Sports organisations and broadcasters are constantly being challenged to deliver large amounts of video online in order to feed the growing demand for content among increasingly impatient fanbases. As the digital environment becomes more fragmented, however, that process is becoming more complex.
Since its foundation in 2004, Brightcove has been simplifying that procedure by providing companies with an online video platform that enables them to distribute content seamlessly across various devices and formats. The Massachusetts-based software company specialises in video solutions for a number of areas ranging from digital marketing to monetisation, and is constantly using data to help its clients develop a better understanding of their audience.
Mark Blair, Brightcove’s senior vice president, international, explains to SportsPro how the company has adapted to changes in the digital environment, and discusses how the sector will continue to evolve in the years ahead.
What services does Brightcove offer?
Brightcove is a leading company that focuses on cloud-based video technology. We were founded in 2004, and at the time we believed that video was going to become the most pervasive form of content on the internet, and that’s something that’s been proved since.
What we’re focused on doing is helping all sorts of professional companies with distributing their video content online, and we look at providing video solutions for three main problem areas. The first is the fact that video is becoming the premium form of marketing content for digital marketers because it is the most effective, and we have a suite of products that help companies with those challenges. The next area of problem space that we looked at is around communications with the enterprises. Then the third thing is monetisation, which is really where the content is the product, and you’re typically using that content and trying to monetise it and extract value from it in some way.
The interesting thing in relation to sport is that we see sports bridging all three of those barriers in the market. Not only are sporting organisations using video as part of their marketing strategy, but they’re increasingly using it as a monetisation strategy too. So we’re now seeing sporting organisations face the dilemma of either taking a cheque from a content distributor or running their own show and going to the audience directly. The advantage of going to the audience directly is that they get a lot of that data that’s captured by the content distributor as opposed to themselves, which over time is going to become really valuable.
What has been the most profound change in the digital environment in the last few years?
That has to be device fragmentation. When Brightcove started, the predominant way of watching video online was through the desktop via Adobe Flash, so it was predominantly web-based. The first step that really fuelled that fragmentation shift was phones, and there were a number of attempts to put video on phones over the years as phones got smarter. But really, the pivotal shift was with the iPhone, and when the first version of that launched video really started to explode. Then tablets came and video started to explode on those too, as well as on connected TVs.
This changed the way people consume content, where they consume it, how they expect to consume it and the amount of content they consume. We all see that whether we’re on the tube, the bus or the beach, there’s a big behavioural shift, and device fragmentation has pushed that.
Mark Blair, senior vice president, international at Brightcove
What was the gap that Brightcove spotted in the market? What is the company’s key differentiator?
What happened with device fragmentation is that it drove complexity. The first thing that happened was Steve Jobs [founder of Apple] decided that Flash wasn’t going to get on the iPhone, and designed a different standard for delivering video. Flash was still front and centre on the desktop, so you had to have different kinds of video content to hit both devices because you had different playback technology, so suddenly instead of having one format of video you had to have two, and instead of having one player you had to have one player for Apple and one for desktop.
So that area got further and further fragmented and drove a massive amount of additional complexity. Where Brightcove really spotted an opportunity was to simplify that complexity for customers. If you’re a digital marketer, you shouldn’t be spending time figuring out how to get different pieces of content onto a number of different devices, so that gave us an opportunity to help make that easier for companies.
I think for us the differentiator is the completeness and the maturity of our solution stack. There’s a number of people that play in this space, but I think where we really differentiate is that we play across the sector, whether it’s with media companies, enterprises or digital marketers, we have solutions tuned for all of that.
In terms of digital marketing, we’ve integrated our platform with all of the leading vendors that make sense to integrate with for a video solution, and we’ve implemented a system that allows an OTT start-up to launch its service in a matter of three or four weeks, so it’s that depth and nuance that we differentiate on.
How do you go about constructing partnerships?
We look at partnerships in a very solution-oriented way. The classic way of approaching it is understanding what the customer is trying to do, what the problem is, what they’re trying to deliver and what’s important about what they’re trying to deliver the market. So it’s really about leaning in and understanding that person’s business.
From there, it’s about working with that understanding to craft a solution that fits those needs. One of our differentiators is that we’ve got a very API-oriented platform - a very modular platform - so what we can do is take that platform and plug the gaps that might be there in delivering a specific solution with either our own services organisation or working with our technology partners so that we can deliver a solution that fits, because one company’s video strategy is always going to differ from another, given that there are always different requirements.
Then it’s about delivering on that, and we get into a process of assessing and refining the solution.
What are the most important things your clients need to be aware of when they’re putting together their video solutions?
I think you need to get the strategy right first, whether you’re in sports, retail or broadcasting. It’s also important to focus on what you’re trying to achieve. There’s no point trying to build everything for everyone, especially now that more people are using video. Just like we need to have a differentiated solution to help them, clients also need to have differentiators to go to market with.
Where are you finding gaps in the marketplace?
I think there are some opportunities in relation to clarity. We get people who come to us and say they want to launch on Apple TV, Freeview Plus, iPhone, Android and Nokia, but they won’t be on everything because of the time, complexities and risks associated with doing that. So I think there is not as good an understanding of the data out there concerning what platforms are going to work for what audiences, and that’s something we’re trying to help customers with through our knowledge of the market along with the data and analytics that we have so that we can help guide them.
Blair says that device fragmentation has been the most profound change in the digital environment
How mature is the OTT sector at this point?
I think it’s interesting because there are still a lot of sports that haven’t placed their own bets yet. There is a whole raft of sports that are relatively immature in this space, and there are a lot of opportunities to innovate, build services and build audiences and fans - and that’s just in terms of what I would classify as traditional sports.
Then you go into the sphere of emerging sports like esports and one that I think is fascinating is drone racing, where there are leagues only just emerging, so I think the OTT sector is definitely still in its infancy.
What will be the key developments in the sector in the year ahead?
I think particularly when you look at sports, VR and 360 are going to become far more prevalent. They’re already there, but I think we’re going to see it become the norm as opposed to something different. VR devices are going to become more proliferated, and I think we’ll see a lot more young people buying them. These young people are going to grow up with those devices and the usage of them is going to broaden out, so instead of just using them for gaming purposes, they’re going to use them to consume content, and that’s going to make it a more addressable channel for video content companies and sporting organisations.
The other area I think is going to be massive – even outside of video – is artificial intelligence (AI). When you think of AI related to sports, one of the most intensive things that a lot of sporting organisations do is clipping – every sport produces the microsegments of action that people really want to see.
Today there are people sitting at desks with video consoles in front of them clipping content and then getting it out to Facebook, Twitter or broadcasters - but that’s going to go to AI. That’s going to fulfil a cost and you can redeploy those resources to do more creative stuff as opposed to clipping, but it’s also going to lead to more immediacy. If you can get AI to do it and to do it fast, the clip is going to get uploaded faster, so whoever has the best AI clipping feed is going to get more clicks on their Twitter feed, Facebook, their own website or wherever they’re trying to monetise their content and they’re going to win the audience.
What does the future hold for Brightcove?
We believe the consumption of video is in it’s infancy across all areas we focus on. For media we are still at the beginning of the shift to online video versus traditional screens, and as that shift accelerates so do the opportunities and challenges, and we are well positioned to help companies solve them.