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Amagi's Brian Ring Talks FAST, CTV, and the State of Streaming

In this interview at Streaming Media West 2022, Brian Ring, Senior Director, News & Sports Solutions, Amagi, sits down with Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media to chat about what Amagi does, along a discussion about the ongoing growth of Free Ad-Supported Television (FAST) and what that means for the future of the streaming industry.

“Brian, tell me a little bit about Amagi,” Siglin says.

“Amagi is a leader in online linear streaming, or what we call FAST,” Ring says. “This is linear streams delivered primarily to CTV platforms like Roku, Vizio, Samsung TV Plus. The company's history, however, its core growth business, is in master control channel playout in the cloud. So we're really the first cloud-born master control that is now broadcast engineering grade.”

“I don't know if you were in the research keynote session we did yesterday," Siglin says, "But one of the questions we asked in the State of Streaming Survey for Autumn 2022 for the first time was: what types of devices do people deliver to, battery-powered, or mains powered? So connected TVs and like that. What was interesting was some companies will say, ‘I do primarily mobile devices.’ Others will say, ‘I do primarily connected devices.’ It turns out on average in the industry, [it’s] 44% battery-powered devices, 56% connected TV sets, top boxes, etc. So clearly, you're moving in the majority direction, which is good.”

“It's an interesting frame,” Ring says. “I had not heard it like that, but yes, I believe the TV is in part a big gadget that sits on the living room wall. And it deletes a lot of energy to deliver those bright pixels that keep us engaged. So I do see that. I mean, people say video is video -- sort of kind of but living room wall video is a little different and I think one of the reasons we're seeing such a great uptake of online streaming linear channels.”

Siglin says, “So you've been around the industry for quite some time. What trends are you seeing now that sort of surprise you? That it's taken us this long to get to versus ones that you never thought were going to happen? FAST sort of surprises me that it took us this long, to be perfectly honest.”

“Well, it's interesting,” Ring says. He notes that the term “linear” is often misunderstood and incorrectly used by entities such as finance and ad tech. “Linear is actually the viewing experience,” he says. “It's the idea of a channel, sure. And we became so enamored of the SVOD Netflix model that people thought streaming was on-demand. And I think we're having a rebirth of this idea of having a linear channel. Especially if it's curated and crafted, it is instant gratification. It can be a place where you tune in and let it run for hours, in kind of a companion mode. So I do think that is somewhat surprising that it has taken this long. However, in the sense that the CTV OEMs had not, it really took them forever to deliver decent user experiences. Smart TVs were around for a decade plus before they [provided] a decent user experience. Back in 2017, I used to do white papers on the quality of experience for streaming – [was] it at par with broadcast? And I think what's happened, is the acceleration in tech has just matured…you can do a live linear stream for a very low cost without buffering and without blocking. And so the quality cost curve has dramatically changed. I think those things are two important reasons why FAST has taken off.”

“It's interesting,” Siglin says. “Having done six of these State of Streaming Surveys now, we would ask questions around live in the first two surveys, and we realized we needed to add live linear as a continuous model because while we traditionally think of live as sports, in reality, these pre-programmed playlists that go out as live linear take almost as much effort to push out as a live event.”

“You're exactly right,” Ring says. “And some of these terms have to be parsed and explained. I focus on news and sports solutions at Amagi. For example, graphics can be live as well. So one clever thing to do is if you have highlights in a sports context, or in a news context, you may have a VOD asset from a story that was produced in the morning, [and] maybe later that day or the next day, you can have a data driven update in the crawl associated with that asset. ‘This crime was committed today, criminal caught, indictment,’ or whatever…update the audience.

Ring continues, “Tom Ryan, Pluto TV, they deserve all the credit in the world. It was an amazing idea to put VOD assets, not have to encode them and have them in a linear stream. However, if it's Andy Griffith’s channel, you love Andy Griffith and you tune in, you get Andy Griffith, it's a fantastic viewer experience. If your channel isn't that, it isn't IP-centric, etc., then these now, next, later graphics, the crawls, the things that we've used for 50 years, or whatever to keep audiences, become much more important. So that's kind of an important technical distinction [that] I'm trying to do my part in educating people.”

“One of the fascinating things that on-demand solutions like YouTube,” Siglin says, “It started as really basic videos. But now I can go on there and watch seven hours of 4K footage of Iceland with ambient music. And so essentially that's your wallpaper, and how YouTube monetizes that, I have no idea because most of those run without commercials. But…you can pop in to watch it like we used to do in the old days to see what's on. The beauty with it too is because it's sort of an on-demand, you can back it up a little bit and watch if you miss something.”

“That's right,” Ring says. “And that's also what's coming next for FAST. You will be able to do the pause or the rewind, so that's great. I love your reference of…I think it's called the Long TV Movement. Slow down, which I absolutely love. I have been doing direct-to-tv, direct-to-consumer TV surveys for a long time and I've done several on this idea of background usage of TV. Doing the household chores, having it in the background, it's in the office, or whatever. These are actually recognized behaviors. We don't talk about them a lot because it's like we want the TV to be the forefront and highly attentive type of thing…but dipping in and out. It's part of our day.”

Siglin jokes, “Well if you've ever had kids, you know, the TV can be a babysitter from time to time too, so maybe watching Norwegian Fjords for an 18-month-old will hold their attention for 12 minutes so you can go make a cup of coffee. And that's enough…”

“A hundred percent yes!” Ring says.

Learn more about FAST, CTV, and the State of Streaming at Streaming Media East 2023.

[Editor's note: This is a sponsored interview with Amagi. Streaming Media conducts sponsored interviews based solely on their value to our readers.]

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