When the Web promised to transform anyone with a hand for prose, an ear for music or an eye for video into an online media publisher, the fine print of the business disclaimer was overlooked by many. While the Internet did indeed offer a global content distribution network (or CDN in today’s industry parlance) with an historically low barrier to market entry, what was missing from the delivery process was the whole management side of the equation. Put simply, how do you make money with media assets? How do you control the user experience, the gate and the revenue? How do you manage your media catalogue to profitably deliver content in the proper format and make it relevant to what your audience is looking for, at the speed and on the device they are looking at? Moreover, each piece of content is generally part of a larger business process or workflow. It’s one thing to formulate content, but another formula entirely to give it value in the way it is packaged, priced, protected and promoted.
Mastering the content management framework is what has made thePlatform a virtual springboard for its clients. From large companies like CNBC, Microsoft and Primedia, and corporations with large media libraries or A/V training and development stores, to small and mid-size organizations and content producers, thePlatform is vying to become the content management foundation for the Internet.
Founded in the summer of 2000 by three Microsoft alums, Andrew Olson, the marketing VP, and Rahul Sonnad and Alan Ramaley, the technical leaders, and by Adobe manager and entrepreneur, Ian Blaine, as president, the start-up soon found its launch path being fueled by $4 million in venture funding. A few months later, the firm acquired the aptly named RocketVox, which added encoding and streaming services to the core software architecture. By the fall of 2001, thePlatform had secured impressive contracts with Microsoft (for WindowsMedia.com) and CNBC Dow Jones Business Video, which began using thePlatform to syndicate CNBC satellite broadcasts to business customers across the Web. In the spring of 2002, thePlatform merged with Reliacast, a Virginia-based company that built quality of service reporting tools for streaming media. Operations have been consolidated in Seattle, with Blaine at the helm.
To understand how thePlatform set the stage for the media business, Seattle24x7 caught up with president Ian Blaine just as the company was in the throes of launching its new Commerce Edition.
Seattle24x7: What kind of company is benefitting the most from thePlatform?
Blaine: Many different kinds really. On the one hand, you have people who have maybe 30-50 media clips and can use thePlatform to control access to that content and to create rich publishing interfaces. The media could be an asset like a training and development video that has a PowerPoint slide associated with it, or a story or graphic. For the smaller company, the key advantage isn’t that we can scale to hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, it’s the workflow that we enable. With any amount of media, if you have a complex workflow you need software to manage it effectively.
On the other hand, we have people who have tens of thousands of media items, like CNBC for example. They not only have a very complex workflow but also lots of media objects and they are able to utilize almost every part of the Platform. A key way they’re using us is to easily repurpose their broadcast content for online distribution.
As you scale toward dozens or hundreds, and especially thousands of pieces of media, and you want to associate metadata with that media, meaning you want to make the content searchable, and you want to start setting policies on how the media is used and be able to track the usage of it, then thePlatform becomes a very interesting prospect.
Seattle24x7: You’ve just released your Commerce Edition which enables turnkey storefront, turnkey subscriptions and pay-per-view. Does this open up yet another new market segment?
Blaine: I think that it will open up some interesting business models for people who need more than a pure content management and publishing tool. People who need to make business happen. That’s really the next step for us — to enable people to see a clear ROI from a revenue standpoint from using the system.
Seattle24x7: From a handful of media assets to millions of files, to say that thePlatform is scalable is quite an understatement?
Blaine: Absolutely. Microsoft Windowsmedia.com is one of our flagship customers and for them we manage all of the streaming ad insertion for content that is available on Windowsmedia.com. On a good month, we do as many 30 million media requests for them alone. From a transactional standpoint, we can scale to a massive level and we’ve proven it.
Seattle24x7: And yet you are not a content delivery network. You don’t deliver bits.
Blaine: No, we don’t store bits ourselves. We’re a software company. Let’s take Metallicavault.com as an example. That’s a project we did in conjunction with Speakeasy in support of Metallica’s latest CD. Speakeasy brought us into the picture to do the content management and publishing and presentation of media in a portal and they relied on a CDN to actually do the delivery. We integrated seamlessly with the CDN they chose. When a user requests a particular song, the request comes through us. We do an authentication against an LDAP server and then basically hand off the request to the CDN. So you can see that we’re a software management layer above the content delivery networks. The nice thing about that is that we have customers who are able to use both public CDN’s and private CDN’s simultaneously with our software. So they’re managing all of the content from one interface and they’re able to choose what networks the content gets out to.
