Performance Monitoring + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Brenton Ough, CEO and Cofounder, Touchstream
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.
Brenton Ough has been innovating in the technology field for over 20 years, with a focus on product development, business management, operations, and strategy. Seven years ago, he co-founded Touchstream to deliver actionable analytics and business intelligence to companies livestreaming on every device and format.
In this interview, Brenton and I chat about CDN monitoring, the edge, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: For people not familiar with Touchstream, tell us about the company and what you guys do.
A: We’re an OTT livestream monitoring company. We focus primarily on CDN monitoring and origin monitoring—API monitoring—but we also do the entire end-to-end workflow. We’re a totally cloud-based company, and we’ve been around now for six years.
Q: Oh, that’s fascinating, CDN monitoring. And I’m curious—you must have a geographic display or be able to track outages that may not be experienced by everybody.
A: That’s right—we have a totally geographic footprint. We’ve got lots of customers that we monitor all over the world; well, most of the world. But, yes, it’s very geographical; different customers from different locations—and multiple customers who do either global distribution or global events.
We do a lot of sports. We focus on livestreaming, and often they’re all over the world or in one country one day, in another country another day—you know, it’s all over the place. So, yes, very, very global. We do the whole world.
Q: Talk to us about how you got involved in the cloud.
A: We got involved in OTT monitoring because I used to work for Hewlett-Packard, and we found that monitoring tools were very good at monitoring everything web and APIs and all that, but there was nothing monitoring streaming from the cloud to the CDN endpoints.
That was where we started. We saw a huge gap in the market—it was a great, big blind spot. Streaming distributors were throwing stuff over the fence to the CDN, and the next time they saw it was maybe in an audience metric tool. So there was this huge, big gap.
We realized, right at the beginning, that we needed to be all over the world—and obviously the cloud was the best way to do that. We also loved cloud technologies, and we’d always been into virtualization and that sort of thing. Cloud is just a natural place for us to be.
Amazon—particularly five, six years ago, when we first built the company—Amazon was the cloud. And, to my mind, it still is, but it made a huge amount of sense to do it in the cloud. And quite frankly, we couldn’t have built our company if it wasn’t for the cloud. We just never would’ve been able to do what we do, so we love the cloud.
Q: Yeah, the global distribution footprint, it’s not easy to replicate when you’ve got to build all those colocation facilities yourself.
A: That’s right, and not at high quality as well. Our customers are very high-end media companies, and you’ve got to have that reliability and quality. I mean, everything we do is in dual-availability zones. We can’t afford for anything not to be 24/7 fully functional—full availability. It’s hard to build that with hardware, so the cloud is just there waiting for us to do what we do.
Q: Are there any cloud technologies—I know there’s been a lot of innovation on the AWS side with streaming—but any cloud technologies that you read about or heard about or you’re working with that you’re finding especially interesting?
A: The big thing at the moment is edge, and what we love is Lambda functions running at the edge. I mean who would’ve ever thought about that five years ago, or ten-plus years ago? This is where it’s really happening—because in streaming, one of the massive advantages over broadcast television is it’s customizable per user. It can be very narrow.
Now, you can’t do that if you’re going back to central systems. You need to be able to do that as close to the end customer as possible. And when you’re streaming to a million people, there’s only one place that you can do this properly—and that’s at the edge. What is possible to do at the edge now is just getting fantastic. It’s amazing.
So, I think that’s where all the next things are going in streaming. Obviously, in the cloud, there’s lots of things you can do—but we’re very involved in streaming, so that’s our passion. But the edge is where it’s going to be for any of the new innovations for personalization purposes. And I think that’s really, really exciting.
Q: Well, that’s fascinating. So, you’re talking about a centralized stream that goes out, is distributed via the CDN—and then at the edge, you’re triggering Lambda functions that can customize the experience?
A: Exactly. On a per-user basis, which you can’t do from a centralized position. You can only do that at the edge.
Q: That’s fascinating, and it seems like it’s essentially a marriage of what you want in broadcast—in terms of that centralized stream—and the robustness of what you get with a CDN, but then also being able to personalize it. That’s pretty incredible.
We haven’t touched on coronavirus—it’s always interesting to get to this point in the interview—but a lot has changed out there in the world. What do you think the impact of coronavirus is going to be on the media and entertainment industry over the next 12 months? Are you seeing it in your business?
