News about Mushroom Networks entering the NewTek Developer Network was announced at NAB 2014, but digesting the significance of this solution was difficult during such a busy time period. Although there are multiple facets to this integration, the bottom line is that it will allow for live video streaming from remote locations using bonded 3G/4G cellular data cards without any loss of TriCaster’s advanced production features.
Of course, the devil is always in the details with these sorts of announcements, and we wanted to dive into those details to see how this arrangement is going to affect everyone who is or will be looking to utilize streaming. So we spoke with Michael Kornet, executive vice president, Business Development for NewTek and Cahit Akin, CEO of Mushroom Networks, about how this development will impact NewTek and Mushroom Networks products, customers and the market.
ProVideo Coalition: We've heard the news about allowing Mushroom Network's Streamer device to be fully integrated with NewTek's TriCaster, and it sounds like the bottom line is that TriCaster's abilities will now be vastly increased. Is that an accurate assessment?
Cahit Akin: The announcement showcases the complementary nature of both products, but one thing you can’t forget is that independently the units have an incredible value. That said, this is definitely a case where 1+1 equals more than 2 because the products gel very nicely and producers can take advantage of these benefits in various ways to stream professionally produced video over bonded 3G/4G cellular networks.
Michael Kornet: To step back just a bit, the premise that Tim Jenison, NewTek’s founder, built NewTek around was that one day your favorite show you watch would be created by you or someone you know. Today that makes sense because if you have an idea for a show and you have a TriCaster you can send it out to the world and no one can stop you. That’s powerful.
Keep in mind though, Tim had that premise over 25 years ago so it’s something that’s really guided the development of our company and our products. We have a lot of innovative minds that are creating incredible products that have helped democratize production like TriCaster, 3Play and many more, but it goes beyond these technological developments, it’s about the bigger challenge, how can we contribute positively to the customer’s workflow and experience.
At NAB we had 22 new products come to market that integrate with TriCaster and 3Play, and it’s really changed everything. This didn’t just fall into our laps though. We went after this about 18 months ago when Andrew Cross, NewTek’s CTO created an SDK that we hear is a great SDK to work with, that’s easy for companies to utilize and integrate. Once that happens then you open up the opportunity to an explosion like that which created an ecosystem around our products which benefits everyone.
There are so many things that producers are doing in their workflow to get their content out to their audience, so helping them do that is something we’ve made a priority. Our goal is to connect and integrate with other first class, top market products and companies so that our customers can experience the best capability, best production quality, best ease of use, best value performance…in short, everything that’s important to our brand. We’ve made it easy for companies to work with the TriCaster and 3Play because we know it will give both of us a solution that’s much more powerful and relevant to both sets of customers.
Speaking of NAB, one of the bigger trends at the show seemed to be around the consolidation various companies are consciously and unconsciously focused on. Case and point is AJA…it has been creating post-production products for many years now, but the introduction of the CION feels like an attempt to pull virtually all elements of production under their banner. Is that a trend you’ve noticed as well?
Michael Kornet: I think so. From the way I see it, what’s happening in production is a blurring of lines between pre, live and post-production. Those things are not disparate events any longer. Producers want to get that content out quickly and in a whole bunch of different ways whether it’s live, over the web, broadcast, streaming or socially and so they need to edit, create highlights and splice on the fly. And they need to do all this simultaneously.
That’s one of the things we’ve been going after for a long time and TriCaster has been solving that problem. What we’re seeing is a lot more companies trying to achieve that for producers and validating this strategy for customers.
Cahit Akin: With all these new technological capabilities, producers are now more empowered than ever and they know it. These things allow them to look at a wider scope in terms of the projects they can take on, and that’s what so many of them do. But this change also comes with a new set of challenges.
One of the big ones is being able to utilize these tools in challenging environments where connectivity might not be ideal. I think that’s where the Streamer unit from Mushroom comes into play as it provides the Internet connectivity that’s optimized for video applications, so people can take advantage of a powerful tool like the TriCaster.
That’s the consolidation you mentioned in action, because it doesn’t put the pressure of figuring out how Mushroom Networks’ device can augment the TriCaster on the user. Giving users a more capable and powerful tool benefits everyone.
Do you think this development will give content creators the ability to approach their project in a way they were unable to previously?
Michael Kornet: The simple answer is yes, but it goes much deeper than that. Sometimes content creators have to jump through a bunch of hoops or go through various protocols to make something work, and we wanted to streamline that process and make it invisible to them.
We want streaming to be a solid, simplified experience. That only happens when you have companies integrating with each other at the engineering level, building relationships at the business development level and then even further on with support, marketing and sales. All of that is happening with Mushroom Networks, as they became one of the newest members of the NewTek Developer Network.
We’re lucky here because every department in NewTek understands this concept and is excited by it. They’re supportive of it. It’s a very robust program and the entire company is behind it.
