Video: Flash is Dead; What Encoding and Engineering Challenges Await?

Tim Siglin: We're here at Streaming Media West 2016. Sort of noisy around us, that's because it's during the reception time. This is Almost Live and we've got Jeff Tapper, Senior VP of Engineering at Viacom.

So Jeff, at Streaming Media East in May you just had gotten into the role there at Viacom. You've been in it now for a couple of months. What are you doing?

Jeff Tapper: A lot of interesting things are going on within our space at Viacom. My team is largely responsible for building out the components that are used by all of the brands. We build out the video players, the ad engines, the analytics, the authentication, the content management. Any of the pieces that everyone can make use of, we build those out.

And then the brands are able to use those within their appliance.

Tim Siglin: So you're keynoting tomorrow. What are you going to be talking about during the key note?

Jeff Tapper: Interestingly enough, I've found that it's really interesting and challenging to bring an engineering culture to a big media company. So I'm going to talk about how to build an engineering culture within a big media company, dealing with software engineering and try to work in the way that the big software companies work and to bring that into a place where it's not traditionally been found.

Tim Siglin: Are you doing agile, or are you doing lean?

Jeff Tapper: We're an agile shop. And we've got, within the central team, about a dozen and half different scrum teams running in different directions and so that's all really good. We're trying to bring more modern engineering practices. Try to build out our services as cloud data services and 12 factor apps and test-driven development.

Tim Siglin: One of the things we've talked to a number of people here about is sort of the massive change of mentality of Flash over the last 9 months, with Chrome 55 not supporting it.

Jeff Tapper: Right, putting up obstacles before it.

Tim Siglin: Just like Safari does not under Mac OS. What's your sense on the continuity of Flash and how we transition to HTML5?

Jeff Tapper: As you know, I was a longtime Flash developer and spent many years in the Flash world. I will miss Flash. I think Flash was a great solution for its day, but its day has passed. It's time to move on. Oddly enough, Chrome's move with Chrome55 makes my life a little bit easier.

Tim Siglin: And why is that?

Jeff Tapper: One of the challenges with all of our brands is getting them to all pick up the latest version of our components. The latest players and everything else. Because the old, 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' kind of mentality...

Tim Siglin: And therefore if those are in Flash and people are having to move to HTML5...

Jeff Tapper: All of the old ones are in Flash we now have an HTML5-only solution that they will have to pick up for better or worse.

Tim Siglin: So what are some of the non-engineering technical challenges you see in the industry? HLS is something that we've all sort of saw this de facto standard, but it seems to be multiple flavors of HLS because the multiple flavors of Android et cetera. So what kinds of challenges like that are you seeing?

Jeff Tapper: It's interesting, so we are today at Viacom an HLS everywhere shop. But I am working to extend that and my vision is that we will have HLS H.264 on the Apple platforms and VP9 DASH on most of the browsers and the Android platforms and we'll do HEVC where that's natively supported, but we don't have those decoders on any of the browsers yet.

Tim Siglin: Why VP9 DASH on Android when Android natively supports HLS?

Jeff Tapper: HLS VP9 doesn't work very well. I want to get the savings, the smaller file size, I want to go get my 1080p file size down and so I can't do that in the HLS ecosystem.

Tim Siglin: What other challenges are you seeing?

Jeff Tapper: Trying to get ahead or at least catch up on VR and AR and IOT and all of these new things. So we've got little teams experimenting and trying to figure out what do they mean to us? How do we, how can we use them in a productive way?

Right now it's mostly playing to understand that, but they're clearly going to be a part of the ecosystem going forward. The more we understand it, the better.

Tim Siglin: You mentioned HEVC. Are you seeing traction in the industry for HEVC?

Jeff Tapper: There are still a lot of unknowns with HEVC; there are not a lot of devices that have decoders yet. The patent pool hasn't been worked out yet. People are hesitant to really invest in HEVC yet. Although oddly enough all the encoding firms, or all encoding boxes are happy to support HEVC, and nobody supports VP9 unless you're going to fire it up yourself, which is what we're doing. I would love to get any of the commercial encoders supporting VP9.

Tim Siglin: In terms of the show itself, what are the kinds of things you're looking to learn as well?

Jeff Tapper: I sat in on a really interesting panel today from some of the Google engineers talking about next-generation codecs, which largely started with VP9 and talking about the open media alliance or AOM, which was very interesting. They also talked about their next-generation audio codecs for 3D spherical audio. But it was fascinating to see what else is out there.

Tim Siglin: Jeff, as always, great to have you here. This is Almost Live at Streaming Media West 2016 with Jeff Tapper, Senior VP of engineering at Viacom.

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