with] product managers that design how the app would look, user experience experts, producers, and, of course, … CIOs and CTOs.
"We are not involved in [user interface]. We do have, however, a lot of sample codes and sample apps that developers can go in and download and customize," says Yativ. "This shortens their development cycle significantly."
Some sports broadcasters are choosing to deliver a more interactive game environment along with their live streaming. "You can promote an audience member to become a ‘host,’ and now they can jump into that conversation," says Yativ. This calls for incredibly low latency: the lip-sync needs to be perfect, and the video image should not blur or stutter. Without Agora, developers would try open source or DIY development—which can work until scaling becomes a requirement.
One customer, HP, wanted to embed live interactive streaming into its Omen gaming environment. "HP sells millions of them a year, and they want to give the Omen community the option to stream a game or hold watch parties," says Yativ.
"If you’re a developer building a virtual classroom or enterprise collaboration software with video, voice, whiteboarding, or recording, we will provide you with ready-made packaged SDKs to embed into your app," says Yativ. "Your video will seamlessly reach every corner of the planet without you having to worry about quality, latency, and scalability.
"Many of our customers integrate the Agora platform into virtual tipping platforms, so
you can also reward a host or audience with virtual tips," says Yativ.
The company went public last year, so it was a bit limited in what it wanted to promote regarding its customers, but said it has many media companies on board.
Agora offers no public demo or pricing.
Transmit is trying to break media companies away from the 2-minute ad pod by offering a contextual in-stream, picture-in-picture ad format. The company believes the advertising market has been confined by a lack of innovation, especially as more live streaming is taking place, says Rob Friedlander, Transmit’s head of corporate development. "The big technical differentiator that we’re bringing to market is the ability to insert contextually relevant ads into live streams. This could be an MLB stream. This could be a live music event. I think what we’re seeing in the market today is that the premiums on live rights have never been higher.
"Ad breaks disrupt content with the 2-minute ad pod. That has been the accepted norm since the beginning of television and video," says Friedlander. The company’s platform integrates relevant ads in moments when the viewers are susceptive to those experiences.
"We have the capabilities to not only ingest the live video, but also ingest live data from sports data providers that are pulling in event data," says Friedlander. "We know when someone strikes out, when someone hits a home run … and those become relevant signals for us to put an ad in front of somebody, because that’s when attention is usually eyes off the play."
Transmit can create a two-box display within a dynamically skinned background and put an ad in one of those boxes. "Not only do we have the play continuing in the top left box, but you have the ability to dynamically frame and insert sponsor messages," says Friedlander.
"Similar to how other SSAI vendors would work, we sit in between the original content and what the user sees," says Michael Celona, Transmit’s CTO. "We certainly lean in with the CTV experience, but then quite a few folks are also leveraging us on the web as well. We have plugin integration with JW Player," says Friedlander.
Transmit found that sports was an underserved OTT market. "Soccer, as an example, is a game you’ve not been able to monetize because
there’s really no natural break in play. So all of a sudden, we’re creating value for the rightsholder and the programmer and integrating ad experiences that are additive and relevant to the programming," says Celona.
Transmit takes the video feed, which could be HTTP Live Streaming or Real-Time Messaging Protocol, then encodes the ad (usually a static MP4 file) on top of the feed and brings in assets like a logo or lower third. "Then you have some accoutrements that would sit underneath or take up the negative space," Celona says.
"We have direct-sold campaigns that Transmit is procuring through our partnerships with the advertising brands. Sometimes our clients have their own ad tag," says Celona. "It doesn’t disrupt any of the existing ad tech or workflow that exists in the agency model or any of those kind of relationships."
Transmit offers no public demo or pricing.
The latest installment of the Streaming Toolbox looks at a remote production tool for creating interactive content, a scheduling tool for delivering live and live linear programming, and a collaborative quality-control (QC) tool for source file analysis.
A trio of products and services tailor-made for today's work-from-home streaming producers and engineers, combining pro-quality live streams with cloud-based content management and multi-CDN edge delivery.
This issue, I'm focusing on products from the world of advertising. Push Live is used to deliver live broadcasts to multiple destinations while providing customized branding for monetization on different platforms or in different regions. MediaMelon's SmartSight for Ads delivers detailed analytics and QoE for ad-supported content. While both of these products respond to existing market needs, the last product—Ryff—sets out to create a whole new market altogether.
In this installment, we look at products for interactive live streams, ad inventory pricing, and CDN balancing