Video Monetization + Cloud
This blog is one of a series of Media & Entertainment Cloud Ecosystem interviews.
Executive Interview with George Meek, CEO at InPlayer
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.
George Meek has been in the technology field for decades and has focused on media and entertainment for most of his career. He has extensive experience with digital monetization. Today, he is the CEO of InPlayer, the world’s leading pay-per-view and subscription solution for OTT, on-demand, and live digital events.
In this interview, George and I chat about monetization, direct-to-consumer content delivery, and what he sees for the future of the industry.
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with InPlayer, could you tell us a little bit about what you do?
A: InPlayer has been around since about 2010—so we’re ten years old this year—and I’ve personally been involved with the business for four years. We’ve got a couple of our founding team members still with us, which is amazing—and they’re still killing it every week!
InPlayer is a digital content monetization and subscriber management platform. So, we provide our customers with a simple-to-use, out-of-the-box solution that gives them the ability to earn money from their digital content. To put it simply, we have a paywall solution, which basically protects and enables limited access to that content, so you have to either pay or have a voucher to access the content.
We see ourselves as really the world’s leading pay-per-view and subscription solution. We help set up and grow the current revenue for any company that is looking to enable online sales and access management with their video, audio files, and HTML content.
We’re typically very strong in video—but we can actually monetize any digital assets itself. So we have millions of dollars in transactions managed. We’re making thousands of live events profitable for the OTT industry, rights owners, agencies, artists, and corporations around the world. Content owners and right holders are provided with an out-of-the box revenue generating platform for full-scale audiences—so across the web, connected devices, and OTT platforms. And then what we do is give them the ability to drive revenues for their digital assets by sending them directly to the clients.
If you look at our industry, typically it’s driven by advertising, but we’re seeing more and more people realizing the value of their content and the fact that people are happy to pay to access that content—for a payment rather than an ad.
Q: It sounds like the endpoint for what I remember in the early 2000s, which was “just get the eyeballs and eventually we’ll figure out some way of monetizing.” So you’re realizing that promise. How did you get involved in the AWS cloud space?
A: Well, the AWS cloud has been a logical continuation for us. We relaunched our platform about three years ago, built on microservices, etc. And part of that is needing the capabilities for different businesses—from a single person in a yoga studio at home who wants to monetize content to huge sporting events where you have hundreds of thousands of viewers wanting to access that content. We need to be able to scale, and, obviously, the AWS cloud solution does that for us.
Through an API integration between our paywall platform and AWS Elemental MediaConvert and Amazon CloudFront, the AWS customers can monetize their videos behind that secure paywall by pay-per-view and subscription monetization models. It’s our partnership with AWS that’s addressing content owners’ needs to monetize their content and deliver compelling media experiences without the complexity of having to build their own video processing and monetization infrastructure.
In this market, as I said, we see ourselves as the leaders. One of our main competitors, to go into the business side of things, we see as DIY—people trying to build that themselves. But when you’re looking at payments around content, it’s quite a complex workflow to achieve.
Q: Yes, we see that all the time as a consulting partner. It’s like, “we’ll just try this in-house,” while oftentimes you’ll have IT trying to bite off the cloud, and the first implementation is always the most difficult. That’s where I think having the right ISV or consulting partner, or both, can really come in handy.
You mentioned a couple of cloud technologies, so that was my next question. Are there any other cloud technologies, other than yours, that you’ve read about or heard about that you find especially interesting?
A: As a business, we’re client-driven. So all of our features and services are driven by our clients. They come to us and say, “I want to achieve this,” and if we don’t tick that box, we will look at how we implement that for them. Then we implement that at scale and also see how it can be replicated as a product for other customers.
So we look at that; currently we’re looking at the analytics space. Data is a big play in our market, and if you take media and the data around media, a lot of it’s around consumption— how many minutes, how much data is consumed, how do they actually manage to put efficiencies in there?
What we’re looking at, at the moment—because a lot of this has been unfounded—we’re looking at merging together video usage versus video monetization and how the analytics work together. There’s a couple of companies we’re talking to at the moment—the likes of Stream Hub, Jump TV—but in all honesty, I think my CTO’s the better guy to talk about all the different other cloud technologies we’re looking at.
But we can follow-up with a list of his dream integrations. Although he does like to build himself, so at the same time we have a running battle of, “Are you sure you can’t get something off the shelf?” But that’s the fun of the business!
Q: Well, that is it—with all the microservices that AWS is putting out there. Certainly it’s important to have all of those in mind, whether it’s a SaaS product that you’re supporting or a platform or the consultative work.
So tell me a little bit: we haven’t touched on it yet, but we’re in the middle of the coronavirus; what do you think the impact is going to be on the media and entertainment industry over the next 12 months?
A: Well, what we’ve seen in this space—and it’s changed our business dramatically—the impact is that people are having to do digital transformation a lot quicker than they’ve ever had to. They’ve been forced into transformation in order to bring their business into a digital world.
