Quality Control Solutions + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Fereidoon Khosravi, SVP and Chief Business Development Officer at Venera Technologies
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.
Fereidoon Khosravi has been a leader in the US and international technology sectors for over three decades. In the last 15 years, he has focused on digital media. He is currently responsible for developing customer relationships across the globe for Venera Technologies’ quality control (QC) software products and services for digital media.
In this interview, Fereidoon and I chat about the cloud, how quality control software is changing the M&E landscape, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: Let’s start with you introducing yourself and telling us a little about your company.
A: Sure. My name is Fereidoon Khosravi, and I’m the Senior VP and Chief Business Development Officer for Venera Technologies. We have been in the software business for quite a few years, providing quality control software for digital media. We have multiple products in the market—in each of our markets. I’ve always enjoyed being in production and the media environment, and this role allows me to be on the software side (which is my background) as well as the media side—dealing with the studios, production houses, and other media related entities like that.
Q: Tell us more about quality control as it relates to media and entertainment. A lot of people might think of quality control and how it relates to software, but what about M&E specifically?
A: Actually, it’s very interesting. As we progress and have higher resolutions, bigger TVs, and fancier environments, the need and desire for better quality of video grows. The sharpest video possible, the best audio possible, with no glitches, has become more and more important for audiences.
And so the platforms that deliver these, the Netflixes and Amazon Primes of the world and others—and even TV stations, good old-fashioned TV stations—every one of them is paying more and more attention to the quality of the content. Not creative quality, but the actual physical and technical quality: no glitches, no audio issues, no pixelations. Making the content as perfect as it can be for the audience. And that’s one side of it.
The other side is that for the longest time, QC was being done by people. It still is being done by people, by humans who sit there and watch these shows over and over. We have more content coming out than ever before, in all these forms and means for people to get it—there’s sometimes 300-400 different versions of the same piece of content.
Each piece of content has to be converted for different resolutions, different countries, different cultures, different screens—airline screens versus regular TV—different languages, and other variations. There are hundreds of variations of the same title, same movie, same TV show.
And guess what? Every one of those has to be checked. You can imagine the job of the poor operator looking at the exact same show over and over and over—and, of course, the repetition introduces the risk of missing something because the operator gets too used to it.
Software-based quality control, assisted quality control, automated quality control—depending on what you call it—is software that does a lot of the mundane work. So those 300-400 different versions of the same show can be watched by the software, and the software comes back if there are any quality issues found.
And of course, the quality control operator is still there. The human touch is there; you need it to figure out the creative intent when you’re looking at a shot and saying, “Oh, there’s some blurry spots in here.” But the blurry spot happens to be a TV screen within a TV screen that shows something from the 1950s—it’s intended. That’s where the operator comes in.
Venera Technology’s role as a QC software company is to provide tools—whether the customer is a studio, a TV station, TV network, a post-production house, an editor, a colorist, whoever is dealing with the content—that can take care of some of the mundane things, the things that machines are good at. Then they can get those quality control issues figured out; fix it before the content actually goes out.
Q: That makes perfect sense. Seems like it’s tying into machine learning; artificial intelligence.
Q: How did you get involved in the AWS cloud space specifically?
A: We started with our on-premise solution, Pulsar, in 2009. At that time, everything was being done on-premise, so that’s where the right place was. But in 2017 or so, we saw the writing on the wall. We saw the future coming and the opportunity to do this in the cloud environment.
AWS really started the whole cloud business. So when we got involved with them, when we engaged with them, from the very beginning we decided to do it differently. Rather than putting our on-premise solution into a virtual machine in a data center and calling it “cloud,” we went back and redid our work to be architecturally native-cloud.
That lets us take advantage of the full capabilities of the cloud. That includes the ability to spin up as many instances as you need, to run as many jobs as you need—and spin it down when you’re done, so you only pay for what you use. And you can spin it up close to where the content is, so you don’t have bandwidth issues and delays. Our product, Quasar, came out in 2017, and I believe it was the first native-cloud solution that really took advantage of those things.