Cahit Akin: What it does more than anything else is allow creators to keep their focus on the things they want to focus on. This sort of thing allows content creators to focus on their work and be creative rather than having to chase down the logistics. Spending so much time and energy on trying to make something work can take you out of a creative mindset, and this technology frees people up and allows them to put their focus and energy where it needs to be.
John Plunkett is quoted as saying this is “…the ideal solution for challenging conditions, with unrivaled ease of use that lets webcasters stream live with the quality of a network production studio.” Do you think this will change the definition of a “production studio”? Or has that happened already?
Cahit Akin: That definitely relates to our component. In terms of connectivity, either looking at it as a challenge or availability, I think it’s already changing the description of a production studio. And more than changing it, this is about enlarging the description of a production studio. The fact is you don’t need to have your studio at a location that’s fixed any longer. You don’t need to have all these requirements in terms of connectivity versus being able to carry your production studio with you, wherever you may need it. One of those requirements is the connectivity as things are moving more and more digital.
It’s not just for web streaming purposes, but also being able to upload, download and do on-site editing and connect with a support that is in a different location. I’m not sure what most people think of when they picture a “production studio,” but I can definitely say that these partnerships and technologies are really modifying that picture description.
Michael Kornet: I would just add that when you look at some of the key markets that are buying TriCaster and 3Play such as sports, education, webcasters, broadcasters, news stations, corporate and more, you can see a common theme. They’ve all realized that if they’re not streaming they’re going to go the way of the dinosaurs. They have to stream as a solution to connect with all of their customers and viewers. They have to have a streaming strategy. It’s vital for their survival.
The problem is that live events don’t always happen where there’s a hard line to the Internet. Many times the venue is the event, and it can happen in all kinds of crazy places. I remember at the VMA’s a couple years back, they had emerging artists on the roof by the pool, and they were playing there. Obviously, this was something viewers really wanted to see, and the only way to see it was to stream it with a TriCaster in a cabana next to the pool, because there’s no way you can build a studio up there, and of course you can’t even get a production truck up there. There are plenty of examples like that. The technology allows you to get behind the velvet rope and see things you’d never be able to see it if you weren’t streaming.
I remember a tour we did once with TriCaster where we were going across country and we had to drive through the desert. We wanted to connect with our customers on the tour and if we had Mushroom Networks at the time we literally could have setup in the middle of the desert, and had one of our guys in a virtual set and made it look like CNN in the middle of nowhere.
Having Mushroom Networks involved solves a real problem.
The “streaming strategy” you mentioned is an interesting concept, and feels like it’s a natural growth of Tim’s original vision. How pervasive is this multi-distribution mentality?
Michael Kornet: It’s so enabling to recognize now that if you have an idea you can get it out to the world and no one can stop you. There are no gatekeepers any longer. And NewTek has been about this kind of technology for a long time.
Things really changed dramatically when two things happened. One was when the Internet blew up, because we’ve always had the democratization of the tools, but you still had the distribution problem. You could create a show but there are still only five guys that own all the networks and cable companies, and they determined what everyone saw. With the Internet, you could distribute it to the world without needing anyone else. The other was when the TriCaster came out in 2007, because it was the first multi-camera live integrated production system that produced network quality and was accessible to everyone.
This ability to stream to the Internet changes everything and Mushroom Networks takes it to the next level because it gives you complete freedom.
What are some of the most innovative projects, productions or events that you've seen streamed?
Cahit Akin: To this day I’m surprised at the vast scope of applications that webcasting or streaming brings. We’ve seen everything from DOD type applications where we’re streaming live from jets that are flying in the air, all the way to a NASCAR team using the network to power their outreach.
One thing to highlight is that we’re also seeing the long tail. Maybe it’s not a specific vertical but there are so many pro-sumers who are live streaming and coming up along with the more professional applications. I think the only thing that’s limiting us is our imagination.
To give you a specific example of this type of innovation, we created a temporary show called San Diego Night Live. What we did was we took our equipment and a broadcast camera and went out into downtown San Diego, which is where we’re based. From 11-12 at night we walked around the Gaslamp Quarter, filming the crowd and seeing them interact with us. It was just a quick idea that got really popular and we ended up putting together some really cool shows.
So that just gives you a concept around how a simple little idea can grow and become something much more because of the technology. As people see how these technologies enable ideas, it’s just going to spread and trickle down more and more.
Michael Kornet: One of the verticals that Mushroom Networks is really strong in is the enterprise corporate market and that’s one that we think is a great opportunity for TriCaster customers as well. We have EMC using TriCaster for a whole host of things that they stream including the EMC World Tradeshow, product announcements, CEO announcements and so on.
I mentioned the VMA’s, but the NBA D-League streams every game with a TriCaster to NBA.com. Another interesting one in the past has been the Miss Universe pageant because it’s one of the most watched broadcast shows on live TV. That sort of thing cuts across all age groups and cultures, so it’s one of the largest viewing audiences in the world. As soon as the crowning moment happens it goes to credits and the show is over, so what we did with them was stream those first moments after the credits roll. It was great because viewers got to see things that they normally would never see on broadcast television.
