StackPath VP of Marketing Jay Moore interviewed longtime StackPath customer and Chief Executive/Technology Officer of dotstudioPRO, Joe Pascual, about what his company is doing to help brands deliver and monetize video content over-the-top (OTT) and direct-to-consumer with the help of StackPath's content delivery network (CDN).(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity)
Tell us about dotstudioPRO, the companies you work with, and what you do for them.
dotstudioPRO is a video distribution network. That's really how we view ourselves. We're all about connecting content to global audiences. Our technology is based on an online video CMS called dotstudioPRO, which is the backbone of our offering, but we also deliver applications as well on all the popular devices. They're all turn-key, customizable solutions. I can dig into that a little more on how that model works, but compared to a lot of companies that may have preceded us in the space, we were built with OTT distribution in mind. Therefore, from one central hub, you're able to manage all of your video management and your app management as well from one single place. So that's really our core value proposition in the space.
We're moving a lot more in 2018 outside of just owned-and-operated apps. We're going to be doing a big syndication model. We're already starting to do that with some clients, where we're now using syndication points to Pluto TV, to virtual MVPDs1, potentially to Twitch, as well as other places where we can find existing audiences that are interested in the content we have in our system.
1 MVPD - Multichannel Video Programming Distributor
What type of customer do you typically work with today?
It ranges. Media and entertainment is definitely the core, but we all know where the video space has moved. It's become incredibly democratized. Essentially, every brand is media company. One of our high-profile customers is the Minnesota Vikings, which is a sports team, but we deal with their media and entertainment arm. So, that's really our sweet spot, any content aggregator, content publisher, content rights owner that feels they can aggregate an audience within their own universe using OTT is a customer of ours.
How long have you, with dotstudioPRO, been working with StackPath?
We only work with you guys. We've been with StackPath2 for six-to-seven years. When we first started in the online video space, we investigated a host of CDN options, and StackPath has been number one for us since the very, very beginning. It's been our partner.
2 - dotstudioPRO began as a Highwinds customer and became a StackPath customer after their 2017 acquisition of Highwinds.
We appreciate it.
We do too.
When you launched the platform and partnered with StackPath, what were some of the challenges you were trying to overcome?
Outside of normal content delivery, which is really what you guys solve and what CDN in general solves, is being able to get to that last-mile as quickly as possible. I think some of the challenges we were looking at were cost, which is definitely a huge challenge, the size of the network, being able to really reach many people globally, the robustness of the platform, and ways for us to be able to iterate fast with a really great UI. The thing we really loved about StackPath and Highwinds from the very beginning was that you built a really great platform called StrikeTracker, and that was the thing we were very impressed with earlier on. Even with the very first iteration of StrikeTracker that was in Flash, I don't know if you guys even remember that, but that's how long I have been with you guys. Flash was still a thing! It was just a very robust platform. It gave us a lot of control on the backend. Especially being an online video platform (OVP), we needed to bake in the whole content delivery aspect of it without having to bother our customers, without having to bother you guys, and being able to create all the subaccounts we leveraged. I think all of that was something that made it a lot easier.
When you are talking to or onboarding a new customer, are there certain feature of the StackPath CDN that you convey to them?
Absolutely. Cost is always a factor. You know everybody always looks at cost and compares costs. I think that's one advantage we've had in the space versus some of our bigger competitors. It's through our partnership with you guys that we are incredibly competitive, especially on the global side. Your global pricing, it's safe to say, nobody can beat our price. That's first and foremost. Pushing traffic to North America and Europe, and then adding Asia, I think that becomes a no-brainer selling point. The only friction we have in terms of selling a customer is if they already have a relationship with another CDN provider. Then it becomes tough if they're locked into an agreement. Even with that, sometimes they do the numbers and they still go with us because they feel like it's much cheaper for us to use your CDN.
You mentioned the Minnesota Vikings. Let's dig in a little there. How long have you worked with them, how did that relationship start, and what were they looking for in a partner?
We've been working the Minnesota Vikings for four months now. I think we launched with them about three and half months ago. They came to us through friends of ours in Canada. They were the company that built their fan app, and they had been tasked to build an OTT service. For a lot of people who don't know much about the Minnesota Vikings' content and what they create, outside of being an amazing them, they have one of the largest and most prolific media arms out of all the NFL teams. They produce a lot of original content. They've got original programing like Carpool Karaoke, where they get team members to sit down in the car and sing like they do on James Corden's show. They shoot in 4K. They literally have a legitimate media arm that the rest of the NFL teams really look to as the paradigm of what they can do in terms of engaging their fans. When we met them, we immediately showed them what they could do. We can put customers on Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire. They quickly jumped on the opportunity. That was a really great match between the two of us. We were able to launch their beta in literally just four weeks and they were launched on the app store a couple of weeks after that.
Where there any challenges with the NFL, with it being a new venture, to provide OTT content directly from the team?
