Live Social Video is the Future, says Streaming Tank

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Live streaming specialist Streaming Tank has ambitious plans to expand into China and to develop its own streaming media player.

The UK-based outfit has had an eventful year since co-founder and CEO Chris Dabbs parted with the company in December 2016.

"Chris moved to the U.S. in 2014 to set up our New York office, which has been very successful, but we came to share a different vision for where the future of the business was headed," says co-founder and director James Wilkinson. "Marriages sometimes have to come to an end. We had great run of it. It's my company moving forward."

Part of Wilkinson's vision is development of a video player which Streaming Tank will run internally at first and then look to commercialise.

"We are building our own live streaming player that responds more intuitively to how people interact in a live environment," he says. "Live social video is changing the dynamics. Media agencies are coming to us and saying that they find it hard to justify using Facebook Live because engagement with the audience, targeted feedback, and interactivity is not where they want it. That's the piece we are working on with other companies.

"We want to help the targeting and analytics side so that media agencies can see what people are doing on social while watching live and are then able to change the story depending on the platform it is being watched on be that Facebook Live, Instagram, Periscope or Sina Weibo. We want to react if a social influencer is active. For instance, we have a team cutting up content for social media in real time. Live social video is the future of streaming."

Streaming Tank can count McDonald's, KFC, Nike, and Mercedes among top-tier brand clients, as well as live streaming of red carpet premiers from  Leicester Square (Wilkinson spoke to Streaming Media from the Empire cinema ahead of the UK premier for Darren Aronofsky's Mother!) but Wilkinson knows that competition is intense from the likes of Groovy Gecko, Stream AMG, and Stream UK and J B Cole. Indeed, he poached Stream AMG's technology director Izzy Benge to lead the player development effort as CTO.

"Technology from Blackmagic Design, LiveU, and NewTek has been great for our industry, allowing anyone to get involved in live event broadcasts with flyaway set-ups," he says. "But at the same time it has commoditized live streaming. It means we have to innovate to stay ahead of the curve."

In April, the 13-year-old firm made its first acquisition. Outside broadcaster 42Live gave direct access to a roster of clients in news and sports. Chief among these is Discovery Communications-owned Eurosport, for which Streaming Tank now delivers feeds from snooker and World SuperBikes events.

The company was early to adopt VR, testing stitching and capture technologies from Nokia, Koncept VR, and Visualise. It now offers a full end to end live streaming 4K 360° package with Nokia Ozo.

"While a lot of companies are focused on on-demand VR projects and spending 6-8 months in development we're happy to do live VR," Wilkinson says.

It worked with M&C Saatchi during the Olympics in Rio 2016 to deliver a VR video conference for journalists in London with British ex-athletes Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Steve Redgrave in Brazil.

"The technical precedent for this project was something we were keen to set," says Streaming Tank's Phil Andrews, who delivered the onsite tech. "Other 360° apps before were focused on pulling their content from a CDN or having it pre-installed for on-demand. Our challenge was to get this going directly into the headset, live with a delay of 2 seconds, having audio and video in sync."

Wilkinson is the first to admit that VR has yet to go mainstream but says that if done right it is the perfect medium for engagement. He says, "It's not good for sharing a beer with a mate and watching the ball game but it is perfect for certain townhall corporate message, e-sports, and gaming."

Some e-sports VR streaming deals are in the works he hints but it is China which has his attention.

"The Chinese are a long way ahead of the curve when it comes to live VR in terms of the investment they are making in the technology and in the installed base of users. That's why we are intent on pushing a lot of our tech and services out to China."

With funds already raised from Chinese investors (and more to follow), Wilkinson plans to open a China office, either Shanghai or Shenzhen, in the next 12 months and to chase that with a new European tech hub in Dublin by the end of 2018.

"This is an exciting period and its great to be involved in a lot more of the production and engineering of the live stream," he says.

Streaming Tank has made a name for itself streaming major entertainment events like movie premieres.

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