And that’s how we got involved with AWS. AWS had—and still has—a pretty strong media and entertainment focus when it comes to cloud. So it’s a great place for us. We fit well in their environment because there are so many other media and entertainment vendors and products coming into the same space. It provides a good synergy to be in the environment where most of these tools are.
Q: Yeah, as an AWS consultancy specialized in media and entertainment, we absolutely agree with that. We drank the Kool-Aid there. What do you think the impact of the cloud, not just AWS but the cloud broadly, will be on the media and entertainment industry over the next three years?
A: Well, because of the current situation and COVID-19, movement to the cloud has accelerated. It was moving along, but now it’s moving pretty quickly. I think more and more of the media and entertainment industry will embrace it, and even the smaller players will move to the cloud. We have already seen that. There are a lot more users of our Quasar product who are not large studios and TV networks. Of course they still use it, but more smaller players also see the value.
Q: Oh, that’s interesting. What’s the smallest size operator using your software?
A: One person.
Q: Wow! It doesn’t get smaller than that.
A: Exactly. There are editors who have been in this business for a long time. They do it from home, and they associate with other post houses and other organizations. They want to be able to deliver, and now they can’t take their disk and deliver it to wherever they need to go. So we have also had interest from individuals, smaller organizations, and boutique shops.
There are a lot of boutique shops. This industry has a lot of giant players, but also many small boutique entities that make this industry work, whether they’re editors, post-production houses, colorists, special effects, audio specialists, whatever they are—they do a lot of work. Much of the work has been done locally, but now they’re all realizing they need to move to the cloud. We’re getting more interest in QC because they know the value of QC, but now they need to do it in the cloud.
For example, we’ve introduced an ad hoc model in our Quasar plan. The product is not only for those who can make a monthly or annual commitment because they have consistent volume. There are those who need the same feature set, but can’t make a monthly commitment. So, we have the ad hoc plan. That’s one end of it.
The other end of it is that many of the larger organizations who have thousands and thousands of assets sitting locally are now committing to move to the cloud. That means they have to migrate all that content to the cloud.
With that comes the notion of, “Oh my goodness, I need to verify this stuff to make sure what I’m taking to the cloud is good in terms of quality.” Mass QC—the ability to QC thousands of pieces of content as it moves to the cloud efficiently and quickly—has become really important.
Very soon, we will be making a formal announcement that our Quasar product, for example, can spin up and QC 1,000 simultaneous jobs at a time. You can have 1,000 files coming in, taking advantage of the nature of the cloud, and spin up 1,000 instances to process all these files at the same time. That means they can migrate quickly.
It’s not only the small players moving to the cloud and the big players migrating to the cloud, it’s the tools of production—which editors and colorists and others use—that are there, or are moving there.
So there’s a mass movement. The entire set of work that used to be done on these big machines in closed rooms is now moving to cloud. We’re happy to be part of that and integrate with them, as we see ourselves fitting within that cloud-based media workflow. It is becoming efficient, very powerful; pretty much all the tools that people used to use at their facility can be found in the cloud. And we’re part of that growth.
Q: It’s very meta that the cloud is enabling the cloudification of those assets! I can only imagine if you were trying to do this on-prem and needing to buy all those servers. It would just be impractical.
A: Yes, yes. I was talking to a customer who has been using our product for quite some time, locally within their facility, and now they’re realizing—even though they’re allowed to go back in the office—they never want to deal with that again. In terms of reliability, in terms of security, in terms of accessibility, you can’t beat what the cloud provides today.
Q: Yeah, for sure. And speaking of that, are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours of course, that you’ve read about or heard about that you find especially interesting?
A: Another interesting part about cloud is microservices—small operation functions that allow you to integrate multiple tools together. You can build your own “Lego system”; take the pieces you want and build a solution based on those. And what seems interesting to us, in the space we are in, are things like microservices for transcriptions, facial recognition, and content recognition—in the sense of being able to really understand the content that’s being played, like who the actors are or the location or many other things...