Seattle24x7: One of the beauties of thePlatform is that it is object-oriented.
Blaine: Right, let’s take CNBC as an example. Take a particular video clip. That’s an object in our system. You can associate it with as many formats and bit rates as you want. You create the metadata once and then you can add as many different flavors of that as you want and the metadata applies to all of them without any extra work.
We have an integration with Microsoft Digital Rights management where we built a very easy to use layer on top of the RM so that it’s as simple as creating a license which is an object in our system. You just drop that on a media object and the software does all the heavy lifting to actually run that through a license server. It gets the information packed into the file itself and then moves it out to the delivery network. Other layers of security are more programmatic where there’s link protection, referral domain limitations, etc.
Seattle24x7: Can you break down some of the other features and capabilities for us?
Blaine: There are six modules altogether. First, there’s a media catalogue – a place where a company’s manager of media can go in and look at the entire set of available media, what bit rates and formats are available and the metadata.
We have a Publishing piece which basically creates media portals. It enables a turnkey presentation of content that is easy and powerful. in under ten minutes, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can set up a very rich, completely searchable portal for your media that can be category or keyword driven. We have a User Management Module. This is for people who don’t have a user database, but who want to require authentication for people coming in to view the media. They can manage it through our system. So we work both through either a self-managed system (where the customer is managing their own user database) or we can manage it for them.
We also have User Reporting, which is a combination of client and server generated information. The server side information includes how many requests were made for a piece of media, when they were requested, and where they were requested from, etc. There’s also Client-side information which tells you some pretty interesting things about the user experience from how long it took to deliver the content, how much buffering took place for the person to see the content, and what percentage of frames were delivered during the viewing period.
You can get a really info-rich view of how your content’s being consumed.
Rounding out the high level feature set are playlists, license management, and turn-key store-fronts which we’ve just released. The idea of the storefronts is to offer content managers a turn-key solution for subscriptions, PPV and pay-per-download scenarios, that is fully integrated with billing and credit card processing. You can do this with any file format, and integrate the store fronts with your own web pages, making it a more flexible solution than most offerings out there.
Seattle24x7: I understand CNBC uses stock ticker information to connect users with their multimedia data. What are some of the other imaginative ways you’re seeing clients work with thePlatform?
Blaine: Searchability is a big one. We also see people using the metadata as a workflow triggers. For example, we allow content owners to create custom metadata fields. They can be designed to hold images, text and HTML, but also booleans. So it can also be “Yes/No” choice that triggers workflow. By clicking “Yes” they’re automatically clicking the approval and the presentation of that media to end-users. By saying “No,” the content gets flagged and you go back through the process again.
We’re also seeing the concept for presentation into different device mediums. We’ve seen some very good traction in the mobile space. This is where people want a media object, maybe a movie trailer, to present not only to broadband user sitting at their desktop, but also to someone who has cradled their PocketPC device or has a SmartPhone so that they can look at the media as well. They want to manage that off of one system.
Seattle24x7: What does your pricing model look like?
Blaine: There are two major buckets. One is using us as a hosted service where you’re basically outsourcing it and using our ASP model. Basically, someone doing that would pay a monthly subscription fee to use the software. The other model is a licensed version where you are taking the entire software application and running it yourself. That has a more traditional licensing fee.
Seattle24x7: What’s ahead for thePlatform in terms of growth?
Blaine: We’re very excited about our new commerce features and believe that we’ll have a large number of new customers signed up by the end of this year. Also look for us announcing deals in the wireless and cable modem space in the near future. In terms of recent deals, we just signed a contract with a consortium of online radios stations which are going to use thePlatform for ad insertion. They already were taking part in Windows Media ad insertion but realized they could monetize their own traffic effectively for links that weren’t being served by Windows Media and they came to us. Currently thePlatform has 18 employees. In the next 12 months, we will be actively trying to expand our sales force.[24×7]
Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.