The Streaming Toolbox: Zixi, Cleeng, and Penthera
In this installment of Streaming Toolbox, I address three different types of streaming tools. The first is a B2B intelligence layer for content transport within different digital environments. The next two products are focused on the B2C relationship, with one enabling companies to measure content viewing patterns to make strategic decisions about relationship management and the other providing content downloads for mobile viewing.
In the past 14 years, Zixi has moved a lot of live and live-linear broadcast content seamlessly from point A to point B. Zixi's ZEN Master is a single unified intelligence center for content transport to ensure device or channel uptime and signal quality, providing in-stream analysis to confirm that the transmission is working as it should. That analysis looks at network usage, errors in bitrate, content quality, CPU and GPU usage, and detection of SCTE-35 or HTTP Live Streaming markers. It replaces hardware and software probes for automation, control, and evaluation of digital media. "This takes 10 or 12 different software solutions and puts it into a single environment," says Gordon Brooks, executive chairman and CEO of Zixi.
Zixi ZEN Master
Controlling Media Flow
"If you have a lot of content that you're moving around the world to a lot of different distribution points, you need something to manage that scale," says Brooks. Content can be transcoded or passed through. Before ZEN Master, multiple systems were needed to gain this insight. "Unlike traditional monitoring systems, we monitor each segment in the end-to-end workflow across the supply chain—distribution, content owner, content providers, hosting cloud, and software manufacturer," says Brooks.
From the time content is captured to when it's sent to a CDN, Zixi is involved with delivering over varying networks across satellite, fiber, open internet, and/or cellular transport. It runs on-prem and on all major cloud providers, with the benefit of being able to manage and administer multicloud or multi-CDN delivery.
ZEN Master can be used for provisioning, deployment, orchestration, monitoring, and root-cause analysis. While the company is known for its Zixi protocol, which can withstand more than 40% packet loss without image degradation, ZEN Master really acts as a control center. "You can automate everything—it has scheduling built into it and full reporting history," says Brooks.
"We have about 500 customers. We're in over a hundred countries, with about 80,000 individual deployments around the world," states Brooks. "In the internet world, we have about 95% market share. Our protocol runs across all IP networks." Zixi also integrates 14 other protocols.
"The video doesn't actually run through [ZEN Master], but all the telemetry and access to all the edge devices can be done from the single unified platform," says Brooks. More than 170 technology partners integrate ZEN Master. "If you're doing satellite or fiber, odds are very, very high that the device you're using already has Zixi in it, and you can turn it on and use Zixi that day," according to Brooks.
The platform features six nines reliability, hitless failover, a packet identifier, normalization, protocol switching, content quality analytics, network analytics, and transport TR-101 analytics. Feeds are managed via an application programming interface (API) that Zixi configures for customers, with a series of dashboards to report on the measurements that experienced network operations staffers need.
ZEN Master is free, and billing is based on volume. Customers can pay as they go or sign multiyear contracts. Zixi does not publish prices.
Why are even the most engaged customers likely to churn? Cleeng offers a customer insights tool called ChurnIQ that's focused on the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) market—ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) is on the road map—that provides answers for questions like this. It consolidates subscriber, entitlement, payment, customer service, and engagement data and removes this information from data silos to supply details on clear customer trends. Cleeng has examined nearly a decade's worth of data to find metrics that correlate strongly with performance outcomes.
"We focus on two different ideas: the overall product usage model and engagement at the individual level," says Damien Organ, senior product designer at Cleeng. "For the former, we allow clients to see what proportion of their overall subscriber base engages on a typical day, week, and month. Imagine you have 1,000 subscribers, and 100 engage on a typical day, 500 in a typical week, and 900 in a typical month. Your usage model is 10% daily, 50% weekly, 90% monthly, with a 10% dormancy rate." This is important for understanding both how end users engage and for measuring progress in engagement efforts. "The second dimension is individual-level grouping of customers by their engagement level," Organ says. Low-engagement users can be notified about new content, while highly engaged users may be better served by offering them a premium package.
Customers can track the impact of price and content offerings to see average subscriber lifecycle analytics. "We use a 3-factor model for tracking these churn reasons: content, price, and user experience. Knowing which reason caused a customer to leave allows you to retarget them in a more personalized and persuasive way," says Organ.
Cleeng's ChurnIQ analytics
Churn vs. New Acquisition
"People naturally target new users, but you need to grow at a faster rate than your churn," notes Organ. Decreasing your churn rate by 1% has a much greater impact on your subscriber count than increasing your number of sign-ups in that month by 1%. A 5% churn rate for 100,000 subscribers is 5,000. If your churn rate decreases to 4%, churn goes to 4,000. "Now let's say you gain 15,000 subscribers in a typical month," says Organ. "Increase that gain by 1%, and you now gain 16,150 (you acquire 150 more). Therefore, the impact of keeping 1% more of your subscribers is a lot greater than increasing the number of subscribers you acquire by 1%."