The technology engages people in ways that they just couldn’t before.
What's a challenge that you see over and over with people who are looking to or trying to stream something?
Cahit Akin: One thing that’s more of a theme than it is a problem is around how individuals and companies create and put together their production, especially when they’re not coming from a production mindset. Even though webcasting and web streaming have been around, if you look at it historically from the production side, this is a fairly new concept. Traditionally, you didn’t have these sorts of “live” people around. And it’s not an easy task to bring high quality video flawlessly from a remote location. You need to have people who can work with the technology to make that happen, and in a lot of cases people simply weren’t sure about the best approach.
The knowledge around how to utilize these tools wasn’t immediate but I think products such as the TriCaster and 3Play and Streamer are solving that problem. They’re bringing a turnkey solution and doing the heavy lifting for the user. Historically there has been a learning curve for people who haven’t worked with remote streaming before, but the tools we’re creating with these partnerships are taking the educational requirements out of the equation. We’re basically at the point of saying “connect your camera, push the button and you’re live,” and that’s something you can understand and do, regardless of what industry you’re in.
Making this technology more turnkey is allowing us to overcome the biggest challenge that people had been facing, because now the end user doesn’t need to understand all of the technical details.
Michael Kornet: To expand on that a little bit, the reason NewTek has been successful is because our customer base goes beyond broadcasters who do this sort of thing for a living. We’ve built a customer base that isn’t from the broadcast world or associated with it in any sense, but these are people who want to create and distribute broadcast quality content. They recognize that’s the most powerful way to get their message out. So even though it’s not their business, it’s what they want.
The only way to do that is to make it easy enough for someone who doesn’t work in that sort of environment professionally. Making the technology work easier is something we pushed for with our own products as well as the whole workflow chain, and really that’s the biggest holdup in terms of the challenges that people have and are facing when it comes to this technology.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from your customers around these developments? Are they focused on what’s available now or more focused on the evolution of these products?
Cahit Akin: There’s always a segment of people that are envisioning and looking to do things that aren’t possible, so I’m sure there’s a similar bell curve around early adopters. Even in our company tagline, it’s about – bridging to the future. Of course, we’re also looking to give people what they want today. Being able to bring the best capabilities to the client is what we’re all about.
In terms of the evolution, we’re simply never going to be able to say that we’ve come to the end point of development and there are no new innovations left. We are still in the early stages of this new streaming paradigm, and I think it’s going to continue to develop.
In general, successful companies realize the value of having their customers be involved in product development at the earlier stages. That’s certainly the way we work, and it’s not just a simple feedback loop but more about being able to listen to their needs and let that guide the development of the next generation. It doesn’t mean every single feature that’s requested becomes part of the product, but talking with people and understanding their needs even at the idea stage has been valuable. Even for this partnership, I’d credit end-users of Mushroom Networks and NewTek because they had already put many of these components together and had been asking for this type of integration.
I think that’s one key factor and it helps in terms of adoption as well, because once you have a product that has taken the customers needs into account, you know you have a product that’s a market fit. There’s always an unknown factor with this sort of thing, but being able to work this way is much different and more effective than working in the dark.
Michael Kornet: It’s funny because here at NewTek, innovation is happening so fast all the time. We never rest on our laurels, and we always have big news for NAB and throughout the year. We’re always busy creating amazing products, so that makes it fun for us to come to work and fun for our customers to see how and where they can utilize these things.
We listen to all of the feedback from our customers, and it’s pretty amazing because we’re almost at the point where we never have to say “no” when we get questions around whether or not a product can do one thing or another. Customers are always asking the “can it do…” question, so I don’t think there’s any desire on their part or on our part to slow down.
PVC often receives messages from individuals and organizations who are looking to figure out where to begin with streaming. If you want to stream something but have no idea where to start, what's the best first step?
Michael Kornet: From NewTek’s perspective, we want people to feel as comfortable with a streaming production as they are with any other video production workflow. It’s really the same process of capturing with cameras, producing with your mixed cameras and encoding, and then finding a way to get that to your audience. There are simply new considerations that people have to educate themselves on, but it doesn’t make it more or less complicated than something they’re more familiar with. The systems and integrations that we offer make this considerations much more transparent. You can stream and showcase a live event without having to overcome insurmountable obstacles because of the ease of integrations and the ease of use.
We do offer training resources on our website. We also have a how to get started streaming like a pro whitepaper. Really though, our aim is to empower anyone who has an idea, some cameras and an Internet connection to be able to create the program that they want.
Cahit Akin: I’ve been on NewTek’s blogs and forums and they’re a very powerful way to find out some essential info as well as Mushroom Networks blog about video streaming, and that’s the kind of material that aims to educate the end-user. It definitely goes through the basics and from a standpoint that the reader might have no idea what a CDN means. The amount of info that’s available is impressive.