Streamworks Targets Live News and International Expansion
Streaming media service Streamworks International has a single ambition -- to control real-time news on the internet -- and says it has the technology and the know-how to achieve it.
With a significant deal in place with Associated Press Television News (APTN), another with the United Nations at "head of terms," plus one shortly to be announced with a second major news agency, the London-based outfit, which only went live 18 months ago, wants to make some noise about its achievements.
There's a reason. Streamworks' CEO Ray Mia is scouting for what he terms a "strategic raise" among VCs on both sides of the Atlantic to expand the company into new markets and scale up the enterprise.
"We've been low-key so far because we were concentrating on ensuring it all works, but now we are ready to flex our muscles," Mia tells StreamingMedia. "Our aim is to control live breaking news on the internet as the B2B backbone, taking video content from all major outlets and geopolitical centres and distributing it ubiquitously."
Critical to that vision is a suite of patented technologies that the company says will reduce bandwidth for live video streams by up to 70 percent, source material dependent.
"With talking heads or medium close-up content we can reduce bandwidth up to 70 percent, and for fast-moving content with heavy information and bitrates we are seeing 20 to 25 percent reductions," Mia says.
Mia keeps details under wraps, preferring to describe the tech not as a codec, but as "something that happens before compression."
He elaborates: "We take the raw pictures straight out of the camera, or as close to original source as possible. Our technology comes from a deep understanding of broadcast cameras, frame rates, and what makes up a digital signal. We manipulate the signal at a different part of the workflow to encoding providers like Elemental Technologies or Digital Rapids" [though it works with both].
Mia's background helps. Armed with degrees in film production he spent three years (2000 to 2003) as producer at the U.N., then set up the broadcast arm of WireImage, now part of Getty Images, before being hired to launch and run a series of digital channels for broadcaster and publisher Northern & Shell.
Mia founded the company that became Streamworks in 2006. CTO Rob Peacock joined later, and their mission was to improve what they saw as the lax awareness and execution of live simulcasts among the broadcast community.
"Broadcasters know about satellite and video delivery. They don't -- or didn't -- interact with CDNs," declares Mia. "They do not want to be pushed a CDN or an OVP. They don't want to be sold bandwidth. They just need to know it works for the geographic territories they require, that it is reliable and high quality."
Peacock and Mia thought they had a better solution in the proprietary tech they took five years to perfect. Backed by holding company Ocean Group in June 2010, registered for IP advantage in Luxembourg (as are many net-related businesses such as the European arm of Amazon) and with operational headquarters in London, the service was switched on in February, 2011.
The company's first big win was the live event coverage last October of U.S. competitive video game league Major League Gaming (MLG), which, according to Mia, smashed records.
"During a three day competition, we streamed six channels of HD video to 170 countries, equating to 250,000 concurrents per channel and over 30 million uniques. We were third behind Netflix and YouTube in traffic over Akamai in that period. We knew we had the technology to deliver the results; now we had the proof of concept."
Streamworks doesn't claim to be an end-to-end provider, though it is a managed service. It routes video from its own hubs in Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York, and third-party data centres to multiple CDNs, data providers, ISPs, and mobile network operators.
"We have built a heavily redundant and robust footprint using multiple CDNs to mitigate buffering as much as we can without having to reach in or direct client hardware," says Mia, who does not rule out selling its tech off-the-shelf in future.
The decision to expand is premised on the belief that the next big thing in online video is breaking news. A recent study from the Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence in Journalism revealed that in the last 15 months, a third of the most-searched terms on YouTube were news-related. Indeed hard news -- of the Japanese earthquake or Arab Spring, for example -- trumps that of celebrity and entertainment news in terms of views. Most footage is recorded and uploaded by eyewitnesses who are creating a new kind of visual journalism, the report says. News outlets are also incorporating user-generated footage into their reports.
"Live video is set to undergo a 10x explosion," Mia argues. "Platforms need live and they need it to work everywhere. We could focus on sport, but that businesses is very competitive. Twenty percent of all daily internet traffic is based on news. The majority of the largest spiked video clips on YouTube are hard news about the Arab Spring or epic weather events, for example. News is permanent and regular. What's more, we understand news, we know how to produce it, and -- most importantly -- how to commercialise it."
It's hard to argue against that when Streamworks already holds a client like APTN. Last October AP launched its previously satellite-only news feeds service APTN Direct online, on mobile, and on tablets to over 200 broadcasters worldwide with Streamworks as its sole partner.
The pair have since delivered news content including the capture of Ghadafi, the Japanese tsunami, the Leveson inquiry, Hurricane Irene, Whitney Houston's funeral, the U.K. riots and the Queen's Jubilee.
"All our competitors have worked in and around the newsroom, but only for a logo landgrab," Mia claims. "They want to be associated with events like the Academy Awards or royal weddings, and that's fine but what I am talking about is live breaking news as well as coverage of longer events such as the U.S. presidential election or a month-and-a-half sitting of the U.N. General Assembly.
"Currently the U.N. is streaming content on its own website, and it's a poor user experience but we can liberate that. You may not think there would be an audience for hour-long speeches by country leaders, but you would be completely wrong. This is not just about the developed world's media. There is massive demand in other parts of the world from platforms like The Bangladeshi Times to publishers in Africa. Our service is geared toward global consumers of live content."
Mia continues: "During the anniversary of 9/11, where our competitors were delivering live video at 35 seconds latency at a low bitrate and with a video signal that pixelated when blown up to a 56-inch plasma, we were partnered with AP delivering better quality at just 0.3 seconds behind live satellite and with a service that didn't fall down."
Having lured former AP sales director (EMEA) Markus Ickstadt and Tim Santhouse, the head of international operations, global media services at AP, to join the company as director of news and director of operations, respectively, Streamworks is clearly stating its intent.
The company is looking to expand into Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. North America is a big focus, so Streamworks is on the hunt for a sales chief for both that region and Asia.
"Breaking news has to exist on every device, so we can only see the sector growing and growing," says Mia. "We see usage going up day by day. Breaking news is not just a consumer proposition. There is a big B2B market for servicing the nuts and bolts of how an editorial desk functions. How do news bureaus located all around the world feed content beyond satellite? It is IP and it is where we step in."
With live online video created by the AP and delivered by Streamworks, AP Video Hub is ready for another year.