Ooyala: The Importance of Providing Transparency Via Analytics

Getting content online isn’t the big problem for content companies anymore. Rather, it’s making sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck — monetizing their catalogues and making sure the right people are getting access to it – when and how they want to.

And since its start in 2007, Ooyala has been offering analytics that enable content makers to accomplish those objectives.

The company was started during a “pretty interesting time” — about a year or so after Google bought YouTube, Belsasar Lepe, Ooyala co-founder and SVP of products and solutions, recalled during an interview with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA). Viacom was suing Google and YouTube at the time, basically claiming that much of the traffic on YouTube was coming from content Viacom owned, he noted. “Whether that was right or wrong, the content was there,” he said.

Ooyala realized there was “a lot of professionally produced, premium content that was now starting to be consumed online,” he said, adding: “At the time, that was a bit of a novel concept because it indicated that the way in which consumers – the way in which the audience – wanted to access content was changing. It was no longer about tuning in when the programming guide told you to tune in. It was about starting to consume it on your own device, on your own time, and basically in whatever increments you wanted.”

He and the other Ooyala founders “looked at that and we saw an opportunity,” he told us, explaining: “When we first set out to basically create Ooyala, we wanted to be a destination site. But we realized a couple of things pretty much right off the bat. The first thing we realized was content was extraordinarily expensive to acquire, and it continues to be the case even today. And back in 2007-2008, there were a surprisingly high number of prospective customers who kept telling us they wished the Internet had never happened. They were effectively saying that they didn’t trust the Internet as a distribution mechanism, that they didn’t have enough insight really into how their content was being consumed and by whom.”

Ooyala “took that to heart, especially after we, in several situations, found ourselves hearing the same thing over and over again,” he said, calling that “the biggest pivot that we went through that ultimately resulted in our trajectory” as a company.

“We pivoted to first being” an online video platform (OVP) with “analytics at our core,” he said. “And the reason why we placed such a strong emphasis on the analytics was because of that feedback where we kept hearing from prospective customers that they wanted to have that insight. They wanted to have that transparency to how their content that they invested a significant amount of money into … was being distributed, who was watching it, or the increments, so that they could later leverage that to inform them on monetization strategies.”

Over the next five years, between 2007 and 2014, when it was acquired by Telstra, Ooyala continued to grow that base out, he noted.

But the biggest shift to “being very focused on what is now the meat and potatoes” of the company has “really been occurring over the last couple of years” especially, he said. Pointing to Adobe’s purchase of TubeMogul, he noted that companies are “realizing that it’s not enough to just own some of the components” – they “actually need to have a more comprehensive control” over each event.

Expanded Offerings

In addition to Ooyala’s OVP core, it also today offers media logistics capability through Ooyala Flex, as well as Ooyala Pulse, an ad-serving and programmatic trading platform. “It’s really the union of these three product lines that allows us to achieve more differentiated and more diverse data,” Lepe said, adding: “We can start to achieve certain optimizations, or arrive at certain insights that other guys – the larger players – are able to achieve across their own networks.”

Using those three product lines, Ooyala customers are able to understand what content is performing well for them, he went on to say, telling us that because its entire platform “goes all the way back to pre-production, when content is actually being created, our customers are able to figure out what type of content to create — or they’re able to understand what to widely expect for a particular type of content.” As a result, over time, Ooyala clients are “able to inform what their content acquisition strategy should be, or what their content creation strategy should be,” he said.

Another good insight that Ooyala customers are able to generate is “very simply being able to understand what the optimal ad load is on a per-content basis,” he said, explaining: “It used to be the case that the OVP was entirely separate from the ad-serving platform, but in our platform, it’s basically going into the same data lake. And so, you start to be able to profile the content and the ad-content pairings in a way that allows you to be a lot smarter. It allows you to optimize for the length of the session. And if the session is longer, you have that many more opportunities to effectively [get] in front of an engaged user.”

Product Evolution

Ooyala made some big news last year with the inclusion of live server-side ad-insertion via Pulse. “What we’re starting to see is more and more of the stream conditioning is now starting to be done at scales that make sense,” Lepe said. For example, he noted, when you’re dealing with a linear or live event, you often have ads embedded within the content. “But increasingly, as the audiences are growing larger – as the ability to actually deliver these streams at scale continues to improve – the content owners are investing more and more in being able to have, as a for instance, the right metadata embedded directly into the linear streams. So, you can start to really use the technology at a level that you haven’t been able to before,” he said.

