March 5, 2009 – Rapid processing of thousands of videos for simultaneous distribution to millions of viewers across multiple digital Web, cable, IPTV and mobile outlets may just have become significantly more scalable and easy to do for content owners large and small.
Anystream, the platform division of Grab Networks, has released Anystream Agility 2G, a multi-node, multi-threaded upgrade of the software system that formatted and delivered 2,300 hours of NBC Universal's Beijing Olympics coverage to NBC's Olympics site and to 15 other Web, mobile and VOD outlets last year. The system also provided similar service for CNN's widely distributed coverage of President Obama's 2009 inauguration.
According to Anystream president Bill Holding, the fundamental redesign of the Agility software to run in multi-threaded, multi-node architectures has yielded a platform that can divide tasks across video production nodes, allowing content producers to complete multiple tasks simultaneously and, depending in part on the speed of underlying hardware, complete multi-format distribution tasks in real time or near-real time and at large scale.
In effect, Agility can achieve live and tape-based capture of media in real time and can do file-based media processing of content, including HD content, in faster than real time when the system is used in a grid environment comprised of multiple nodes of Agility running on several servers.
"Producing massive amounts of content into many formats is what Agility is all about," Holding says. "Many people don't understand how hard formatting and syndication is. Less than 15 percent of professionally produced video is making it to the Web right now, and advertisers want specially produced, brand-safe, licensed content, not user-generated content. While the recession isn't helpful, advertisers still have money to spend and want to do it online, but you can't make the ad model work until you get to scale."
Grab Networks offers to achieve that scale not only through Agility 2G, but also through the global syndication services it provides to Agility users and other content providers through Grab's other company, Voxant. The Voxant New Media Network "hyper-syndicates" licensed content from some 700 media companies in 38 countries to approximately 12 million viewers through a Web service that enables Webmasters at 50,000 mainstream and niche Web publishing and aggregation sites and blogs to discover and embed relevant, licensed video.
Voxant also provides indexing, cataloging, watermarking, subtitling, onscreen graphics overlaying and packaging services to media clients, including Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, CBS News, MTV News, the BBC, the NBA, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily, Showbizspy and Inergize/ClearChannel. Advertisers range from Procter %26 Gamble to Purina Dog Chow to the History Channel
The introduction of Agility 2G culminates a two-year beta program with unnamed media and distribution outlet partners. The codec-agnostic system supports Flash, Silverlight, 3GPP and other encoding formats and media players.
Agility 2G also features what Holding describes as a "significant" Web 2.0-based enhancement to the user interface (UI) employed by video production professionals to manage the system. For major, large-scale media companies, some of them running 50-plus nodes, he says, "The Web UI allows more people to engage with the system, and it allows customized interfaces. If you have multiple nodes, this allows us to shift pieces of a job from one node to another, so you can be very efficient with scale and redundancy."
Much as other software and service provider companies are creating new downsized versions of their enterprise-level products to suit the requirements and budgets of small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), Grab Networks aims to provide a version of Agility 2G that is affordable to the tens of thousands of small but professional niche video producers who are already driving much of the video traffic on the Web. Breaking the software architecture into more flexible threads and nodes also provides the company with "the opportunity to create a version that is much less expensive and easier to deploy for our smaller customers who may not need to produce thousands of videos," says Russell Zack, vice president for product management at Grab Networks.
"We think we're already the leader in software-based automated production and packaging with an enterprise product that is licensed and purchased and employed inside of media companies," Holding says. "There will continue to be requirements for that among significant onsite production centers. Agility ties those facilities together across pieces of the media production process. But the combination of UI and new flexible architecture allows us to target entry level or limited scale clients. They can get in with the Ferrari engine today with a clear upgrade path as their requirements grow."
Voxant already is based on a hosted services model, providing remotely hosted functions from content ingest through distribution. "Hosted production could be part of that down the road," he says.