BrightCove, the new IP Video platform

10 Comments

At first blush there are remarkable similarities in what ace coder Jeremy Allaire’s new start-up, Bright Cove is trying to do and what others such as TiVo and Akimbo plan to achieve. They are all trying to become the platform to publish video content over the Internet, which can, and will be displayed on television and other connected devices.

However, as Allaire explains it, Bright Cove will be quite different from the other two. Instead of developing a hardware platform, the company will base everything it does on open standards, and will essentially be a software platform that will run on any kind of device – Microsoft Media Centers to TiVo to connected DVD players. In other words, he is gunning for a market that is the super nova of consumer-acquired devices.

Though many might confuse Bright Cove as the culmination of all Long Tail and Exploding TV prayers, in reality, and Allaire was quick to point out that this is really a platform for the little guy. Someone who is interested in video blogging, short form film and other downloadable forms of video. “For live broadcasts, cable and service providers there is no substitute, and it is not feasible,” he says, “Network PVR and connected DVD players and other devices that are connected to open Internet will be able to use this to deliver content.” It is through this consumer electronics proxy, the video content will be delivered to the only screen that matters for video: the television.

Allaire succinctly put it when he says that his model is no different from that of a software developer who writes a program for say Windows or a Mac platform. “We are building all the pieces which are going to be needed including billing and DRM infrastructure,” he says, “We are piggy backing on platform where we don’t need distribution agreements. We are focused on open platforms and ultimately that is the model that is going to succeed.” Much as I would like to cheer him on, I do not share his optimism for the Microsoft Media Center platform.

On the other hand, the company needs to overcome the inherent nature of television consumption – which involves minimal work and maximum passivity. In a recent chat, someone smart, whose name slips my mind, told me that when watching television, you tend to lean back, and when working on a PC you tend to lean forward. In order for TV-to-marry-PC, the bedrock on which future of television rests, cannot be trusted to a PC-centric media center product.

With about 2 million or so media centers in circulation, it is not a terribly exciting market and the company will have to get its, presumably proprietary client onto devices connected to the TV. I am assuming this client will be a combo XML/Flash/Browser based product. Striking deals with Phillips, Sony and others might not be that easy. Despite the inherent nature of an open Internet, my sources within network world say that both phone and cable companies are going to zealously guard their networks, and do traffic monitoring. These are practical real world challenges, which are not unique to BrightCove but to every start-up.

Though no expert on running a company, I can say this: Bright Cove’s platform must and should have the ease of use of say an Apple, if it can be successful with the little guys. Technically, I have no doubt that Jeremy’s posse, which includes some folks from Art Technology Group, will recreate the ColdFusion magic. CF’s ease of use, well I still remain sanguine about that. Then there is the most important challenge: unlike blogs where folks can self aggregate what they want to consume, video content on the Internet will need hand-holding, and need some sort of an easy to use interface. I wonder if Bright Cove has that in the works. Otherwise I will be watching cat videos before I turn back to the good old Law & Order.

Allaire’s brilliance will be in overcoming these issues. His financial backers – General Catalyst Partners and Accel Partners – at least believe in him. ‘’We’re going to build a service that marries what the Internet does really well, with television,” he told the Boston Globe. Allaire was the man behind web-page development environment called ColdFusion and other fine products such as HomeSite, which now dwindle inside of a morass called Macromedia. BrightCove is Allaire’s second shot at glory. I am cheering for him to succeed.

10 Comments

Steven

Also worth trying Perform Group (formerly Premium TV) – the guys behind ITV Champions League live streaming and Virgin’s V-Player on Times, Sun, Telegraph etc.

mark

Talk to the people at Roo Group, Roo Media. We have seen their player in operation and the customizable features are a good fit for most publishers.
Very decent content as well.

matt

anyone know of a solution like Brightcove but that is self contained, I don’t need all the hosting, just a costomizable player with playlist and basic CMS/ user profile functions.

Thanks!

Florine

Well, I’ve been waiting for months to see what Brightcove had to offer. I thought I had a chance to be amazed by their product when I found out that http://www.strandvenice.com was using their service.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch anything because the player failed to connect… Good start Mr Allaire!

Fortunately, other people were able to watch the trailer. One comment on the BRIGHTCOVE PLAYER (taken from the forum at http://www.strandvenice.com ):

“After reading the story about your project in today’s NYT, I clicked on the pilot episode…and was very disappointed in the visual quality of the Flash technology from Brightcove….colors were garish and the size of the image could not be enlarged or switched to full screen mode… ”

That’s what I thought at the first place. Allaire is just spending money on press releases, feeding his ego. Brightcove is empty.

Also, I think it’s a major concern for the content providers to have their stuff downloaded to the viewer’s machine, and a pain for the viewer too. Downloading before watching?? Like Movielink? No way!

Why am I so tough with Allaire and his so-called product? Because I can’t stand people who talk and talk and do not deliver. I hate people with strong egos, who believe they are important because they have money.