Well a lot has changed in terms of the way the NFL handles that now. We've had several meetings with the NFL itself and they are really letting their teams pretty much man their own OTT services right now. It's kind of new thing that happened last year and it's really opened up the floodgates. We're in talks with several other teams that we're very excited to launch as well. We're launching those within the next several months. The NFL has basically given them their blessing, to go ahead and not only create their content and have their social media following, but also to create compelling content on connected TV and stream it. I think that alone is a huge paradigm shift. When it comes to that, I think we are going to be seeing some really interesting things happening in that space.
What services does dotstudioPRO provide to the Vikings, and what pieces are coming from other NFL partners?
We provide the full OVP service, meaning we are transcoding video, bringing MRSS3 feeds, and monetizing the video through an AVOD4 model, which is predominately how the Vikings do it. The way the Vikings Now app works is that a good chunk of the content is original programing they're uploading directly into the system and some of it's coming from the NFL highlights feed. We were able to connect to the NFL's CMS and the MRSS feed that throws those highlight feeds into the system. Those automatically get categorized within dotstudioPRO in their backend, and they're able to upload their original programing on top of that. All that gets fed into the app, being monetized through the NFL ad network. The NFL has their own ad tags and ad relationships, so we basically just take their tags and add them into the system. That's the way they're monetizing. Where we are going to be moving forward, and these are ongoing conversations with the Vikings and other teams, is trying to get them more into creating live events. We can handle that as well. VOD-to-live, which is another thing that's very interesting, or stitching together a couple of their on-demand assets into a live linear stream to be streamed twenty-four-seven or on a loop. Those are things we're going to be doing with them in the future. Other things are potentially Amazon X-ray type capabilities, where we can dig into the teammates or things that are happening in real-time on the video or products that can be purchased within the player. So those are all things we are looking at in the future with them.
3 MRSS - Media Rich Site Summery 4 AVOD - Advertising Video on Demand
Have you guys talked to teams in other leagues, in other sports? Is this a growing market?
Yes. We've been talking to a couple of NBA teams and several NFL teams for sure. We've talked to a couple of soccer teams as well. This is a model we feel can be replicated across the board.
What are some of the data points you can provide to your clients?
We track all player events. That's part of our dashboard offering. We run our own analytics collection. We run our own statistics and our own charts. It's comprised of all of the player events per device. We spend a long time mapping events across devices. You can imagine the way Roku measures a play event is not necessarily the same thing as a play event on iOS or Apple TV or Android. We've been able to map that together on our analytics dashboard so they can filter out their views. We provide quartile information, or what quarter-percent of the content was watched, drop-off rates, and user information. The current app with the Minnesota Vikings doesn't have a registration or a login. It's a free app. At some point, we might be hooking in an opt-in registration. That way we can get more metrics on the user side, like who the registered users are and the type of content they are consuming so we can make the apps even smarter.
Have there been any problems you have run into or overcome providing these services?
There's a couple of things. For instance, some of the clients who approach us are already have their own streams which completely bypass our transcoder and completely bypass our CDN. We don't push for that because we realize that their streams are often not correctly optimized. They may be mobile optimized but not CTV optimized, or they prioritized for mobile first in some instances. If all your users are on a mobile device, you can't tell. But if you watch on a big screen, it may be pixelated for at least thirty seconds before it kicks into a higher resolution. That's something a client may not know until they see it on a big screen. That's the main reason why we prefer for content to be self-uploaded directly to the dotstudioPRO platform and delivered by StackPath.
Many people don't realize that with adaptive bitrate technology, it's important to be able to identify the device. You want to start streaming at the highest level, depending on the device, and adjust up or down as network conditions change to avoid buffering.
That's correct. If we're doing our job right, people shouldn't notice it. People are used to a YouTube or a Netflix where an adaptive bitrate experience is a given. They should be starting with the best stream that they possible can. We're the people that makes sure that happens on our end.
What do you think is the biggest takeaway for readers of this interview?
I think it's very informative and beneficial for people to really be able to connect the dots because a lot of this stuff can be theoretical. A lot of people don't really see it in action and in a very practical sense. This can really lay out the picture of a brand looking to engage their audience further in an environment that they can control. They're partnering with a tech company that can provide that in a very turnkey and robust fashion, and very managed and hands-on fashion, who is also partnered with a very robust delivery platform that's the backbone and pipes, and how you get content to the end consumer. That is, for a lot of people, going to be an eye-opener.
You guys would know better than I do, but I think a lot of people don't even know what CDN is. They can't really wrap their mind around a content delivery network. I think this is a great opportunity to see from content acquisition to end-user watching it on a streaming device. These are the steps laid in place in order for that to happen.
It's particularly exciting for us with CDN being a backbone, an infrastructure, or a dial tone service. Hopefully, you don't know who we are. It just works. You go to click a download or watch a video; it just works. People are starting to understand more and more, especially the big media companies, that requirements of internet delivery are different than broadcast delivery. So, it's not only great to educate those executives and those who are in the trenches about what we do as a CDN provider, but also how you guys as a service provider help make delivery turnkey. You provide those services that they can't get from us, but that it also makes no sense for most companies to create on their own.
When we started, we were probably one of the smallest OVPs in the space. You certainly didn't have to take us seriously, but you guys did. You had our back from day one, and we hope that's finally starting to pay off. You guys are awesome and we are very happy and proud to have you as a partner.