Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

24 September 2020

Vualto refreshingly honest in OTT playout commodity conundrum

Commoditization alarm bells were sent ringing here at Faultline when the CTO of video orchestration vendor Vualto, James Burt, was forced into an early apology during our conversation this week – after we were wooed into a false sense of security by the company’s products page, which is in the process of being shaved from six down to three.

UK-based Vualto is currently in a state of limbo, consolidating certain playout and workflow technologies targeted at the OTT video market under one broader management umbrella through a central API and graphical UI – with a cloud-heavy approach to video orchestration and delivery.

In the coming weeks, we can wave goodbye to VuLive, VuVoD and VuReplay as standalone products, becoming part of the core Vualto Control Hub (VCH). Burt described VCH as a complete management platform, covering everything from ingest to playback, while taking more of a modular approach, in his view, compared to the OVPs of the world like Kaltura and Brightcove. “Instead of taking out a SaaS license, customers can take the bits they want and be more agnostic, deploying on AWS, Azure or Google Compute,” he explained.

In other words, VCH does a lot of the underlying dark arts – from live and VoD workflow management and preparation, to stream monitoring and metadata, to the CMS and video editing. The vendor-agnostic VCH basically allows broadcasters and content owners to manage video streaming workflows in one place.

Admittedly, many of these processes have fallen victim to natural commoditization in the video industry, as we mentioned, but thankfully, Burt was mostly in agreement about the declining value in playout technologies, particularly 24/7 playout, a market which was being heavily commoditized long before the pandemic. He conceded that features like live to VoD tools are so commonplace now that most people have figured out how to do it themselves – but the company has a few differentiators to stand out from the rest of the playout crowd.

Alongside VCH is VuDRM, where Vualto started out specializing back in 2012, and the latest venture called Clip2Vu, a clipping and editing suite for publishing streams to social media channels. Together with VCH, these are the vendor’s three new focal points.

Similarly, Burt was honest in his views about the DRM market. “People don’t like to talk about DRM anymore,” he noted, before revealing that this year’s global lockdowns triggered a large demand in DRM licenses, increasing between 20% to 30% for the company. VuDRM is a fully hosted managed platform serving a lot of Hollywood studios, taking a device-agnostic approach to flexible token generation – enabling customers to issue individual user permissions for one piece of content without need for re-encryption. “DRM was more of an enabler when we launched, but today it is more of a commodity,” he added.

While mostly modest, Vualto has something of a claim to fame, which is being the first and only DRM provider with a 24/7 in-house network operations center team. Instinctively, we namedropped a handful of digital security experts who might contest this claim. “These big guys come from conditional access and hardware worlds. We are a pure OTT provider, so the likes of easyDRM and CastLabs DRMtoday are more our competitors,” Burt responded.

Scratching below the surface of Vualto’s three core products, we managed to establish a fourth discrete revenue stream for Vualto. “This is not so much a product, but a service. We have a lot of clever guys doing systems integration,” said Burt, confirming our suspicions that Vualto was indeed one of those systems-integrator-as-a-side-hustle-types. “This is a big differentiator for us,” he added.

Concealing this line of work from the Vualto website is a reminder that systems integrators have become something of a taboo term in the industry, a notion Burt agreed wholeheartedly with (he hates the term personally and is looking forward to the day a marketing guru comes up with a sexy replacement). However, he noted that the demand for systems integrators is still there – driven by broadcasters across the US and Europe that all use different technology stacks, with varying cultures and company ethos’s that require a systems integrator.

Expanding on the future of playout took us straight into the cloud. Like its rivals, partners and customers, Vualto is crunching hard in the cloud, with all its technology today based on Kubernetes and Docker, as well working with an open source scripting protocol under the hood called TerraForm, used for creating infrastructure as code. Burt dropped in Belgian broadcaster VRT as a customer case study which is purely cloud-based, and has been now for a couple of years. Today, an astonishingly high number of Vualto customers are cloud-based, somewhere in the region of 80% of 90%, by Burt’s watch.

This is all about providing flexibility for customers, but from the viewpoint of a vendor like Vualto, it needs to increase the value and appeal of assets which customers are seeing less value in and as a result are bringing certain technologies in-house. Vualto is looking at ways to reduce total cost of ownership for customers across the broadcast, operator, telco, studio, and OTT video sectors.

It specializes in event-based live streaming – spinning up origin, cache, encoding, CDN etc. some 10 minutes before an event starts, controlling the lot then tearing it down straight afterwards. That is a compelling option for anyone putting on a live streamed event concerned with quickly escalating costs that can often come with cloud-based infrastructure. Things like file transcoding are already done as part of quick live to VoD workflows during the live process, so customers can reuse this immediately.

We first heard of Vualto back in February, when Ateme integrated its VCH technology with the line of flagship Titan Live and Titan Mux encoders. Integration with Ateme’s Titan Live API allows for automated live streaming workflows, with the ability to automatically start, stop and configure Titan Live encoder services from the VCH interface. Vualto also works with AWS Elemental and MediaExcel on encoding, while on the origin side it has partnerships with Unified Streaming and Edgeware.

Vualto was founded in early 2012 after the two cofounders’ previous production company ditched its digital arm, growing to just over 40 people today and boasting what Burt called a “tech-heavy workforce” comprising at least 30 technical people. A few more marketing hires and Burt might be able to singlehandedly spearhead the next evolution of the systems integrator he so desires.