Q&A: Brightcove CEO Marc DeBevoise

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If COVID-19 has introduced remote operations and social distancing to innumerable areas of public and corporate life, it’s also greatly reduced the distance between enterprises and the streaming world. And it’s not just everyday communications via Zoom and Microsoft Teams; the operational reliance on streaming has opened the eyes of companies that never really engaged with online video to the necessity of deploying it for a vast range of purposes, such as communications, training, marketing, and extending their reach. According to new Brightcove CEO Marc DeBevoise, lots of enterprises have been leveraging the offerings of Brightcove and other SaaS companies in the streaming space to “act like media companies,” but that number is growing more rapidly than ever now.

DeBevoise, who joined Brightcove in February 2022, knows a thing or two about media companies. A near-20-year veteran of the streaming space, he has worked with some of the industry’s largest premium content companies, serving as NBCUniversal’s director of digital media immediately after NBC and Universal merged, helping Starz found and grow its digital media team as lead strategist and SVP, and spending nearly a decade at CBS, shepherding the launch of its All Access D2C streaming service in 2014 and leading operations for CBS Interactive and its 25-plus web and mobile properties.

I caught up with DeBevoise on Zoom in early August, shortly after Brightcove’s quarterly earnings call, to talk about Brightcove’s evolution as a SaaS company, its evolution beyond the old OVP model, and how it is approaching its role in the expanding enterprise video space. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: Tell me a little bit about what you were doing in your previous roles on the content side of the industry, your transition to Brightcove, and what that transition means for you and Brightcove.

Marc DeBevoise: I’ve spent my entire career at the intersection of media and technology. I ended up at a number of major media companies over the years. At NBC, I helped put together the NBC and Universal transaction with a bunch of others and then formed the first digital media team there. Then I went to Starz and helped found that digital media team. Then I ended up spending the better part of the last decade at CBS and then ViacomCBS and eventually Paramount as I left. And the great part about that was that it was both technology and content all the way through. At CBS Interactive, our real achievements there were around developing one of the first streaming services and earliest television networks to go direct to consumer in 2014, when we launched CBS All Access, 5 years before Disney+ and HBO Max. And what I loved about running that business was getting to play on both sides. I managed a multibillion dollar content budget in terms of making television shows, movies, and a licensing library, but also an immense, thousands-of-persons technology organization that built a lot of it ourselves. But I realized that portions of it could be outsourced over time for efficiency, for better service, and for stronger answers.

The [experience] that gave me the confidence to come and run Brightcove was back in 2011 or ’12 when we had our own ad servers at CBS Interactive, and we realized there were outsourced opportunities for ad-serving—like DoubleClick, which became Google Ad Manager and FreeWheel—and that we could actually save money and re-deploy those high-value engineering resources to things that were frankly more strategic in how we could differentiate ourselves as a media company. And I think understanding that transition from a decade ago now really defined one of the big opportunities for me of joining Brightcove. Now is the moment for most media companies—large, medium, and small—when it really does not make a lot of sense for them to be developing the things that Brightcove offers.

And so transitioning to this side of the business where we’re a provider of technology, services, and capabilities was actually a natural transition for me. And I really just needed to understand the nature of the market to believe that the opportunity was as big as I believe it is. Today, every company needs to think and act like a media company. And that is true whether you are a mid-market company that’s trying to define its brand or you’re a major brand out in the world trying to gain more reach and audience to market your products or services. You absolutely need to think like you are trying to reach people with content. And if you don’t have a video content strategy on the internet for the next 5 years, we think you should have one.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: You’ve seen Brightcove from the customer side, particularly several years ago with Starz. And one of the things I was hearing a lot a few years back in the industry was people saying that online video platforms as we knew them were on the way out. How do you see the difference between the Brightcove you knew as a customer and the one that you’re coming into now in terms of what today’s OVP model is?

Marc DeBevoise: I think calling it an OVP doesn’t do it justice anymore. Yes, we have a video player, and it is online, but it is just one thing that we do out of many. [W]e put our vision and our mission together, and we explained it to Wall Street earlier this week, that it is to be the most trusted streaming technology company in the world. You don’t see the word “OVP” in that sentence. We are a streaming technology company. It involves software, it involves services, it involves delivery technology. It involves a huge spectrum of things that you have to do to get a video from point A to point B, but also to help create that video, help catalog it, tag it, store it, encode it, transcode it, save it for the everyday user to use, have a player that plays it, stitch ads to it, measure it, and get insights on it. It is not just an OVP. OVP is a portion of the stack, but it is much deeper technology today.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: You had your quarterly earnings call earlier this week. I was reading through your statement from that call, and one thing that jumped out at me was when you said that you wanted to move toward offering a solution that could actually measure, sell, or fill an ad. I’ve always seen Brightcove as a SaaS company and not an ad tech firm per se. Looking forward, why and how do you see Brightcove pushing into the ad tech space?

Marc DeBevoise: Many of our media customers—who represent about a third of our customer base, but about half of our revenue—turn to us to help them distribute content to monetize it. In the history of media, typically, there have been three major models that have been used to monetize content. You either are selling a subscription to that content, selling an individual transaction to that content, or selling ads against the broader viewership of that content. There are some hybrid models, some other things with live events, but that’s pretty much the way it works. To date, we have been helpful in doing all of those things, but have stopped ourselves in certain areas, especially in advertising, from actually fulfilling the final need of our customer. The reasoning we gave ourselves—going back long before my time at Brightcove—is that if it wasn’t SaaS, we didn’t want to do it, because we wanted to be this pure SaaS company.

