The High Flyers: Jeff Malkin

00:13:24 | December 10, 2014

Jeff Malkin, President of encoding.com joins Vidcaster to discuss video encoding and why it's important to understand it. Listen to this interview to learn about how encoding enables your video files to be played across any device and where video encoding is headed. You will also learn best practices for video formats when uploading. Hint: It's all about where it's going to be viewed!

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[OPENING MUSIC] Hi. Welcome to this episode of High Flyers. My name is Kieran Farr, and I'm joined today by Jeff Malkin, the president of Encoding.com. Jeff, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you very much for having me, Kieran. Maybe you can start by telling us a little bit about what is Encoding.com, and what led you and your business partner to create the company. Sure, sure Encoding.com is a leading cloud based media processing platform. That's somewhat of a mouthful. What we do is we leverage automation and cloud infrastructure to help content publishers-- whether they're media companies, or marketers, or video platform providers-- to format their videos to play back successfully across the increasing number of mobile devices, web browsers, set-top boxes, et cetera. My partner Greg Heil, actually, is the brainchild behind Encoding.com. And about seven or eight years ago, he had a software development company focused on building and managing video platforms for customers. And as that business was growing, he was actually managing the video transcoding in house on, what was only available at the time, hardware and software, on premise. And eventually he looked to the market for a solution to help. And he was looking for a software as a service approach to transcoding that did not yet exist. Boom, there was the opportunity. Gotcha. So I guess it would be helpful, for some of our viewers who may not understand as much about the inner workings of video delivery, to explain a little bit about what is encoding? What does it actually mean? And why is it important? Why is it something to think about even when you're making content at the beginning of that process? So, people don't wake up every day thinking about encoding? [LAUGHS] I know I do, but I don't think we're normal people. Video encoding, which is now synonymous with transcoding-- transcoding, I think, is actually the more accurate word, but that would be a problem with the name of our company. They're basically synonyms at that point. They are, yes. Correct. It's the process of converting one video file format to other file formats so that they can play successfully on different devices. So There's different codecs, there's difference container formats, there's screen sizes, and resolutions, and ways that you package and wrap those video files. So in other words, an iPhone compared to an Android may have different, what you're saying, codecs, or requirements for being able to play back video. Yes, correct. Right. And if you go on the web and you watch video through your web browser, you might find that what Safari supports is different from Chrome, which is different from Firefox, which is different from Explorer, et cetera. So there's a lot of fragmentation out there across mobile devices, and set-top boxes, and web browsers, such that the reason you should care for your content publisher-- if you're a marketer, you want to maximize the number of people that can actually watch a video. So what you need to do is prepare that video in different formats so that it can play successfully for all those devices. And that's why it's important to care about it. And so in the old days, before there were cloud solutions like yours, as a producer of video content, I would have to actually create all these different versions manually for whatever devices I wanted to support. That is correct. You had to do it using on premise hardware and/or software. And the problem-- the challenge of supporting all these devices has grown much more challenging over the years. When we first launched, we were doing a lot of Flash video. And what year was that, when you guys launched? 2008. And that was primarily the format we were supporting. And now there's different screen sizes and resolutions. And that was right before the iPhone. It was. The iPhone came out, I believe, in February of 2010. I mention that because it really changed the way a lot of people looked at encoding formats. It did, very much so. In fact, it helped put us on the map as a company. Because, prior to that, if you were a big media company-- you know, the ABCs of the world-- you had this infrastructure in place, and it supported your needs and supported Flash. But once iPhone came out and had its own proprietary delivery format, called HTTP live streaming, HLS, none of that infrastructure supported it, because it didn't exist before. So now all of these companies were scrambling because the iPhone took off like a rocket and they wanted to support it, and we were able to support it very quickly in March of 2010. Wow. You guys were very quick. It was. I really owed Steve Jobs a bucket of champagne for that. That's really interesting. Again, you mentioned a format called HLS. And can you describe a little bit more about what that is, and the keyword adaptive bit rate. What does that mean, and why is that something people should be aware of? Adaptive bit rate technology, or formats, are basically a way of formatting video such that the end device-- let's call it an iPhone in this case-- will constantly check the available bandwidth that you're in. So if you're moving around, every five or 10 seconds, it's going to be checking for what the available bandwidth is, such that you can stream the highest quality video to meet the available bandwidth. So if you are in an area where you have a bad connection, you will see video that doesn't necessarily buffer, but won't look as great. But if you move into an area that has high bandwidth availability, you can see a much better looking video. There are four competing formats out there. Four? Four, yes. More and more fragmentation. And so HLS is one of those four? HLS is one, and becoming the more dominant one. There's Microsoft Smooth Streaming. That's Silverlight. That's formally Silverlight, also known as Smooth Streaming. Silverlight to Flash is what Smooth Streaming is to HLS. And then there is Adobe's HTTP Dynamic Streaming. And then there's a fairly new format called MPEG DASH, which is trying to unify these others. So is MPEG DASH like an umbrella, in theory? It's taking the best of the other three and trying to create a unified standard. It's gaining some ground in Europe, but here