He added: “More and more, the linear streams have the right sort of tags that designate that you’re going into an ad break. And when you have that information, you’re able to have much more precise placements of ads, and you’re able to have a much more seamless and TV-like experience. So, that again is one of the exciting things about what we’re starting to see now. That same level of proficiency – that same level of sophistication that we’ve now grown accustomed to as part of the traditional TV-viewing experience, we’re starting to see that is also being applied to the digital and the online experience.”

He predicted “you’re only going to see that increase” and, with Amazon now acquiring the NFL rights, “you’re going to start to see that done really well, and that’s just going to require that everyone else increase their level of play.”

Finding a Focus

Ooyala’s video platform solutions are for anybody in the content business, but the company is especially helping traditional broadcasters, who are the ones playing the most catch-up in the new digital reality we’re living in.

After all, Lepe said: “When you look at a broadcaster, whether it’s a free-to-air or premium broadcaster, the reality is they have several digital strategies. And they’re often not unified. It’s a pain in the butt to have to manage the various metadata protocols. So, one of the ways in which we help them is with our product Flex. And how you can think of Flex is it helps basically create a single point of control – both of your pre-production and post-production processes, as well as for your digital distribution.”

What Ooyala is also finding is “there are a lot of folks out there that are still trying to figure out what the right monetization model is for a digital property or for their digital property,” he went on to say. “And very often, a lot of the providers out there are kind of a winter pony in the sense that they really only give you one monetization model. And they don’t necessarily provide you the analytics around what’s working. And, so customers like VUDU – and customers like Media Prima – utilize our platform and are given the opportunity to be able to pursue different monetization models, actually see what’s working, and tweak it over time. “

A company like Media Prima pursues both subscription and advertising, while a company like Vudu is able to do both transaction and advertising, he noted, adding: “While we don’t – in the case of VUDU – target transaction, they’re still able to get a significant amount of data from that part of the business that we power. And they can, on the back end, leveraging their data scientists, start to see how everything was working.”

He added: “The really interesting stuff that we’ve seen there is they’re also able to leverage the information that we give them to better identify what content should go into which subscription tiers, or into which access tiers. So, it’s not just a matter of deciding which monetization base makes the most sense for the business. They’re also able to make more micro-adjustments in terms of finding the right content bundles that are really going to keep customers engaged and keep subscriber turnover low. Or, in the case of an advertising based bundle, they’re able to identify what content flows make sense, and actually promote converting an advertising-only user to a subscription user.”

The Data

Ooyala’s quarterly video index, meanwhile, was conceived about five years ago. Before that, it was “very much a one-way conversation where we were releasing the stats, and it’s always generated a hell of a lot of interest,” he said. But, recently — in the last two to three years – “it’s been really fascinating to see that it’s become a two-way conversation with our customers and our partners because they themselves have started to invest in their own data science teams,” he said.

Since then, it’s “become much more of a two-way conversation,” he told us. One of the groups that Ooyala created internally is something it calls the Strategic Media Consulting group, which basically acts as “what we call kind of a data-science team for hire, in a sense,” he said, explaining: “We deploy them on a per-customer basis, and they help our customers basically figure out a data strategy. And that involves not just pulling the information that we have in our system. It also involves identifying and pulling into a common data lake all the other signals that they might be generating, whether that’s from their web schematics or if it’s from partners’ distribution interface points.”

Next for Ooyala

Since the acquisitions of the ad-serving and media logistics companies, Ooyala has been focused on integrating the platforms and combining the data, he told us, adding: “As we look at the next six to 12 months, what we’re starting to see is that that data is now starting to bubble its way into the various UIs. So, as we look at not just the next year, but the year plus, there’s going to be a real focus on making those insights available in automated fashion.”

Ooyala’s strategy is “obviously influenced by what we’re seeing out in the broader space,” he said, adding: “We’re seeing a lot of focus on the freeing up of and the democratization of data. As advertisers pull advertising dollars away from YouTube – and as Facebook continues to get itself into trouble in terms of grading its own homework and is now bringing in third parties – we’re seeing the role that we can play in terms of our approach of being a neutral player that shares data and that works with its partners to create … a message that really does resonate. And that’s obviously not to say that Facebook or Google, and their respective properties will ever go away. They won’t. They’re a necessary part of the puzzle. But it is placing more and more of the focus on what our perspective customers can accomplish on their own, owned-and-operated properties.”

Philippines over-the-top (OTT) provider Blink Now recently became one of Ooyala’s clients.

Ooyala announced at NAB in Las Vegas in April that its solutions are now being integrated with the Adobe Experience Cloud, giving media and entertainment companies the ability to build better digital TV and OTT solutions that offer new insights across video production, distribution and advertising. The goal of the partnership was to help customers reduce cost-of-ownership, and have them investing less in custom engineering and development services.