Digital Asset Management + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Gary Ballabio, Head of Technology Partnerships at Cloudinary
While in-person events have been curtailed by COVID-19, innovation continues to advance in both tech and media and entertainment. I’ve been sitting down (virtually) with leaders of some of the leading AWS Partner Network (APN) Technology Partners involved in the M&E ecosystem—and their insights can offer a lens into the future of the industry.
Gary Ballabio has been innovating in the technology space for over two decades. His roles have run the gamut in product and business development leadership. In his current role at Cloudinary, he leads technology partnership initiatives.
In this interview, Gary and I chat about media management, digital asset management, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: For those not familiar with Cloudinary, do you want to give us the intro of what you guys do?
A: Sure, I’d be happy to. For those not familiar, Cloudinary is a media management platform. What we do is provide a set of tools—APIs and a UI—that I break down to the three categories.
One is the creation of content: to help you create new assets and new derivatives of assets—images and videos, for the most part. Second is to help you organize the content: how you structure them in terms of folders, how you make it searchable, how you manage the metadata associated to those assets as well. And then third is optimization of the content as well: how you ensure that the content is in the smallest possible file size while maintaining the actual visual quality of it.
And there’s lots of ways that we can create new content. There’s lots of ways we can optimize the content. We can crop content in a certain way. We can detect colors and change them. We can overlay other assets on top of an image—overlay an image on top of an image and create a watermark—or overlay text on top of an image.
There’s all sorts of capabilities that we provide in that realm, from an optimization standpoint: optimizing for the right format, even being able to optimize for the actual encoding quality. We can reduce the file as much as possible and even center on the right part of the content that you want to be centered on. It could be an object on the image. It could be off center. Or, it could be in a certain area of an image or a video as well. So, these are all the things that we provide as an API, and in the UI as well.
Q: Okay, that makes sense. Do you ever go by the digital asset manager or the media asset manager moniker.
A: Yes, we do; we go by the digital asset management description. We also sometimes describe ourselves as dynamic asset management—because we are able to generate images and videos in real time.
So even as an end user is requesting it as part of the application workflow, we can customize the content, personalize the content, for that end user in real time. We do things like incorporate their favorite sports team or their favorite color—maybe taking up information about where they are physically and incorporating a local currency or local language.
There’s a lot that we can do to provide a richer experience to the end user in real time, which is what makes Cloudinary unique—providing that as an API for developers to embed in their application and provide this richer experience to the end user.
Q: Right! So I know you guys are an AWS partner; how did you get involved in AWS and cloud?
A: Cloudinary was born in the cloud. The founders of Cloudinary were a group of engineers who were encountering the same problem when they were building out websites and applications—needing to manipulate and modify content at scale.
They were working on development of websites that were taking an influx of content every single day, and the manual modification of that content just wasn’t working. So they looked at different tools that were available at the time, which didn’t quite fit their use case of fast and quick manipulations. So that’s how Cloudinary was born.
It was all about modifying the URL for a specific file and then creating a new derivative, or a brand-new asset of that file. That’s how Cloudinary was born. And with the processing and the storage involved, it just made complete sense.
If you’re going to build an application like this, you build it in AWS. It’s a SaaS offering today, but it’s a very natural way to provide the service—on the internet. So, that’s how Cloudinary was born, and it’s evolved since then as well.
You evolve with service offerings—Cloudinary started around images; it evolved to videos; it evolved to digital asset management. All of our services are cloud-based services. It just makes complete sense to build those on a public cloud environment, and AWS was the one that the company chose since its founding.
Q: Makes sense. We’ve talked about where you guys fit within the media and entertainment ecosystem, and you guys are baked into the cloud. Are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours—whether other ISV partners or some cloud technologies at AWS—that you’re finding especially interesting right now?
A: Other cloud technologies that are very interesting—yes, for sure. There’s a lot out there. It’s interesting, where Cloudinary sits—at Cloudinary we go very, very deep on the media assets. Our expertise is around images, videos, and other content types—whether it be 3D, AR, VR, 360-video—we can go deep into all of those areas, optimizing them, creating them, modifying them.
What’s interesting about Cloudinary, though, is that we also can connect to other services that you may build around that content. So, for example, your CMS or e-commerce platform, your product information management system, your marketing automation tool, or your social tools that are connecting to other places where you’re publishing the content.
And for me, what’s really interesting right now is to see the changes happening in the digital experience platform space. I know that’s a broad term, but from a high level, it’s all about the end user’s experience as they come into your product and your services—and delivering a catered experience for them.
There’s different ways that you can drive toward that experience for the end user. There’s companies that have digital experience platforms, and they can sell you services. Whether it be e-commerce or CMS, a DAM, a PAM—we’ve got all these other services.
What’s really interesting right now—and what’s really resonating that I see in the market right now—is this concept of leveraging the best-of-breed service for your use cases. Leveraging these microservices—API-driven services—and incorporating those into your architecture to meet the exact use case that you’re trying to achieve.
There’s all sorts of companies that we’re working with right now, at least from a partnership standpoint or from an integration standpoint, and a lot of these are coming from our customers. We’re seeing that demand from our customers, so it’s really compelling right now.
