Video Content as a Service + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with Philippe Brodeur, CEO and Founder of Overcast HQ
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.
Philippe Brodeur got his start in the media and entertainment space as a BBC producer and editor. Since 2007, he has founded and led multiple media technology companies. In his current role as founder and CEO of Overcast HQ, he helps media teams use the cloud to grow their businesses.
In this interview, Philippe and I chat about Video Content-as-a-Service, transcoding, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: For those who are not familiar with Overcast, give us a bit of a primer on it—tell us about the company.
A: Overcast is a Video Content-as-a-Service platform. We’re based on AWS—we’re all in on AWS, I guess you might say.
What do we do? Well, some traditionalists would say we do media asset management, digital asset management. But Video Content-as-a-Service is really about being microservices, being cloud-native, and being able to create the solutions that you need—not the solutions that someone else created for you.
So we orchestrate a number of features, a number of solutions, and then we create that ultimate workflow that you and your company need.
Q: And how did you get involved in the AWS cloud space?
A: That goes back a few years now. I was working with a company back in 2011, a telecom operator. What we were doing is pushing content over the top, way before anyone else was pushing content over the top. There were huge problems with rights, no doubt, but we had more problems with just trying to architect it, because we had to architect part of it on-premise and part of it in the cloud.
The AWS guys were the natural bedfellows for us back then. And ever since, we’ve been working with AWS and the number of features that they’ve brought out to develop more and better solutions—for broadcasters, for publishers, and, really, for enterprise. Because enterprise is making a lot of content now, and anyone who’s got a website is really a publisher these days.
Q: Yes, that’s interesting; 2011—that’s really early. We ended up launching our first website in AWS in 2013 with the Emmys, but even then it was really just storage and compute—you get your computer in the cloud, rather than the architecture and microservices that are possible today. About how you guys are using the cloud…has it changed over time?
A: Absolutely. That first iteration was a different company. The company that we’ve got now— Overcast HQ—that came about because we wanted to push content to a couple of the OVPs.
The challenge was the OVPs only accepted a couple of formats. We had a lot of archive content we had to push, and the only way to get that content to them was to transcode it on-premise and then upload it and then push it over. So, while we were based in Dublin at the time, it was faster for us to send our CTO to Hollywood, pick up content on hard drives, fly back to Dublin, transcode it, and then upload it.
So, we said, “Okay, let’s create a solution that can do all that in the cloud and do it with somebody who isn’t necessarily an engineer.” Right? Because the engineering’s been done by AWS. What we need is people who can actually solve the business problems.
Q: And you mentioned transcoding. Can you expand a little bit on how your system, how Overcast, actually fits within the overall M&E ecosystem?
A: Sure. We absolutely started as a transcoder. We use Elastic Transcoder, we use MediaConvert, and we have our own transcoder as well for all the gaps. There are hundreds of different formats for media and entertainment video—and we have to be able to take any content in and push any content out to any of the numerous platforms that we have to push to.
So that’s the first thing that we guarantee our clients—we’re going to bring it in and we’re going to push it out. And that’s going to happen and we’re going to futureproof the content you have which is archived. The next thing we’re going to do is create those workflows, so you can do it in different ways.
Q: I love the archive concept—it’s funny, when you look back on the lens of history, having a one megabyte photo, that was insane! You’re never going to use that many pixels, right? Are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours, that you’ve read about or heard about that you’re excited about?
A: Yes. We’re working on a couple of research projects at the moment with a number of companies and a university in Dublin—Trinity College Dublin.
We’re working on a couple of things that they’ve been working on for a number of years, including semantic video repair and watermarking that can stick with a video through generations and generations of YouTube manipulation. There are a lot of things which still haven’t been solved, and we’re working with different researchers to try and bring some of those about.
Look, AI and ML are going to change everything. They’re absolutely going to change everything. We can now create videos a fraction of the size with the same lossless of quality—that wasn’t possible a year ago or 18 months ago. And that’s only going to get better going forward.
Q: Oh wow, I didn’t realize transcoding had moved forward so much even in just the past year.
A: It really has. You see, one of the biggest challenges, still, is around storage. Any of the clients that we talk to—how much is their storage going to cost? AWS does an amazing job with tiering their storage, and we put a UI around that to help clients to do that. But actually being able to create smaller videos through transcoding—it’s phenomenal what’s going to be happening over the next couple of years.
Q: All the more reason to have that archive, right?
A: Absolutely. And the archive is really important. In fact, one of our researchers used to work on Film Archive himself, and you know that whole idea: that video jitters—all the archive film, they all jitter. We need it jitter-less.
And that’s when people were looking at video that’s coming off of phones and they noticed that jitters as well. It’s exactly the same problem, and now they’re applying the same solution to solve the same problem for mobile phone video.
Q: Oh, interesting. So, we’ve managed to avoid touching on this topic yet—congratulations to us—but the coronavirus is in full swing. It’s one of the reasons why we are doing a video interview rather than in person. If we were to look at what you think the coronavirus impact is going to be on the media and entertainment industry generally over the next 12 months—what do you think is going to happen?
A: It’s a good question. I mean, everyone knows that the pandemic has created different workflows for remote working. So that’s the first thing. A lot of those workflows don’t actually work, unfortunately—a lot of them have been workarounds rather than solutions.
I think the solutions that are coming down the road go back to a little bit of what we were talking about with the transcoding. We need to be able to provide services for people working with remote video over very low bandwidth—very, very low bandwidth—in order to be able to speed things up. And those solutions are just coming to market now.
So that—combined with, say, 5G coming down the road—we can see the remote working being extended. I think that is something that’s going to be here for a long time, and the results are that people will be able to manage content from virtually anywhere in the very near future.
Q: Yes, that’s fascinating. I imagine there’s probably some specialized transcoding approaches for transmitting screens of computers, for example. So for our last question, let’s go bigger. What do you think the impact of the cloud will be on business generally over the next three years?
A: Wow, okay, we’re going really big now, right? The impact on business: businesses are creating a ton more content now. In fact, enterprise creates more content in a day than Hollywood creates in a year. So, that’s one thing. There’s a lot of content being created.
They have the same struggles that anybody in Hollywood or in the traditional media and entertainment space suffer. And that is being able to get that content in and then push it out to multiple platforms in a way that is coherent to those platforms. It all has to be manipulated slightly differently for the different platform you’re aiming for—and I think that, ultimately, what the cloud is enabling is business to make more and more content.
And look, all we want to do is consume more content. The numbers we see year after year— they just keep going up and up and up. Everyone thinks that, “Oh, we couldn’t possibly consume any more content,” but we do, and we will continue to.
Q: Well, there’s only 24 hours in the day—until we’re able to transcode our consciousness to a virtual world that has more hours in the day! That’s fascinating, and I think it’s spot on. Final question: if somebody wanted to get in touch with Overcast or you, how would they go about doing that?
A: We’re www.overcasthq.com. You can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. We’re easy to get in touch with. You can also go through AWS or any of the great AWS consultants that are around—like yourselves perhaps. Just drop us a line: we’re really friendly, we’re here to talk, we’re always interested in coming up with new solutions and new ways of doing things. So just get us on the phone.