But if you look at most SaaS companies out in the world, they’re never at 100% SaaS revenue. They’re typically 80% SaaS revenue and 10, 15, 20% something else that helps bring the customer along, that helps service the customer. For most SaaS companies, that’ll be a services business that they either implement or customize, which we have. Typically, that’s been 5 to 8% of our business, or about 3 to 4% this year.

So, the overwhelming majority of our business is SaaS, and it will be forever. But the idea of actually shutting down additional business models or not going after them because they didn’t fit this perfect divide-by-12, subscription-fee, measurable way of selling didn’t make much sense. We actually should not just provide server-side or client-side ad insert for a subscription fee—we have those technologies, and we do that for customers. But we should also look at measuring and filling that ad for certain customers that want that from us if it’s a way we could help them make money on their content. We do it on subscriptions, by the way—we have partners in Stripe and Evergent that help us manage transactional throughput, and we actually take transactional fees. It’s a small portion of our business, but we do it. We just decided not to do it on the ad side. Now we’ve changed that decision. We are going to help companies that want us to help them monetize their available ad inventory on their platforms. Initially, it’s going to start with us helping them effectively measure what’s there. And then how we can help them fill that, likely using a partnership that we will evolve over time. And our view is that it will be a small percentage of our business in the long run, but it will be very helpful to a great number of our clients. We’ve seen some of our competitors do it. It doesn’t turn us into an ad-tech firm. You can’t get our ad fill without being a software customer. It’s not going be something we separate or do in a different way.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: Another thing that struck me as interesting in the earnings call statement was when you mentioned content-as-a-service. Generally, when I’ve encountered CaaS, it refers to a sort of headless, decoupled CMS. What do you have in mind when you talk about that, and what does it mean for Brightcove?

Marc DeBevoise: Part of our strategy is two services or components that we want to go deeper on. One is helping our customers assess their capability and current status as video-first content distributors and/or marketers and/or employees, depending on the use case. Especially on the enterprise side of the business, we find that one of our biggest competitors is [companies choosing to] do nothing. They’re not sure they have enough content or the right content to really move forward with pushing this part of their strategy. And we think all companies need to do it. We have 250 or more of the Fortune 1000, and the other 750 are not all using another streaming technology company, so a lot of them are doing nothing. And so we think there’s a really wide open space for us to help companies come into the marketplace.

So, how do you get ’em in there? First, you need to tell them to do an assessment and figure out what they have and what they don’t have. And a lot of people have more video than they think they do inside their company; it just needs to be pulled together and pulled together in the right way. But many others actually don’t have it. They don’t have the full content capability to launch a marketing instance of our Video Cloud product or whatever the use case might be. So, our theory there is that if we actually brought some of that content to bear for those companies, they could more readily jump in, and we could basically incubate their business or accelerate their business into the video-first strategy. There are a number of third-party companies that we will look to work with to bring in a lot of mostly short-form content to help marketers, internal and external communication leaders, and employee engagement leaders to build a video stack of content that can really help them engage with either their customer or their employee base or whoever they’re trying to communicate with. That is, we’ll help them create content that can be utilized by them without a whole lot of lift and effort.

That’s where we come in with content-as-a-service. It’s the idea that we need to help you understand what your strategy is and what you have and then identify some things you may need—some things that you’re not ready to start producing inside your own company. How do you get it from outside your company? There are good sources out there that we will look to bring to bear. We have a few of them already on the platform, but we need to bring some more onto our platform to make it really seamless for customers to use.

Steve Nathans-Kelly: You seem to be focusing a lot on enterprise, which is obviously an area that’s growing and becoming a lot more dynamic and something we’re all paying a lot more attention to. After these 2 1/2 years when enterprises have begun to depend more operationally on streaming video—even if it’s just been everyday videoconferencing at first—do you think that this is translating into a better or broader understanding of how they can use it?

Marc DeBevoise: Absolutely. We see that interest level out there, and we think our market is primed. Some get it and are diving in, some have been customers for a decade. We have companies like Home Depot, Nike, Ford, and GM who have been our customers for a long time and really use our products in a great way. They’re companies that have been thinking and acting like media companies for a long time. They really understand the nature of that. There are probably multiple use cases in every company in the world for a streaming digital strategy that enables their company to do something better, whether it’s market, whether it’s communication, whether it’s work with their employees. And I think the wave is now coming, and we need to just paddle ourselves or paddle the companies a little bit clo­ser to the wave so that they can catch it. It’s really close now, and I think COVID pushed it even closer. And I think if you look back at the time before COVID, some companies got it, and some companies were like, “I don’t really need to be there.”

But now I see us signing up government contractor companies who need secure streaming for internal communications. These are not organizations that have been acting like media companies for years; they’re folks that are now realizing that they have to somehow act like a media company either with their employees or with their external communication sources. It’s certainly been primed by the last 2 years of remote work, but it’s about more than that. It’s about a broader strategy of how you engage with your audiences. And when I see this happening, I think, “The wave isn’t coming—it’s here.”

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