Analytics to Focus On
While there are many types of relevant KPIs, Cleeng recommends that most companies focus on these four:
- Customer account duration
- Frequency of content consumption
- When the customer signed up
- Win-back segments (for reactivating churned users)
Trial accounts are major growth drivers. According to a report from Parks Associates, 58% of trial users convert. "For Cleeng clients we find similar outcomes, with an average of around 65% of trials converting overall, and top performers converting at 75 to 80%," the report notes.
Cleeng runs via an API. The software dashboards were simple to follow, and the company has obviously put a lot of thought into its customer user experience, because the demo was engaging and very easy to understand. ChurnIQ is available standalone or as part of Cleeng's subscriber management platform, and pricing varies according to audience size.
Penthera offers a white-label product that enables mobile and tablet viewers to download content and take it with them on-the-go. "We have [a software development kit] that essentially plugs in a white-label environment so that the company can utilize our technology and [allow] their viewers to download content," says Jodi Susman, CMO for Penthera. Mobile connectivity can be challenging, plus data caps make Wi-Fi download more attractive. Consumers can use downloaded content when traveling and commuting as well as anywhere service is inconsistent.
Offline Mobile Viewing
"A vast majority of offline viewing is on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) which is why we focus on this space," Susman says. Penthera supports both SVOD and AVOD services. "We have data that shows 59% of U.S. users expect a service to provide a download."
Penthera has been delivering this service for 10 years and is Akamai's preferred partner. "Where a lot of companies do a lot of things,
we do one thing," Susman says. "In working with some of the biggest brands, like Starz, CBS, Showtime, and Fox, we've been able to nail it and really understand a lot of the different nuances." The company has addressed battery usage, scheduled downloads, restarting, business rules, and managing customer usage across devices to create customizable user experiences. "The biggest competitor is really companies that decided to build it themselves," Susman notes.
"We have an auto download that is similar to Netflix's smart downloads feature," says Susman. When a viewer has opted in and is watching episode one, episode two can automatically be downloaded. "It'll be there waiting for
you on the device," says Susman. "We have another feature that's called Dispatch, which is the ability to push and promote content across your app. Say you're watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and you know that viewers like this content. You have the opportunity to push content to those viewers that will automatically be downloaded to the device and triggers a notification saying, ‘Hey, check out this new episode or trailer.' If you click on it, you already have it downloaded.
"You can manage customer usage across devices and really allow for these different, customizable user experiences," says Susman. The most common question the company gets is about content security. "Our technology integrates directly within the DRM environment," notes Susman. Likely, the most innovative feature is the support of offline AVOD content.
Offline AVOD Viewing
"We have just launched our Download2Go solution for AVOD, which has been in the works for several years," says Susman. "The idea is to replicate the streaming ad model in an offline environment. This is completely new [ad] inventory for buyers."
Ads are inserted, and if the ad window expires, the ads are periodically refreshed in the background when connectivity is available. When the ad plays, the impression beacon is timestamped, saved offline, and sent back to the AVOD provider's ad server on the next connection. Penthera supports client- and server-side ad insertion, and a calculator at penthera.com/avod helps customers estimate advertising revenue.
According to Penthera research from Q4 2019, slightly more than half (54%) of respondents said they would be more likely to subscribe to a service that offers downloads, and 67% in the U.S. and a similar number in the U.K. would pay a monthly premium for this feature. Thirty of the top 80 SVODs have download capabilities, and two-thirds let viewers select the download quality or file size.
Penthera did not provide a demo, and it does not publish prices.
Penthera-enabled downloading for CBS All Access
The set of tools I'll explore in this article will help you orchestrate workflows, create FAST broadcasts, and do multi-CDN worldwide live streaming management. Using all of these tools, you could get your own channel up and running and deliver it everywhere—even in China. These set of tools were demo'd for me. In order for me to test an application, vendors need to provide dummy data, and not everyone can make it available within our editorial timeframe.
Brian Kline, CEO of Penthera, discusses how his company is maximizing KPIs for OTT publishing through the implementation of their products, such as their innovative new software PlayAssure
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.
In this installment, we look at products for interactive live streams, ad inventory pricing, and CDN balancing
This installment of The Streaming Toolbox is all about remote control, for mobile devices, advertising, and network operations
Streaming Media VP Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen and Zixi CEO Gordon Brooks discuss what how Zixi manages and transports broadcast-quality, scalable live and live linear video and its broad range of protocol support.
In this installment of The Streaming Toolbox, we'll cover a platform that transforms video formats, another tool that actually looks at what is resonating with viewers using AI and machine learning (ML), and a third that is a player which is delivering the product the first two tools are working with.
This month, we look at tools for content recognition, file transfer, and low-latency WebRTC streaming
Stream live with low latency. Collaborate on edits. Distribute to multiple platforms. Analyze data to make better choices. Here are the innovation leaders every streamer needs to know about.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned