Veodia: Gambling on a Better Way to Stream Video
Apr 22, 2008 4:00 AM PT
Creating videos in-house means corporations have to either hire contractors who have their own equipment or sink thousands or millions of dollars into hiring trained staff and leasing or buying equipment. Then they have to spend days, if not weeks, editing the videos.
Not any more: Veodia offers a live video broadcast service offered as Software as a Service (SaaS) that lets customers slash their costs while giving them the finished videos for broadcast minutes after the event ends.
What It Does
Veodia, incorporated in January 2006, started with funds from angel investors and only recently had its first round of venture financing. Its service lets organizations broadcast and manage live, on-demand, TV-quality videos using the MPEG-4/H.264 standard, and they can do this without investing heavily in personnel and infrastructure.
Take customer MIT Technology Review, for example. It saved more than US$500,000 a year by using Veodia's services.
"We had a total of 10 maintenance and TV people before and managed to do away with that department, saving $500,000 a year," Kathleen Kennedy, MIT Technology Review's senior vice president, told the E-Commerce Times. "And, because Veodia is so easy to use, we can do away with the need for training, saving $40,000 in training costs a year."
Using Veodia also let her organization speed up the broadcasting of videos. "We can put up videos for broadcast instantly instead of taking half a day like we used to," Kennedy said.
The only equipment she needed to invest in was laptops "because they're very specific with the specifications, these need to be dual core laptops," she added.
Jonathan Eunice, Principal IT advisor at Illuminata, has used Veodia and seen parts of it in a live demonstration. "It's very cool to be able to stream video to them and have them stream it elsewhere at the same time," he said. "Even though it's a lot more indirect and involves a lot more systems and connections than using your own local system, it feels like it's much more direct and immediate."
Although streaming to Veodia or a similar back-end service brings "more components into play -- not just your camera and laptop but network connections, Veodia's software and servers and so on, you don't need to fuss with the local files, or do the compression and transcoding yourself, or figure out how to set up streaming, or how to share with someone ... all those things are part of the Veodia service," Eunice said. "So even though there are technically a lot more components in play, it feels simpler and feels like there are fewer things you're responsible for."
What about competition?
Veodia is not alone in offering video-on-the-Internet services; there's an awful lot of players in this field, ranging from YouTube to Mogulus to Stickam to Blip.tv to UStream.tv, and new ones are popping up daily.
So what makes Veodia so special? It was built from scratch for the enterprise market, which "expects very high visual quality; wants quality of service and will pay for service-level agreements; and wants confidentiality and access control to content, and wants to make sure it retains ownership," Veodia founder Guillaume Cohen told the E-Commerce Times. "Content is their bread and butter."
The Killer Team
Cohen, the company's CEO, holds degrees from Ecole Polytechnique and ENSTA (École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées). "The Polytechnique is very theoretical, and after that, students attend another school to specialize in a particular skill, and at ENSTA I specialized in advanced communications and computers," Cohen explained.
Prior to founding Veodia, Cohen headed the Enterprise Business Unit at Envivio, a spin-off of France-Telecom, and the leader in MPEG-4 and H.264 technology for IP (Internet Protocol) Television. At Envivio, he started and grew the enterprise market into the most profitable business unit.
Cohen also initiated the Enterprise Work Group at the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) and was a panel speaker at many streaming media conferences.
Sylvain Rebaud, Veodia's vice president of engineering, cofounded TuneTo.com, now part of Real Networks; the audio streaming engine he developed at TuneTo became the core of Rhapsody, Real Networks' on-demand music subscription service. He later was software architect at Intertrust, a digital rights management company.
Benjamin Pracht, Veodia's principal engineer, was a core member of video open source project VideoLAN, developing the VLC media player for the project. He also developed video artifact reduction algorithms for TV receivers at Micronas in Munich, Germany.
While at Envivio, Cohen heard "a lot of customers" complaining about the cost of equipment. "It's one thing to encode video, but you need to buy a content delivery network from Cisco and more equipment from IBM to publish it and still more to manage it," he said. Hiring trained people adds further to the cost.
Looking at WebEx convinced him that using the SaaS model would solve the cost problem. In fact, "you could think of our solution as being WebEx for video," Cohen said.
Also, the SaaS model would let business groups in enterprises use it without having to go to the IT department. "In really large companies, the real users of video are business groups like marketing or corporate communications or training groups," Cohen said.
In the SaaS model, back-end servers and communications are crucial. Veodia has "very advanced packet handling technology" and stores content on servers in various locations; it also uses "a lot of virtualization so we can infinitely scale storage and delivery based on need," and uses a mix of Amazon's EC2 cloud servers and its own infrastructure, Cohen said.
The service was launched in April 2007 when Veodia joined the WebEx Connect developer program to build live video broadcasting and podcasting applications for the WebEx Connect Platform.
Cohen quit his job, moved into his in-laws' house, hired an ex-NASA staffer working at Stanford to help build a prototype, then raised funds from an angel on the strength of the prototype. Those funds "were enough to hire a patent lawyer to research into whether some of the ideas were patentable, and file three patents, and to move into a small office in Palo Alto."
Then WebEx got interested and, in April of last year, agreed to plug the nascent video service into its Connect platform.
That let Cohen secure more funding from angel investors "because venture capitalist funding is more expensive and they have more requirements than angels."
Cohen then began bringing on more staff. "The challenge is to grow our team, but you need to get the right fit; I'm looking for people who are not only smart but also are not arrogant and don't have big egos," he said. He plans to grow his 12-person team to 30 by the end of the year and take Veodia, currently privately held, public in the future.
Cohen considers being able to attract his highly competent core team as one "major achievement;" another is "being able to secure partners like WebEx" and "Fortune 2,000 companies like American Power Conversion as customers." APC is a major name in uninterruptible power supplies, and "we built a product that enabled their marketing group to do their work without involving IT, and no one else does that," he said.
Veodia now has "over 100 customers in a mix of Fortune 2,000 enterprises and small and medium-size businesses," Cohen added.
Looking to the Future
By betting on MPEG-4 and the h.264 video compression format, Veodia is well set for the future, Cohen said. "It was a bit of a gamble when we decided to build our core technology on this format two years ago before it became widely adopted," he added. "Now pretty much everything in the industry has been standardizing on this format -- mobile phones use MPEG-4 to play back video; and it's used by iPhones; iPods; Shutterbugs; and Apple TV. Now Adobe supports MPEG-4 inside Flash Player 9.
"So we have the lead in the technology in offering a solution and creating content to play on all these devices without having to do any re-encoding. Now that MPEG-4 has become a standard, pretty much every company that wants to use video for any application will use that format and that means the potential for us is to really be enabling many more applications."