Now, here is the future: Vividas and NubaTV. AMAZING quality and no downloads required. Two different technologies and two different business models but both have a BRIGHT… FUTURE.

The future is online..

– Florine

Alex Rowland

Hey, Om. A few comments about Jeremy’s new service (never met the guy, but I’ll get familiar nonetheless)… It is exactly the right approach to the market. I have followed all of these companies, but it seems clear that taking an open standards approach to the market is the way to go. A few issues, however…

1. TiVo and Akimbo are different in their approach and you appear to lump them together. Akimbo is specifically aggregating content with the eventual goal of providing this content to any networked device. They have already partnered with MS to provide Akimbo licensed content to MCE 2005 boxes and there are rumors of a cable deal in the works. TiVo’s strategy keeps the device much more central to its future (whether this is good or bad is up for debate.) In other words, TiVo’s platform is a hardware/software combo like Apple, whereas Akimbo is evolving into more of a pure software platform like Amazon. This will put Akimbo on a much tighter course with Brightcove.

2. I think you probably misunderstood Jeremy (or he didn’t explain himself well, probably both) when you said that this was a service (or “proprietary clientâ€? as you called it) that was actually going to run on all of these devices. Unless Jeremy is crazy (which I don’t think he is), he’s just going to provide a Web application and allow content to be remotely loaded on devices that support open standards. The device itself will handle the UI, it’ll just read the meta-data supplied by Brightcove, display it in its own format, and decode whatever file you select. (He seems to allude to this when he says that he doesn’t need distribution relationships). As a result, he also shouldn’t need to structure relationships with all the different manufacturers. Standards will evolve and manufacturers will either comply with them or be slowly pushed out of the market.

Now I’m not saying this will be supported on every device on Day 1 or even Day 100 (Cable/Sat/Telco boxes will be conspicuously absent), but over time pressure will build on these networks and the CE guys to open up to the outside world as open devices will give consumers greater value for their dollar. As for the cab/sat/telco guys specifically, centralized control is born out of the inherent interest in keeping their network closed (ie high-margin), but new broadband delivery methods with lower cost structures will eventually force their hands. This is all inescapable, albeit time consuming.

Bottom line, Jeremy will be working with PCs and TiVos and jerry rigged PDAs for a little while, but there are enough consumers there to make the model profitable if you keep your costs in check and wait out the incumbents (It’s just going to be a bit of a wait I’m afraid).

3. I agree with your sentiment about the PC/active-TV/passive issue. (Although a lot more people have started to watch TV/video on PCs due to Bittorrent, but this is a different issue). The fact is people like to kick back and watch stuff when in front of the TV. They don’t want to go searching the universe for something interesting. (It’s the same reason why interactive TV will not get beyond voting for the next American Idol, it’s just too much of a pain in the ass. If I wanted to interact with my TV, I’d boot up my Xbox.) Anyway, the point is that the TV model will work the same way as the iPod/iTunes model. Find stuff you want on your PC, schedule it to be downloaded/recorded on the device of your choosing (TV, laptop, cell phone, PSP, etc.), and select those programs from a list on the device when you’re ready to veg. The PC was made to search through reams of information quickly and efficiently (and IPTV will be reams of information pretty quickly). The TV was not.

4. Conversely to my argument that open standards are the way to go in this market, open standards actually make this a tougher nut to crack for a company like Brightcove in the long-term. This whole market is the natural evolution from Blogging (democratization of text) to Podcasting (democratization of audio) to Videocasting (democratization of video). The only problem is, the consumption device and network is pretty open in the first two cases, and less so in the third. (But video is oh soo juicy it’s tough to pass up). This potentially forces Brightcove (and other yet to be announced competitors) to find access to these “closed” devices through intermediaries that comply with open standards (such as Media RSS).

Let’s take 2Wire as an example. 2Wire is rolling out these slick Dish/SBC devices for “triple playâ€? (voice, video, data) access. They’re going to provide access for niche video content that conforms to Media RSS standards. But who is going to be officially sanctioned to supply these standardized feeds? Yahoo! Terry Semel knows that if they can be the super aggregator of this content and they have the scale to develop these (potentially exclusive) relationships with all the major “closed” distribution networks, they win, and I mean big time. They’ve already got 80 guys working on it. (BTW, Google’s not paying enough attention here.)

If Yahoo! becomes a de facto super-aggregator of all this distributed video content and they can merge it with mass market content (end-to-end tail which is important to keep customer acquisition costs down) they can add some publishing/billing/DRM tools as well. Then Brightcove is forced to serve these devices through the Yahoo! intermediary which will make consumers ask, “Why am I taking the extra step of using Brightcove and Yahoo! when I can just use Yahoo! for everything?â€? Brightcove then has to just outgun Yahoo!’s R&D group before the networks are forced to open up. Not an enviable task; not impossible, just not a lot of fun.

Jeremy is indeed heading in the right direction, but like all pioneers, he better watch for those arrows in the back.

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