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Executive Interview: Zixi CEO Gordon Brooks

We sat down with Zixi CEO Gordon Brooks to talk about what's new with the company, which manages and transports broadcast-quality, scalable live and live linear, supporting every protocol imaginable. Zixi will be presenting a series of webinars as part of its Zixi Virtual Showcase over the next two weeks, and will be joining Streaming Media West Connect for a Tech Talk on September 30. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Thank you for joining us in this executive interview with Gordon Brooks, who is the CEO of Zixi. Welcome Gordon. I don't have the Emmy backdrop that you have!

Gordon Brooks: It's usually in the office, but since we're not in the office, I figured I might as well bring it home.

ESR: So we just want to jump right in and start talking about Zixi. For people who might not know, you've been around for more than a decade, but tell us what Zixi does and what it is.

GB: Yeah, so we're a software company and we have a software-defined video platform that takes typically what a dozen software and hardware products would do to be able to manage and transport live and live linear in broadcast quality, point to point, but really anywhere to anywhere and point to multipoint.

And we've been in the business 13 years and a lot of people think probably 10 years too early. But we started out with a protocol. So we understand the transport area very, very well. And really in the last three or four years, we've built up the platform. So not only do we have the Zixi protocol, but we have 16 other protocols—WebRTC, RTP, RIST main profile SRT, NDI—pretty much anything. We have a video solution stack, which does all things like hitless fail over and bonding and slating and auto recording across all the protocols. Then we have ZEN Master, which is a control plane that really abstracts the complexity away of managing these large IP networks. Because you have thousands of streams, it can get pretty complicated.

So we abstract that away. So operators can operate it and you can control your entire environment. And then we have this Zixi-enabled network, which is all of our partners and our customers. So we have over 200 integrated partners. Today we're in about a hundred countries, we have about 700 customers, and there's about a hundred thousand instances of Zixi all over the world. Wow.

ESR: You talked about the protocols that Zixi supports and there are many, many streaming protocols out there and many, many live streaming platforms out there. What is it about the Zixi software-defined video platform that sets it apart from the others on the market?

GB: We're actually very unique, in terms of we're the only ones out there supporting every major protocol. So we still have the best in the open internet. It's about 95% market, but we support them all and we'll continue to support them all. So whatever you're doing with us is future-proof. We're known for being able to operate in the open internet, but we now run on any IP network, including cellular, and we're in the middle of some big 5G tests and things like that. And it's the control plane. So it's all those components where you have the interoperable network so that you can operate with anybody out there. You're not restricted by what hardware's out there, or what environments out there across any IP network across any protocols. So it's just a very unique way to do it. It makes it very easy for people to scale to large-scale implementations of IP. And we're about broadcast quality. If it's so-so, or good enough, that's probably not us. We're all about high end.

ESR: You talk about leveraging IP networks and how the broadcast industry is increasingly doing that. Obviously that's in streaming's DNA, but as the broadcast industry moves more and more to leveraging different IP networks, why is it so necessary to have a software defined, live streaming infrastructure to make things work?

GB: If they need hardware for protocol switching, and you needed this software to do something else, then you're kind of tying yourself to a physical plant, which would COVID and where everybody's going, people are trying to get more away from to be more virtualized. So the idea that it's software-defined that we have full transcoding built into our software, all the telemetry from every edge point. So no matter where you are, where do you want to put it? You want to put it on the edge, you put on the edge. You want to put it in a cloud, you put it in cloud. You want to put it in data center and you want to hook it to a camera—whatever you want to do, our software can go anywhere and you just download it and go,

ESR: You talked earlier about the fact that Zixi streams both point to point, but also streams at scale. Streaming point to point can be easy, relatively. Once you get into live streaming at scale, things get really complicated. How does Zixi help users manage and maintain their live streams at large scale?

GB: That's ZEN Master. So it's that democratization of that whole process, because you can't have a whole bunch of video engineers—which we don't have enough of and are very expensive—running everything. So how do you get operators to be able to operate that? So we've worked with, you know, the NBCs of the world, the Bloombergs of the world , the Amazons of the world, to help build out our control plane. So most of the major broadcasters out there have had big say in how you do that. And so we were built for scale in these large IP networks, which can be very, very complicated if you have had to manage all edge devices individually with UIs and do things in the cloud with a different UI. And we're all in one control plane, where you have access to a device on the edge to an Apple or your Raspberry PI to spin up instances in Google or Azure or Microsoft or AWS.

ESR: How easy is it for customers to start live streaming using Zixi, and what do they need to do in order to, to get off the ground?

GB: So, I mean, if you want to live stream to somebody who's already as Zixi customer, you download a piece of software, it's free, it takes minutes to set it up, and off you go. We do that a lot for the OTT providers who are pulling in content from Africa and Turkey and places like that. If you want to set up a complex workflow, then we work with you to design to make sure you've got it architected right and you've got the failovers operating. We're doing a very large rollout of universal integration of content of 250 different channels into an OTT player. And that full implementation from "Let's sign a contract" to "go live" is going to be about 30 days.

ESR: That's pretty quick turnaround. Yeah. Let's close by talking about the future and sort of talking big picture. Where do you see live streaming is headed right now? And obviously COVID has impacted the trajectory of things. And how is Zixi both keeping up with, but also I'm guessing, enabling that future?

GB: The move to virtualized is, as you know, orders of magnitude faster. Everybody had plans and now it's an order of magnitude faster—remote operations, remote production, which are things we enable with our software-defined platform. We're helping people get home and stay home. And I think we did some surveys just a little while ago. And in the, in the high 90%, everybody believes that the infrastructure they're putting in for remote work is going to stay permanent, and that it actually works better than people think.

But then you also look at things like 5G. So I think 5G is going to have a huge impact in terms of workflows and how people operate. And for us 5G is just another IP network, but it's complex and we're knee-deep in it right now. And we're going to have something that's very unique and very early in that market. So I think 5G is big.

Machine learning [is going to be big as well], so that you can get into things like blast radius and really more ML-based alerting and predictive analytics so that you're predicting problems before they happen. And if they do happen, you know what exactly is impacted. There's a lot we're doing there. We're already doing some of it with predicting encoder quality without seeing the source, using ML. So you'll see more and more of that going on.

ESR: Well, thanks for taking the time today. It's been great catching up and if people want to learn more, they can obviously go to Zixi.com, right?

GB: Absolutely. We've got a bunch of webinars coming up over the next two weeks. We got five. So come join us.

ESR: Terrific. And we've got our Streaming Media West Connect in October, and I believe Zixi will be joining us for one of those sessions, too, so people have lots of chances to learn more.

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