‘Telcos don’t need to reinvent themselves for digital, they just need to be ready’ – Q&A with Ooyala CTO Belsasar Lepe

Telecom Times caught up with Ooyala co-founder and CTO Belsasar Lepe for an overview of where the company is going, as well as some key insights into the mobile video revolution and the challenges faced by telcos finding themselves in the content.

Launched in 2007, Ooyala is a San Jose based subsidiary of  Telstra, specializing in providing software and services that optimize the production, distribution and monetization of media – with a particular focus on online video management.

Lepe – who previously served as systems engineer at Google – is in charge of Ooyala’s technology and product strategy as well as the firm’s global tech partnerships.

Telecom Times  Can you provide an update on the company’s near-term strategy, taking into account how the firm is tracking in the ANZ region and how this compares to the broader APAC market?

Bel Lepe  Near term, our company strategy continues to be growth. APAC has doubled year over year, including signing one of the largest broadcasters in Australia. We continue to power the majority of the major sports leagues in ANZ, including AFL, NRL, Netball, NBL, etc.

Bel Lepe  ANZ continues to grow at the same pace as the APAC region. We have signed on many new customers in both the ANZ sub region, as well as all over APAC.

Telecom Times We keep hearing that there seems to be no end in the rapid growth of mobile video. And with 5G just around the corner, it seems nothing much can halt this rise. However, if you had to nominate some emerging underlying trend or factor that could still hamper that development, what would that be?

Bel Lepe Our own quarterly video index reports also support mobile’s meteoric growth, YoY. For our last report, we saw well over 60% of all video views occurring on mobile devices, including both tablet and mobile phones.

When we look at factors that will influence how this trend continues to develop, there are a few that immediately come to mind:

Monetization models – the size of the mobile audience has outpaced the ability to monetize that audience via ad-based models. Will this pick up and/or will subscription-based models become even more prominent? Either scenario is necessary to continue the availability of content – premium and otherwise – online and for mobile.

Investment in the (5G) network – in the content arms race, quality of content and the user experience is a key factor. As more bandwidth-intensive formats like VR and 4K emerge and achieve mainstream status, will the underlying networks get to the place where they can push more bits to end users? How quickly this occurs will influence future growth of mobile video.

Telecom Times  Talking about 5G, how do you think Ooyala will be looking to capitalise on any specific new capabilities with additional opportunities becoming available?

Bel Lepe Keying off of the last point above, it means Ooyala will be able to leverage video formats like 4K and VR. It also introduces a world where we have an even stronger feedback loop with the end user.

Think of all of the rich IoT data that gets created as soon as you have 5G based networks that can actually achieve the minimum latency required to support more and more IoT devices. This means Ooyala can deliver higher quality, more immersive, and more personalized experiences because of being able to push and receive more bits to/from the end user.

Telecom Times In terms of the tie-up with Telstra, how do you see telcos reinventing themselves going forward? Will this just involve finding ways to monetize the insatiable demand for content across multiple screens?

Bel Lepe When you take a step back and look at telcos – and even the broader TV provider space – there are a number of distinct plays that are emerging. Some, like AT&T, are investing in content at scale (see the acquisition of Time Warner).

Others, like Dish Network, are creating direct to consumer plays that deliver TV over broadband (see Sling TV). All are investing in 5G and all are looking at getting more spectrum to enable the rollout of 5G.

Effectively, what all of this is about, is finding new ways to monetize their network and I believe their continued ownership of the underlying network is a strategic and unique advantage. As we become more and more of a mobile audience with more devices connecting us – think of the forthcoming IoT revolution that 5G will bring – the telcos are well positioned to benefit.

I don’t believe they need to reinvent themselves so much as they need to be ready. The audiences and the use cases that make them ever more relevant are coming.

Telecom Times As one of the founders, can you tell me a bit more about the startup days? Looking back, what were some of the aspects of founding a major company that turned out to be easier than you had imagined? And what were some things you found surprisingly difficult?

Bel Lepe  For me, it was the availability of investment which was harder than expected, and the ability to hire quality talent which turned out to be easier than expected.

Ooyala was founded immediately before the great recession in 2008, so I do remember thinking how much easier it was to hire great talent but that we needed to be much more discerning in and around what areas and geographies we pursued.

Ultimately, funding was not plentiful. It required us to be more thoughtful about our growth in terms of both our product and go to market investments.

Telecom Times Why do you think this location of Silicon Valley has proved to be such an astounding hotbed of innovation and technological progress?

Bel Lepe Companies in Silicon Valley have existed in an environment where it was easier to pursue innovation and to whether the associated risks of doing so. This, in turn, made it easier to make innovation a core part of how Silicon Valley companies created, scaled, and conducted business.

It doesn’t hurt that there was and has continued to be easy access to great engineering talent (local and from abroad), access to lots of smart money, and the weather – of course – is great which helps the morale!

However, it will be interesting to see how the environment changes as cost of living gets ever more expensive. It really begs the question; is this sustainable for anyone that isn’t one of the existing technology giants?

Telecom Times What are your thoughts on how a company like Ooyala will need to direct its efforts to deal with ever more serious cyber threats?

Bel Lepe  There are more and more attack vectors emerging in the cyber context making traditional security practices particularly ineffective. Ultimately, to ensure we protect our customers’ data while continuing to deliver a reliable and secure platform requires that we: a) embrace platforms, partners, and technologies that leverage AI to detect these threats at scale and before they can cause damage and b) roll out out GDPR-like practices to ensure there is always a consistent understanding of what data we collect, store, and process.

We’ve made significant investments in both areas and will continue to invest in these areas.

Telecom Times  Can you provide an update on the uptake of the Flex media and content orchestration platform in ANZ?

Bel Lepe  We are seeing great traction across ANZ as well as the broader Asia-Pacific region. In the next few weeks, we’ll be announcing our work with Fox Sports AU, for whom we power workflows that compile and manage over 13,000 hrs. of live multi-sports content on an annual basis.

Outside of ANZ, we’ve also had great launches with customers like KCP, an SVOD platform offering K-Drama content worldwide. We’ve helped them automate manual processes to manage complex business rules around content spanning multiple languages, partners, and locations.

Telecom Times How much of a focus on security do you expect to have to prioritise going forward? Are you seeing security raised as more of a concern by customers?

Bel Lepe Yes, and the specific way it manifests is in more complex environment requirements (supporting more hybrid cloud deployments or on-premise/private cloud scenarios) and stricter adherence to data privacy frameworks like GDPR. My sense is that we are only just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the security-conscious mindset customers will increasingly have.

We are fortunate in that we architected our system to enable the aforementioned models well. This has allowed us a lot of flexibility when it comes to meeting customer specific security requirements.

Telecom Times In terms of staying ahead of any potential rivals, how big a part does R&D investments play for Ooyala?

Bel Lepe It plays a big role but it is not the only factor. At the end of the day, our focus is on helping our customers manage their content supply chain. This is a big task and the only way we can be successful is if we are thoughtful about what we choose to build and not build.

And when it comes to the latter, it also means being smart about the technology partners we select. As we’ve demonstrated with our deep partnerships with Microsoft and Avid – we are not only investing in our own product stack; we are also ensuring we build a rich technology partner ecosystem to enable network and multiplier effects. This is how we stay ahead of competition and continue to deliver value for our customers.

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