You’re looking not just at media and entertainment—sports goes into that. Behind closed doors, how do these sporting organizations deal with that? You’re looking at a lot of the media companies that have also been hit by the advertising issues. So, you’re going to see changes in the rights and the sales and the buying of content.
It’s basically opening up the road for these organizations to go direct to consumer. And what we know for a fact—and I’ll use a really poor analogy—is that the pocket money for DVDs has never gone away. People are happy to pay for content they love, they’re passionate about, and they like—whether that’s on an educational basis, whether that’s on a sports basis, whether it’s on an entertainment media basis.
Some of the largest orchestras in the world are working with us today. We’re looking at things like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra—which I know is a very big traditional American Christmas event to go to—but now obviously they’re having to do that as a streamed package. It’s ensuring that people can still enjoy and embrace the stuff they love and that also that these artists and creatives and the people around that industry can also actually still have a livelihood.
Hopefully this pandemic is going to flush itself out sooner rather than later, but at the same time, we’re enjoying helping these organizations get online and getting to their audience through streaming.
One of the things we understand, as a business, is the paywall’s fine and our UI/UX, we think, is industry leading, so you convert the most amount of sales. But behind that, one of the key things is the support and operations. So, ensuring that businesses who have never before sold hundreds of thousands of tickets virtually—they expect people to turn up at their front door—can be sure people are going to be just as well looked after when handing that ticket over at the stadium as they are handing that ticket over, or handing their money over online, to enjoy that content.
Q: Yes—the UI/UX, that’s incredibly important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had money in hand, ready to try to pay for something, and 30 clicks later I’m still trying to find out how I authorize or provide access to things. So I think that’s interesting, along with the opportunity to go direct to consumer. I mean, you have Peacock right now, which is a really interesting play with all of the free media.
Of all of the interviews that I’ve been doing, you’re the first person to mention direct to consumer. But I think it’s going to be incredibly important if you look at where Disney is, or any of the large media producers. It’s definitely an untold story.
A: Well, the crazy thing is if you look at Disney today, they typically haven’t led the way in digital. They’ve led the way in entertainment. But they had that initial Disney offering. And then they invested, and they have Disney Plus. You’ve seen the success of that. And then you take on the fact that they launched their latest movie—Mulan, I think it is—on a pay-per-view basis.
We’ve been working with smaller guys who are getting to a bigger audience, and now it’s starting to overlook bigger guys as our name and our capabilities have come out there. But you can now see there’s a proven model and a proven fact that people are happy to pay.
I think another reason why is that the technology evolved. You can pay for something on your phone, and then you can stream that up to your TV. You know, it can be on any device, and, obviously, the technologies are there to cast content onto a bigger screen very, very simply. So, I think those boxes are going to be ticked, and then we’re going to see more and more people investing into the interactivity, the ability for people to communicate around the content to make it more sticky, and more family- or friend-orientated.
Q: Yes, well, maybe if they’ve gone through InPlayer, they’ll be able to buy on their phone and stream it to their TV. I still have a number of people that I certainly should refer your way as far as paywalls go because there’s a lot of bad ones out there.
A: We know that, so thank you.
Q: For the last real interview question, let’s go bigger. What do you think the impact of cloud will be on business generally over the next three years?
A: Well, I’ve been very fortunate, working in the internet for a long time. My father was very involved in it. I mean, the first time I used the internet was a DOS prompt, before even a browser was around. I remember when Netscape was launched. I helped him, we had an ISP, and I was knocking on doors trying to get people online—and they said they didn’t need email, they’ve got a fax machine. So it’s been around for a long time. And I was very fortunate enough to be part of the growth.
I launched Limelight Networks in Europe, and back then when we did that, one of the streaming protocols that people were very keen on—with more security and stuff—was Flash. They used to buy Flash service. We provided the ability for them to stream Flash through a shared infrastructure. So, the cloud was not a term, right? It was just Flash as a service, basically.
So, the way I see it, we live in a global society. It’s an opportunity for a lot of people to now be able to start businesses and grow businesses very efficiently—whereas beforehand it was on quite a complex basis. I think as the technologies evolve and the costs for cloud computing decrease, there’s going to be people who are able to have incredible opportunities around AR/VR on a scale that you’ve not seen before. Really, then, that comes back to media and entertainment and being able to look after people in the home.
Q: Yes, that’s fascinating. I certainly got involved in the internet early days, and I remember the thing I heard was, “Why do I need a website if I’m in the Yellow Pages?” It sounds comical in hindsight, but that was really where people were at. And cloud computing—it was 2006, it was actually the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who coined the term cloud computing—a little bit of trivia. So if somebody wants to get in touch with you over at InPlayer, what’s the best way to do that?
A: Well, if they want to get in touch with me personally, it’s very simple, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I can drive them around the right channels of the business. And otherwise, it’s email@example.com, and our team will look after everyone. We’re very happy with personal touch; as I said before, we’re client-driven. The clients are who make us a success, and they still keep coming, which is perfect for us. And so, we’re growing on AWS, we’re using more services, and it's the sort of snowball effect that you want in this industry.