Q: The metadata.
A: The metadata, yes—things that you, as a human sitting there, would think, “Oh yeah, this is Paris or this is London or this is this or that person.” And it’s amazingly difficult to do those things with machines. But now, with machine learning and AI, that’s becoming more feasible. I see those things as quite helpful in enhancing what we are doing.
Q: Yeah, it’s interesting. I wrote a newsletter not long ago trying to make sure that people realize that when they hear “facial recognition”—or even “object detection”—it isn’t going far enough. It’s really anything-recognition. It’s intent, it’s sentiment, it’s all of these abstract concepts. Really interesting.
You mentioned the coronavirus. When you look into your crystal ball, what do you think the impact is going to be on the media industry, or maybe just society in general? Over the next 12 months, where do you think we’re going to be?
A: Well, obviously, a lot of people have opinions about this. It’s a pretty common topic these days. But here’s a few things that I’ve noticed specifically in our space, the media space.
The impact on tradeshows is quite obvious. What will happen to them in the future? Who knows. NAB has already pushed back to October of next year. IBC may happen even later than that. Those are two of the most important shows that everybody goes to, because of the connection.
And yet, people are able to manage somehow. I think what happens to those shows will be interesting. They will obviously never be the same, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be worse. The way people have coped with it and used the elements of virtual tradeshows—I’ve seen software that acts like you’re walking into a tradeshow on your computer—those things will have an impact. I don’t think we’ll ever do without tradeshows; they’re extremely important events in our industry. Shaking hands and talking to people in person really matters. But there will be some changes there.
There’s an impact on the theaters. I’m really worried about the future of theaters, and what will happen with actual people going to theaters. I haven’t gone to one, and probably won’t go to one for some time until things settle down—and a lot of people feel the same way.
That trickles back into production. A lot of the productions have been delayed, and I’m hearing from friends and prospects and customers that production is beginning, but it’s slower. It’s different. One of our users was telling me that what they used to do in an eight-hour day in production for a shoot, now it takes two or three days to do. It’s the amount of prep beforehand, what the stars have to go through, and the talent and then the staff, before they can be allowed on the set to do the shoot. There’s quite a bit of change there. So, I think there will be some changes. But people are adjusting.
I read the other day that there’s a cottage industry popping up: corona screening for production environments. An ICU nurse and a couple of doctors started it, and it’s grown exponentially. They provide the environment, and they’re hired in for a show. So if you want to shoot a show, you hire this entity or one like it. They come and they make sure all the talent, all the staff, everybody goes through the proper screening process before they go on to do the actual shoot. They are there to help them stay safe. That cottage industry is going to help the production become more efficient. They’re very inefficient now, but they’ll become more efficient and it will pick up.
A lot of the older content is coming back and being reused—for obvious reasons. So, while we have seen some delay, there was enough content in the pipeline that, at first, it didn’t seem like there was much delay. But the impact will hit us soon. We’ll come out of it, because there are other processes in place, and humans are extremely good at innovation. And then production will pick up again.
But overall, it’s an understatement to say it has shaken up everything we do. I think in some ways for the better—aside from the very, very unfortunate losses and casualties—but in terms of just the pure business, I think it will be more efficient. The production environment will become more efficient. We see our tool being used more, being cloud-based and not having to worry about on-premise issues. It will take time, but all the production companies, all the studios, all the TV networks—they’re adjusting. They will be coming up with ways that will hopefully protect us going forward if something similar to this were to happen again.
And we are finding good partnerships with video production companies and editors and other tools that are moving to the cloud—it’s a perfect fit with what we want to do. So we’re looking forward to working closely with them as well.
Q: Yeah, it’s all about the ecosystem.
A: It certainly is.
Q: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to have a conversation with us. If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that?
A: My pleasure! The best way is our website, www.veneratech.com. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Either way, we'll be happy to hear from you. I love these conversations, particularly with people in industry and particularly when things are going on, it really helps us connect and know if there's anything we can do to help out.