A: Well, we have seen a lot of what the impact is. And somehow—by a little bit of luck, I suppose—our company was set up to deal really well with people working from home.
I think that’s probably been the biggest thing that we’ve seen, is that people need to work from home, so you need to be able to take your tools home with you. They need to be compact. You don’t have the same big screens everywhere that you had at the big NOC. We’re an operations tool, so we deal with people who have huge operations—you need to be able to take all that data home, and a cloud-based tool allows you to do that.
I think we’re going to see more and more of that. We always built it so that you could work from anywhere. People are distributed all over the place, but we hadn’t thought that everyone would be actually at home—it just happened that way, and it lent itself to that.
We talked to a lot of our customers, and they’re actually taking production home with them. I think that’s going to be a big thing too—people who are doing live feed mixes and things like that, that’s where it’s going to be. If you can’t do that from home—which not a lot of people can, only the more innovative ones can do that—then you’re not going to be able to play for much longer.
You really need to be able to do anything from anywhere, and I think that’s been the lesson of COVID. You need to be able to collaborate well in that environment.
We actually did a launch of a very large streaming service—part of the launch of a very large streaming service—in the US earlier this year. And it was done—unfortunately for everyone—completely from home. They built everything. Everyone was working at home, building it, monitoring it, testing it, all of that stuff. And it actually worked! I think we all learned very quickly how important it was to do that, and that’s how it is now—and I don’t see that changing in the next 12 months.
I see people wanting to do more of that and wanting to make sure that they can still create that full experience that they’ve had—a high-quality experience, studio-based—and they need to be able to do that from home. So, yeah, this isn’t going away any time soon.
Q: Agreed. And now if we were to zoom out a little bit more and go a little bit bigger with our last question: what do you think the impact of cloud will be—not just on the media and entertainment industry—but on business, over the next three years?
A: Wow, okay. Well, I think the innovative companies—we’ll start with streaming. The innovative companies, they’re all moving everything as much as possible to the cloud—because it’s better, it’s easier, all of that good stuff. And there’s also the operational expense and overall maintenance of stuff that really lends itself to the cloud. So, I think all the people that have had to move to the cloud have started to do that: moved as much as possible.
But what we’ve also seen in some of our really interesting customers is that people have built hybrid cloud, where the cloud can still be internal. So they’ve still got bunches of service there, but they’re actually putting in, effectively, the Cloud Hypervisor—Amazon can run on your hardware in your data center. And then you could actually migrate between your hardware and the cloud stuff and vice versa.
Let’s say, for example, Formula 1. Most of the time, a sports channel is running reruns of things. But then there’s a live event like Formula 1 or an EPO game. They’ll actually shift that work back internally, because they wanna be really, really sure about it.
So the ability to move between the hybrid cloud—cloud on-premises and cloud in the cloud—has been really important for a lot of our customers in streaming. Now, I think that type of approach is gonna permeate itself into the wider business community. People are going to have to get flexible about the way they approach things.
And being able to do things that are really important, that you absolutely must be sure of—if you’re really worried, or possibly even for data reasons you need it to be internal—that’s when you run it internal. But you need to be able to shift those workflows when you need to do what in the old days you’d call batch jobs—you need to shift it off to something that’s less critical somewhere else.
So I think you need a very flexible approach and to use cloud where it works best, like when ramping up quick workflows. Another great example: in Australia we have—it’s probably like your Grand National—the Melbourne Cup. It’s just one day of the year, the biggest horse racing event of the year. All the betting agencies, they have to build their infrastructure just for that one day. For the rest of the year, 90% of it lays idle.
Q: Easily—even 99% of it, right?
A: Yes! It’s just stupid. So, they moved all that to the cloud, so that they could ramp that bit up quickly. You need that kind of thinking, where you understand what’s going to be the best benefit for your business and move the things to the cloud that make sense to move to the cloud.
Q: Yeah, I think the businesses that do adapt, and in particular have that sort of cyclical traffic, it just makes them so much more efficient.
Brenton, it’s been an absolute pleasure; thank you so much for the time. If people want to get in touch with you or get in touch with Touchstream, how would they do that?
A: Well, our website’s the best way, www.touchstream.media. There’s lots of contact things on the website, including phone numbers.