Ariff Sidi, Chief Product Officer at Verizon Media, Media Platform, answers questions from Andy McDonald, Contributing Editor
Describe Verizon Media and the company’s core focus?
The Media Platform division of Verizon Media offers: 1) an industry-leading video streaming platform that empowers media and entertainment companies to deliver high-quality online experiences to consumers at any time, on any device and from any location; and 2) an industry-leading content-delivery network (CDN) that provides a variety of companies secure edge delivery of content and services. Our core focus is to provide end-to-end capabilities that eliminate the headaches of integrating multiple vendors to meet the demands of consumers who crave seamless digital experiences, from watching TV shows to connecting with friends via social media. We aim to be a trusted, strategic partner that enables our customers to focus on attracting and retaining consumers, while we solve the technical challenges behind the scenes.
In addition to providing our proprietary solutions, we also select and partner with other technology providers to pre-integrate their technologies to ensure that our platform continues to deliver cutting edge experiences on behalf of our customers. Most recently, we announced a partnership with Microsoft Azure, which will see Azure Media Services, Microsoft AI and machine learning technology integrated with the Media Platform. We also announced key partnerships with THEO Technologies and IRIS.TV, which is helping us bring great playback capabilities and content personalization to every viewer on any device.
When was the company founded and how has its strategy changed since then?
In 2013, Verizon acquired EdgeCast and upLynk to start changing the way the world experiences media. By integrating a CDN and video streaming platform, we created an exclusive next-generation platform built on top of one of the world’s largest existing delivery networks, which has grown to 80+ Tbps capacity with over 130 PoPs located across the globe. Our digital media platform is the industry’s only end-to-end solution that can prepare, deliver, display and help monetize content, enabling broadcasters and content owners to connect with viewers to ensure the best-viewing experiences regardless of where your audiences are in the world. As our technology and strategy has evolved over the years, live events, particularly sports have become one of our areas of expertise. As a testament to this, we now handle around 50,000 live events each year.
Who do you see as your biggest competitors and how do differentiate yourself?
We have a number of competitors but what makes us stand out from the crowd is that our platform is end-to-end, integrates multiple technologies, and comes with fantastic professional and managed services, versus being a kit of parts. This eliminates the complexity of dealing with multiple vendors and/or technology services, enabling our customers to focus on their business and consumers and get to market more quickly.
In order to stay ahead of the competition, we focus on four critical components. The first one is providing a simplified workflow that delivers high quality, personalised streams to every viewer. The second is employing a content delivery network (CDN) that can deliver video optimised for viewers’ devices from a server nearest to the user’s geographic location; overcoming any bandwidth constraints to deliver the content fast.
Our third component is providing robust content and cyber security solutions, which provide multi-layered defense for mobile and web applications. Key features include DDoS protection to make sure our customers’ websites remain always available and adding protection to their web servers to defend against direct-to-origin attacks, and built-in DNS protection with DNSSEC to prevent injection of fraudulent records.
Last, but certainly not least, we also differentiate ourselves by providing ongoing, first-class support. Our customers rely on our platform to make their lives easier, so it’s important that we not only meet, but exceed their expectations by providing proactive monitoring, meaningful insights, and troubleshooting with continuous testing. In order to achieve this, we have service and support teams in place around the world, so our customers can provide audiences with the best online experiences.
-What do you see as the biggest opportunities in the video / technology space and what are the biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges facing media and entertainment businesses is being able to deliver content to a global audience and by 2022, video will account for 82% of all consumer Internet traffic. This combined with today’s ‘always-on’ user expectations of instantaneous, seamless and secure digital experience means that content providers need to ensure that they are delivering reliable digital experiences that meet consumer demands.
In order to achieve this, media companies want to mitigate risk by delivering content via multiple CDNs. A multi-CDN approach spreads traffic over more than one CDN so content service providers are protected against slowdowns and downtime with any one provider. This capability is built into our streaming platform, so when one provider’s network experiences issues, traffic can be routed through another network. Also, harnessing servers in more geographic locations guarantees that content is loading as fast as possible, regardless of the consumer’s location or device. We expect more content owners to follow our lead and adopt a multi-CDN approach, which in turn means consumers around the world will be able to enjoy the best quality experiences.
Another challenge the industry is facing is being able to deliver hyper-personalised experiences, particularly for advertising. Consumers, on average, see around 4,000 ads a day. The constant bombardment of advertising has made it more common for consumers to tune them out, and also more difficult for advertisers to cut through the noise. One way to encourage users to pay attention to advertising is to ensure that ads are relevant to them. Research from Epsilon actually found that 80% of consumers are more likely to make purchases when they see personalised ads.
There’s an opportunity for the media and entertainment companies to capitalise on this by using personalised viewing experiences at a 1:1 level. Delivering personalised streams and targeting each viewer with advertising, tailored content, recommendations for new programmes, all based on a viewers’ device type, location history and demographics will enable OTT providers to stay competitive and better monetise their services. Media companies that are unable to offer this will miss the opportunity to drive deeper audience engagement and will be unable to maximize their advertising revenues.
What innovation or development do you think has had the biggest impact on the video market as it stands today?
Without a doubt, the cloud. As more media and entertainment businesses have taken advantage of the cloud, the use cases and benefits have become apparent. Cloud platforms are more agile and flexible than solutions based on proprietary hardware platforms. Use cases where the ability to dynamically scale up compute, storage and network connectivity are where cloud computing shows its strengths.
This is most evident in tasks related to processing and distributing OTT content to increasingly global audiences. Being able to scale up resources, for example in support of a major sporting event, is an incredibly powerful capability and a natural strength of cloud-based platforms.
How do you think the video market and viewing habits will look five years from now?
Consumer viewing habits have become fragmented over the last few years. We expect this trend to continue as consumers continue to flit between devices and the number of services increase due to reduced barriers of distribution. Additionally, as mentioned previously, mobile video consumption will continue to rise, as will the usage of connected TV platforms. We think the media and entertainment industry will focus on delivering cutting edge, personalised experiences to every viewer on every device – with experiences and content that is tailored to the usage patterns typical on different devices. This will help boost brand loyalty among consumers, which in turn will maximise revenue streams.