It’s companies like Contentful that we’re working with, and there’s Contentstack, Magnolia, Commercetools, Netlify, Algolia. All of these are really interesting. They use the term headless services or microservices. They’re driving some unique value—and they go deep in certain areas, just like we go deep in the media area. There’s a natural alignment there.
It’s really interesting, and it’s fun, actually, to see customers pull these different technologies together to meet the actual use case that they’re trying to achieve. There’s a lot to learn there. There’s different systems out there. There’s different names for these. There’s JamStack, there’s Mockall—there’s so much happening in this space right now, and it’s actually quite exciting. And we’re right in the middle of it because we are headless API-driven microservices.
Q: That’s fantastic. You said headless CMS; I have a whitepaper that we wrote on the concept of an AWS-based headless CMS that I think you may find interesting. We’ve done a bake-off recently for a customer, in terms of looking at different platforms, but we can certainly follow up with that later.
We’ve been sort of in a bubble right now enjoying technology and that conversation. But the coronavirus is in full force, and it looks like it’s going to be coming back in a number of places. What do you think the impact of coronavirus will be on the media and entertainment industry over the next 12 months or so?
A: We’re definitely seeing, from an impact standpoint—I would say there’s a lot of positive impact, at least in our business, and in general, that we’re seeing from a media and entertainment standpoint.
First of all, usage is definitely going up dramatically. I think we’ve seen almost two or two-and-a-half times increase in the amount of video traffic on our platform this year. There’s certainly more people working from home, more people needing to get information, and they’re going online to get that information—so there’s certainly a lot of good elements there coming out of it.
What’s really interesting as well is that when we talk about media and entertainment and we talk about coronavirus, there’s a lot of thinking that goes around long-form content. People that I talk to, they start thinking about watching movies, TV shows—everything online, basically.
What’s also interesting is that we’re working with customers on short-form content as well. And what’s interesting is that you look at services—like TikTok, for example—and these are very, very short, quick experiences with a lot of users. It's a very popular service, obviously, today. Companies are trying to figure out how we embrace that type of experience, where we could get our message to our audience in that same way—a very short, condensed period of time, but also high value.
And how do we then influence them to watch more? How do we influence them to come and buy our products, or whatever the case may be? And leverage those systems to help generate convergence, to help drive convergence for them as well. So, looking at ways to use things like shoppable video and stuff like that.
It’s a very interesting time. We know that there’s more users coming online, but I also think about how different companies are adapting to those trends in the market—with respect to what services are popular, how are consumers consuming the data today, and then how do you take advantage of that?
How do you work more towards that type of experience, drive that type of experience, but do it in such a way that drives the results that you’re looking for? This is what we’re looking at with our customers: helping them drive very powerful, engaging experiences—which is what more users have to have now because they’re at home, they’re shopping for products at home, and they need a way to see the products and understand and get a good feel for what they are, what they’re like, from home. This is where we’re helping, and there’s still a lot of companies that need to evolve with this in the next 12 months. It’s not easy, either, so it’s a challenge that we’re helping solve.
Q: Well, if we were to go a little bit bigger and say, what’s the impact of cloud going to be on business over the next three years, do you have a crystal ball you can look into for us?
A: Sure, as good as anyone else’s crystal ball. What’s interesting about cloud and about the times that we’re working in, living in today—there’s certainly more and more activity happening online. There’s more services that are being brought up online. There’s more services that are even transitioning online as well.
What’s interesting right now is to see how different trends that are happening just this year continue beyond the pandemic. Hopefully, we get through this pandemic as quickly as possible with the vaccine. But beyond that, what will happen?
I’m thinking about how a lot of end users, or even just workers in the work environment, are getting used to working from home. They are getting used to it—I’ve heard the term “work from anywhere”—now, and it’s interesting to see how that continues beyond the pandemic.
I think there will be more companies who embrace that. We’re already seeing companies embrace a work-from-anywhere, work-from-home model—or the option to work from home—with Twitter and Reddit and other companies just embracing that model. There’s some companies who embraced it right from the beginning, like Automatic, for example.
With that, though, if you see more demand for more users working from anywhere, it’s going to drive more services—whether it be SaaS services, whether it be other video conferencing technologies. Zoom is obviously all the rage right now, but we’re also using other services that are helping us collaborate all from home.
We’re using a company called Mural as a way to bring in brainstorm and whiteboard ideas, but you’re doing it online. I do think that if that trend continues, if we continue to see companies embrace that, we’ll see other services like that start to flourish and other end users start to use them. It’s actually quite an exciting time for anybody who is in this space—whether they’ve been working on a SaaS platform or just working on any sort of cloud technology. It’s a great time because it’s certainly not going away, and I only see more and more adoption for it in the future as well.
Q: That’s fascinating. And hopefully there will be maybe a better face-to-face interview tool that will be put together. It’s funny, the video quality on these is ironically not the best, but we’ll have to figure out what we can pull together and make happen.
The last easy-breezy question is: if somebody wants to get in touch with you or with Cloudinary to learn more about your products or services, where would they go?
A: Anybody can go to cloudinary.com. We have access to a free account available on Cloudinary. You could get a perpetual free license on Cloudinary. You can definitely register there, and all of our free accounts come with support as well. So if you want to get in touch with Cloudinary, there are ways to open tickets and get in touch. For me personally, I’m also available on LinkedIn if anybody would like to talk more or reach out.