in the US, and other parts of the world, Apple's HLS is really gaining dominance, such that even Android devices now support HLS. So to be clear, for HLS, it's not just restricted to Apple devices? Correct. Other platforms-- Have adopted it. Are capable of licensing, or just using it. Like the Roku, for example, is a set-top box that also supports HLS. So that, almost, is becoming a de facto standard, just because everyone wanted to support the iPhone initially. Everyone made these transcodes, and then now all these different devices are saying, hey, all this content's out there. We might as well as support that format because it seems to be winning. That's true for most cases. For those that want to target the Xbox, for example, Smooth Streaming. I wonder why? It's funny how that works out. But HLS has become, clearly, a dominant player. Well, that's a pretty good transition into my next question about, what do you see as the next-- what's on the horizon for encoding? And I've heard people throw around-- there's a new version of the H.264. The next successor to that is coming out. What are you seeing that's actually relevant that people should think about as they look toward their video technology stack over the next few years? Well, I think that there's always a trend for better compression algorithms, which enable higher quality video at lower bit rates, or lower file sizes. Because what, in effect, that does is reduce your storage and delivery cost for video. There's H.265 now, which is HEVC. Those are synonyms? Yes. And then at the higher end, you've probably heard about 4K video, which is massive. Very high bit rate videos that are gorgeous. I think, though, that before a content publisher needs to concern themselves with what's out there, those technologies have to become embedded in end devices, and then the users will start demanding it. Once the users start demanding that higher quality video, than the content producer needs to concern themselves with it. Somewhat of a lagging indicator. I think if you're a content producer today, from a transcoding perspective, I think the adaptive bit rate format should be high on your list of priorities. So that's really the highest priority right now. Get up to speed with HLS or other adaptive bit rate formats. I think so, because it's a great end user experience. And again, your goal is to maximize the audience, and to maximize the experience. There are certainly other trends that fall outside of transcoding-- things that Vidcaster adopts as well, around analyzing your video, and dynamic ad serving to help monetize your video, and all these other things, which are important. But from a transcoding perspective, I think, right now, better to wait and see what it gets adopted by the consumer electronic devices. That's really helpful. So I have a very specific geeky video producer question I wanted to ask. And that is-- people ask me is a lot-- when I produce video content, I want to upload it to a system like Encoding.com at a high quality level, but I don't have all day to let it upload a raw super HD 4K file. Now, where do you guys find that middle ground that you recommend to your customers as either a bit rate, or a codec, or a format to upload as the master copy? Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. I would call that a mezzanine file, and that phrase really comes from Hollywood. There is a challenge when you're moving large files around. It can be cost and time prohibitive, as I'm sure you've discovered. There are tools out there to help the transfer. For example, Encoding.com, and certainly others, support Aspera, or other UDP-type technologies. They are fast and secure ways of delivering content. Helps accelerate it faster than the normal upload through your browser. Correct. Or other multi-threaded FTP types of ingesting. But still, a massive file is massive file. I would say that it's the old adage of garbage in, garbage out. So you do want to deliver as high quality video as you possibly can. The bottleneck will most likely be on the customer's bandwidth out of whatever building or facility they're using. So it's not really an issue for large media companies or studios, but can be an issue for other companies. Yeah, like a normal company that doesn't have the super fancy internet that a big media publisher might have. Correct. I'd say that the first question you should ask is what are the target end platforms? Who's watching it? Right. Are you targeting mobile devices, including iPads and iPhones? OK. Well then, your source file can be a 10 megabit bit rate with reasonable HD resolution. And I think, from there, you can create very good looking video for those devices. If you're looking to target a big screen television, obviously, you're going to want to deliver as a high bit rate and high resolution as you possibly can. That makes a lot of sense. And so, for a modern marketer who will be reaching a lot of people on mobile, it's not to say that they shouldn't upload a super high quality file, but maybe they shouldn't necessarily stress out if they have to compress something down a little bit and put it up into an encoding cloud, because it's just going to be seen by people on much smaller screen sizes. At least, for the time being. I think that one challenge that might arise from that approach, though, is that a lot of those companies don't have the ability to compress it down from a super high res to a high res. So it depends on what you're using to, then, shoot the video. I don't think marketers need to be using red cameras, necessarily, to shoot massive gorgeous video. And it really depends, also, on is it action video? Is it video interviews like this? As a guide for marketers, I would say, in the 10 megabit range would suffice. Awesome. Well, thank you for answering my geeky question. Anything else is going to be over my pay grade. [LAUGHS] Well, Jeff, I really appreciate you taking a few minutes to tell us about Encoding.com bring us up to speed on encoding standards. And we're excited to see how the market matures. Anything else you want to add? No, I think that it's an exciting space. It's ever changing. It's challenging to stay on top of the latest, greatest, even if you are Encoding.com or Vidcaster. I think that the reason that we exist is because the technologies are so complicated and changing so rapidly. So if you are a marketer and you need to focus on what's important to you, content and marketing, that there are services like ours that can help. Awesome. Well, thanks again, Jeff. I appreciate your time. Thank you. And for the High Flyers, this is Kieran saying, stay high. [LAUGHS] Stay high. [LAUGHS] That's perfect. That's a keeper right there. Wow.