Streaming Video Infrastructure + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Stefan Lederer, CEO & Founder of Bitmovin
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.
Stefan Lederer is an internationally recognized expert in video and streaming technologies. In 2012, he founded Bitmovin, which provides adaptive streaming infrastructure for the world’s largest OTT online video providers. He also does academic research and lectures about DASH, streaming, and other online video technologies at Universität Klagenfurt in Austria.
In this interview, Stefan and I chat about video encoding, playback, analytics, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Bitmovin.
A: Bitmovin is a video infrastructure company that provides API-based tools for encoding, video playback, and video analytics to media and entertainment companies all over the globe, to build online video products.
Q: And we’re here, of course, because we’re involved in the cloud. How did you get started in the AWS space and the cloud space?
A: We started the company seven years ago, and when we built our products, we naturally built in the cloud. So we had the big benefit of starting from a blank sheet of paper, in terms of product development—we could architect and build our products in a cloud-native approach.
That really benefited us, in terms of building products that can leverage the flexibility of the infrastructure and turn it into benefits for our products. That architectural choice really helped us to be successful today and also going forward.
Q: Great! Tell us: how does your company fit within the media and entertainment ecosystem?
A: We provide three different products. One of them is video encoding; it’s video compression. Basically, we take media assets that our customers want to stream to the viewers—to the consumers—and we apply the best possible compression technology on it.
We are innovators in the space, focusing on new and more efficient video codecs—namely HEVC, VP9, and, most recently, AV1 and VVC. We also use new technologies and innovations that are in the space. On a per-asset level, we do a very smart encoding. We apply more advanced streaming technologies or video technologies, like Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos.
Through that, we enable a great experience for the viewer. And, at the same time, we help the content provider and the media company to fulfill their streaming service in the most cost-optimal way.
That continues from the encoding to the video player, which is a software that plays back the content on various devices—I think now we are up to two dozen different types of devices, from browsers to TV sets to game consoles—and provide a unified and great experience across different platforms.
Last but not least, we measure the streaming performance with our third product: an analytics product. We provide telemetry back to the streaming service providers so they can have meaningful insights in terms of how the actual stream was perceived—did we have problems with buffering, etc.—and the optimization possibilities in the streaming environment for the particular user base with the particular asset of the customer. So it generates a feedback loop, to build a more optimal streaming stack for the customer at the end of the day.
Q: That’s amazing. I remember back in the day, when I worked for a video production company, and the order of the day was creating a RealMedia player and a WMV player, and a large and a small version. I’m not sure how far back you go in terms of your ancient technology history, but we’ve come a long way. I can only imagine how complicated it must be with all of the game consoles, all of the different devices that you have to support nowadays.
A: Exactly, exactly. Some things have become easier, but at the same time, new things pop up—and the devices are getting more powerful and have more capabilities. The content has more capabilities and new formats, like HDR and 4K for example. So the industry is moving forward quite fast and keeps us busy.
Q: Yeah, 8K too!
A: 8K is the next one.
Q: And 5G, the technology that will be here someday.
Q: What do you think the impact of cloud will be, let’s just say, over the next three years?
A: I think specifically in the year 2020, the trend that was already there: moving toward a cloud-based environment—at least a hybrid environment or a fully cloud-based environment—got accelerated this year, by so much.
With the situation how it is in the world, I think people value the flexibility of the cloud much, much more. We see a push and acceleration of migration projects toward the cloud, much more than we saw it in the last couple of years. So that trend definitely got accelerated.
It’s also great to see that a lot of new use cases—and other new business ideas—are getting implemented on a cloud-first approach. Startups are building new services, existing businesses are adding video-based offerings, and they are able to do that very fast and with very scalable cost infrastructure using the cloud.
Q: Yes, I really do feel like the cloud, to your point, certainly is enabling smaller companies and startups to utilize the same infrastructure that some of the largest companies are. And you alluded to this by saying 2020: what do you think the impact of the coronavirus will be on the media and entertainment industry over the next 12 months?
A: I mean, we definitely went for a rollercoaster this year—privately as well as professionally.
Specifically for the media and entertainment industry, it was an extremely busy time. I mean, we had extreme usage spikes because people were staying at home, and were forced to stay at home, and consumed a lot more content—in terms of entertainment, but also news content and educational content. That brought our networks to the limit of their capacity, which forced changes in infrastructure and optimizations to get more content delivered over the availability of the “pipes” that the internet offers today.
Now as the year progresses and the health crisis has an impact on the economy—and also on the budgets and revenue streams of media companies, especially the affected areas in their physical business units—that’s definitely tough. People are looking into efficiencies toward the end of this year, trying to optimize their streaming costs, trying to optimize their whole IT spend, and this trend is going to continue.
More users are great, more leadership is great, but at the same time, those businesses are—as we all are—unsure about what the next year is going to bring—what the economy is going to do. So everybody is trying to optimize—optimize their cost structure, optimize the infrastructure stack. I think that’s something we are going to continue to see over the next 12 months.
Q: And are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours, that you are excited about, that you’ve read about, or that you’ve heard about, that you find particularly interesting?
A: Yes, what we see right now is that machine learning and AI continue to be an innovation driver—and that, in combination with the flexibility and the compute availability of cloud infrastructure, is extremely interesting.
We conduct a survey every year amongst video developers, and it’s super interesting to see the appetite for machine learning and AI use cases—specifically for media and entertainment and streaming. It’s getting more and more interesting. We do apply those technologies in our products, but I think there’s a lot more possible.
That’s one of the most interesting pieces of innovation and technology that’s currently happening—not only in the cloud space, but definitely accelerated and fueled by the flexibility of cloud services.
Q: I couldn’t agree with you more. And some of the ML services that exist within the cloud, the AWS cloud—and others we won’t talk about—are actually really impressive.
Well, the final question is an easy one. If somebody wants to get in touch with you and Bitmovin, how should they go about it?
A: We have pretty much everything that we do available on our website for tests and trials. You can sign up for our services with your email for free and get started right away. Our documentation is public. All of our collateral and pricing is public, so we are definitely encouraging everybody who is interested to give it a try first, in a truly cloud-native approach—the same way you do with AWS today.
And in parallel, feel free to contact us directly through our contact channels on the website—email, call us. Also, if you get engaged with our products, our support folks are always happy to directly help you with what you’re trying to accomplish. So please go ahead and give it a try, and let us know how we can be helpful.