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NAB 2019: Phenix Talks Low Latency Solutions for the Oscars and Online Betting


Jan Ozer: Jan Ozer here from the show floor at NAB, I'm with Kyle Bank from Phenix Technologies. How are you Kyle?

Kyle Bank: I'm good.

Jan Ozer: So tell me what you're showing here at the show.

Kyle Bank: So Phenix focuses on real-time video streaming with less than 500 milliseconds or half a second of end-time latency. That's glass to glass from the time we capture the first frame all the way through playout on the end-user device. We do so based on our implementation of WebRTC technology, and we've essentially re-written the entire WebRTC stack from the ground up, all the way from UDP level up, and have built some proprietary features on top of what you get with off-the-shelf WebRTC, like multibit-rate real-time transcoding, for ABR delivery. So we can adjust the bandwidth based on the client's available bandwidth jitter and other networking conditions, as well as synchronize across the whole audience, so...

Jan Ozer: So is this your booth? Or is the booth of a customer, or what are we seeing here?

Kyle Bank: So we're doing a shared booth this year with one of our customers and close partners, Ex Machina Group. And they've built a white-label trivia solution, based on our real-time streaming technology and their interactive trivia and Q&A polling technology.

Jan Ozer: So what are some public uses of your technology or their technology? And tell us why low latency was so important.

Kyle Bank: So some of the key use cases we support today are interactive sports betting applications, real-time auctions where people are bidding in-person against people that are bidding online watching a feed. As well as webinar platforms, trying to think of what else.

Jan Ozer: What are some of the sexier applications? You mentioned some award ceremonies, or...?

Kyle Bank: Yeah, so we worked with the Oscars this year to stream the behind-the-scenes action of the crowd shots of celebrities interacting with each other. Also involved a Q&A of who was wearing what shoes going down the red carpet, who's going to win the next Oscar, who's going to win Picture of the Year. So that was a really fun project to work on.

Jan Ozer: Did you get to go?

Kyle Bank: Unfortunately I didn't get to go, our chief product officer Bill Wishon was on site. We had our hardware encoder deployed there, and we're delivering real-time streaming to a web-based application.

Jan Ozer: So what's the core product we buy from you?

Kyle Bank: The core product is, it's an end-to-end solution. All the way from the contribution encoding through play-out on end-user devices, where we can do the real-time transcoding, and deliver to hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers across the globe.

Jan Ozer: That includes the encoder, what about the player? Can I use my own player or you have a player, or how's that work?

Kyle Bank: Yeah, it's an HTML5 video player, that is fully customizable. Some of our customers use kind of our off-the-shelf controls that we've built into the player, others want to really customize that and brand it for their own use cases. So we try to be flexible on the player front.

Jan Ozer: Okay. So tell us some of the details of your encode. You're doing, obviously a complete encoding ladder. Are you doing HEVC yet? Or is it all H.264? What are you looking at there?

Kyle Bank: So today we're doing H.264 and VP8, which are the two primary codecs supported by WebRTC in the browser today. HEVC, certainly on the roadmap, and we can implement codecs like that in native code environments for, you know, native iOS and Android SDKs and things like that, but we're looking forward to, you know, working closely with a browser, you know, companies to, you know, improve their WebRTC stacks, and also implement these new codecs for things like 4K streaming.

Jan Ozer: Are you using a fixed ladder? Or, you know, tell me about your encoding ladder. What's the 1080, is it 1080p down to what, and what bitrates are you using?

Kyle Bank: Sure we go up to 1080p60 at about five-and-a-half megabits per second, all the way down to I believe 144p at 80kbps, so it's a pretty full ladder, and we have some customers where quality is everything, and they're trying to maintain you know, 1080p at several megabits per second, and others where they're in very bandwidth-constrained environments where they might be publishing lower-definition streams. So we kind of run the gamut on use cases when it comes to...

Jan Ozer: Do you see low latency as growth? I mean who are the big markets? You talked about auctioning but probably the biggest trend, as you pointed out, in this whole NAB is low latency. Who really cares about that, and why?

Kyle Bank: The people that care about that are the ones that are going to win out in the OTT space. If you have multiple OTT providers providing the same feed of the same event, but you can see it somewhere 30 seconds before you're going to see it somewhere else, whether that's live news, live sports, or a live event that's being covered. We feel pretty strongly that the lower-latency solution at a reasonable quality and a reasonable price, which is what our goal to offer to our customers, it's going to provide a competitive advantage in this marketplace.

Jan Ozer: Okay, any thoughts on WebRTC versus the new, I guess, low-latency CMAF we're seeing a lot of?

Kyle Bank: Yeah, I think CMAF certainly has its place, and we're very familiar with that and the players involved in developing CMAF. But for our focus of delivering a stream in half a second or less, you know, CMAF is going to be good for applications that need you know, 2-4 seconds of latency, and can get to that low-latency environment. But for really real-time interactivity, and to enable these sports betting companies to extend that betting window all the way up until the last second when Tiger Woods makes that putt, or you know, Lebron James hits a three pointer, we're going to try to maximize revenue for our customers by providing them with the lowest possible latency we can without having to sacrifice on quality.

Jan Ozer: What about the scalability of WebRTC?

Kyle Bank: That's a big challenge, but we've built out a global network. Today we have 20 points a presence. By the end of 2019, that'll be about 30. Today we have 2 infrastructure partners, we operate in elastic cloud compute environments, and we're working on partnerships with several other cloud providers, as well as CDN providers for launching our software across their environments to further improve our scalability, but today we're reaching, we're doing daily events of upwards of 200,000 concurrent viewers where we have 200,000 viewers joining over the course of 2 or 3 minutes. So we've had to spend a lot of time engineering how we maximize our capacity on the join rate. So not only how do you handle that large audience, but when they hit your server all at the same time, how do we handle that peak load.

Jan Ozer: What can you tell me about, do you price it on a per user? If I was thinking about your solution, what would I think about pricing?

Kyle Bank: Our pricing model is based on the number of viewer minutes so if you had 100 viewers watching for 10 minutes, that'd be 1,000 viewer minutes. We try to really align with our customers' revenue models, and, you know, we also want to enable the highest possible quality, so we have a tiered structure, the higher volume of minutes you stream, the more cost-effective that becomes per minute. But it's not necessarily dependent on the bitrate that you're publishing. We try to come up with a price that's fair for the customer and fair for us, that allows them growth over time so as bitrates increase and quality increases they're not having to re-negotiate their contracts with us year over year. So that's why we've chosen to go with a per viewer minute model instead of the per-gigabyte, more traditional CDN model.

Jan Ozer: Okay, what's that website?

Kyle Bank: Our website is phenixrts.com. P-H-E-N-I-X-R-T-S.com. Stands for Phenix Realtime Solutions.

Jan Ozer: Okay, listen, thanks for your time today. Interesting stuff.

Kyle Bank: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

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