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9 January 2020

Amazon’s EPL streams were good, Sye will make the next batch great

When video streaming technology vendor Net Insight declared before the new year that it had divested its live synchronization product Sye to a Fortune 100 company, Amazon had to be high on everyone’s hitlist. Compliments don’t come much greater than the world’s richest company cherry picking the smallest revenue stream from a niche Swedish vendor – again fitting with our perception of Net Insight as a company that has historically developed technology ahead of its time.

It was a no brainer for Amazon. The cloud computing behemoth recently emerged from a successful fortnight streaming English Premier League soccer matches on Prime Video for the UK market. Feedback has been generally positive, albeit with a handful of inevitable glitches in the teething process. Net Insight therefore gifts Amazon a new weapon against the traditional broadcasters of live sports content – and it could be more than just BT Sport that rues the day it let Amazon snatch up Sye.

Given time, Amazon would probably have gone ahead and developed its own Sye copycat technology, although cash and time being of the essence to perfect its next bout of live sports streaming was likely what lured Amazon towards the product. Net Insight notes proudly that Amazon was an existing customer of Sye in its B2C streaming distribution exploits, so the company was clearly impressed with what it saw.

Most of the complaints around Prime Video’s EPL coverage concerned either latency or lack of synchronization between video and commentary, with very few about buffering, freezing or image artefacts. Amazon has acted quickly, with synchronization being Sye’s area of expertise.

Average latency during these matches was about a minute, extending to almost 90 seconds in some cases to guard against buffering. This is a problem still to be resolved, given that key in-game incidents often came through app notifications ahead of the broadcast.

In case you missed our initial Sye sale coverage, “true live streaming” is Sye’s strapline, delivered via a protocol developed in-house based on UDP (user datagram protocol), which is offered either as a pure software license or on a SaaS basis, available on-prem close to a transcoder. Interestingly, Sye is hosted on Microsoft Azure – which we can safely say is in the process of being switched to AWS cloud infrastructure. Net Insight’s CEO Anders Harryson declined to comment on whether Sye will continue operating on Azure or become an AWS exclusive.

Another crown jewel is that the Sye technology is insensitive to throughput degradation from RTT (round-trip time) which – importantly – makes distance irrelevant.

Sye also includes refined ABR technology that is aware of the client’s available bandwidth – providing the highest possible ABR profile at any given time to maintain picture quality and ensure smooth channel changes. The Sye client is provided as an SDK, handling networking, decryption, decoding and video stream rendering. The Sye SDK supports AVC, HEVC and AAC (advanced audio coding) codes.

QoE reporting is another of Sye’s selling points. Data is hoovered up from ingest, streaming functions and the client itself, reporting metrics including ABR levels, viewed channels, start time, duration, and active streaming node, plus network quality metrics including packet loss and bandwidth.

All this enables customers to set OTT latency to harmonize with linear broadcast, or even set OTT latency a few seconds ahead to be faster than TV.

As mentioned, delivering flawless live sports streams is the obvious drive here behind Amazon’s acquisition, likely working closely with the Amazon CloudFront CDN, given how Sye seems to come into its own when supporting CDN technology. For example, Sye recently won a deal at Hong Kong-based video engineering firm Mediatech to power a live sports mobile app, as well as securing a partnership with CDNetworks last year to bring ultra-low latency support for live streaming synchronization of video, audio and metadata across various streams and devices to CDNetworks customers. This CDN approach means revenue is variable – with income based on usage with no volume commitments.

But without Sye, it could be argued that Net Insight no longer fits into this flattering bracket of future thinker, and the challenges that lie ahead in 2020 to stay competitive in the market are great. Where it reinvests the $37.2 million made from the sale to Amazon will be key, which for now will be funneled back into its core B2B media networks business – comprising the Nimbra product line.

Estimated net profit from the transaction will be $21.3 million in the first quarter, according to Net Insight.