BFV Interview: Qligent continues to develop next-generation data and analytics technology

In this issue Broadcast Film & Video speaks exclusively to the CEO of Qligent, Brick Eksten, who has extensive knowledge of the industry and has led several companies throughout his career. He talks about how what he thinks OTT will look like post Covid19 and how we need to think beyond the technical hurdles and embrace the entire supply chain for business and technical opportunities.

Having worked within the industry for decades and with your extensive knowledge in leading innovative companies, can you tell me how you got involved in the industry and some of the companies that you have led?

I’ve been focused on solving big technical challenges throughout my career, from the earliest days of digital video to today’s cloud-driven video processing. My fascination with the industry began at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics while working with heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar. I traveled to the Olympics venue to support the megawatt generator systems we engineered to power the mobile television trucks covering the event. These trailer-based studios were packed with production consoles and other video equipment, which opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

Within a year, I was teaching myself how to write software and design hardware, starting with games, which led to a rewarding career. Over time, I launched, operated, built-up, and sold several companies, each time pushing the envelope on hardware and software solutions for digital video processing. The deeper I got into the technology, the more fascinating it became.

My company HyperCube Engineering helped develop the accelerator boards and video playback technology that was part of the earliest CG systems. These systems were used by pioneering, effects-driven TV shows, such as Babylon 5 and SeaQuest DSV. I then founded Ronin Research to focus on real-time video processing boards and developed some of the first interfaces to get digital video into and out of computers. Think back to the Commodore Amiga, which was used in the early days of CG effects for television.

After selling those two companies, I turned my attention to developing genlock systems and video capture/playback boards. These systems allowed video pros to interface computer/disk-based video frames to a traditional monitoring or recording systems in broadcast quality. This innovation led me to join Digital Processing Systems (DPS) in 1992 where I ran the R&D division and developed a software team that built, among other things, a new product called the PAR (Personal Animation Recorder) board. We sold tens of thousands to Hollywood companies doing previsualization in the early days of visual effects.

After DPS sold to Leitch in 2000, I launched Digital Rapids, a cutting edge and innovative company focused on building upon everything we had learned about video ingest, video playback, and video processing. By 2001, we began moving digital video processing from hardware to software, ushering in the world’s first streaming systems, and providing the primary streaming for eight consecutive Olympics. While we began with Real Video and WMV, we progressed to formats like H.264, successfully enabling the world’s top content creators to process, transcode, and manage their entire video supply chains.

After selling Digital Rapids to Harris, which later become Imagine Communications, I stayed on, and as CTO I was fortunate to be part of the next big transformative wave, adopting cloud computing, public cloud, data centers, and other next-gen technologies to manage data flows and operations. My goal was to create new services that dynamically raise the bar of the content delivery supply chain to support the needs of an increasingly data-driven on-demand processing market.

Qligent now represents an opportunity to get in at the ground level of this transformation of the broadcast and media and entertainment industries to the data driven economy. These industries are moving from a purely content-driven model to one that is content plus data. With its global data monitoring and analytics footprint, Qligent is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in this transformation. Leveraging my experience ranging from film studios, visual fx, and television, I hope to guide Qligent’s development of next-generation data capture and analytics technology and services.

Qligent’s technology offers media organizations insights across multiple delivery platforms and networks and also offers excellent customer service. How do you plan to expand on this in your new role?

I see a very big shift coming that will open doors of opportunity for both Qligent and our customers. Right now, we facilitate our customers’ insights by looking through and across all of the information we’ve gathered in their facilities to better understand when and why something’s gone wrong.

The big shift is, how do we now help our customers take advantage of what’s going right? How do we take our engineering capacity and knowledge about the public cloud and broader network scalability, and apply it in such a way that our customers not only monitor when things go wrong with their broadcast delivery, but also focus on what’s going right so that they can quickly scale those services that achieving their goals for success.

I see a fantastic market opportunity, provided that we can help our customers understand that it is about more than striving for flawless broadcast delivery. Today, it’s about maximizing new opportunities given the tools at our disposal in this increasingly virtualized environment.

What do you think OTT will look like post Covid-19? Do you think it is time for a new approach?

The opportunity for OTT only gets bigger post-COVID as people recognize the power of leveraging that technology to create new delivery models, obtain user information, and better manage the customer experience.

With the introduction of 5G LTE, we can find new ways to take advantage of the inherent cost-efficiencies of this terrestrial network, compared with satellite distribution. OTT is an example of this shift as it takes advantage of the way the internet was designed. The internet wasn’t designed for delivering a perfectly continuous stream of information like linear television. It was designed to deliver a series of interconnected transactions which is why OTT works.

So, it’s not that we need a new technical approach. We need to think beyond the technical hurdles, and embrace the entire supply chain for business and technical opportunities. When we talk about OTT, we should be thinking  Direct-to-Consumer, or DTC, a terminology that’s better aligned with the end goal of delivering greater value to audiences. Game of Thrones was not just an amazing production; it was amazing because of the large audience that it reached and influenced. In my mind, it’s more about how we get better telemetry and information from end consumers, and apply what we learn across the entire media supply chain. That will ultimately drive the most value for the content we deliver.

Qligent recently announced that it scooped Future Best of Show Award, which was presented by TV Technology, for its Dymos Event-based Monitoring Solution. How are the needs of the OTT market met by Dymos?

Moving to the public cloud offers a cost benefit that lets you offset some of your core IT costs. Then, there are the on-going operational costs that go along with that benefit. One of the biggest benefits of the public cloud stems from the fact that operations of the environment happens at massive scale. That comes with inherent cost efficiencies and best practices that would be hard to match at a smaller scale.

Being part of the public cloud fabric helps our customers address the needs of the on-demand market, not just for VOD content but for any high value content delivery.

Dymos is our response to this evolutionary trend. Dymos aligns the efficiency and operational breadth of our solutions with those dynamic environments. The result is greater cloud-based efficiencies and better operational costs for both continuous and on-demand, event-based content distribution.

The company was expected to introduce its Dynamic OTT Monitoring Solutions packages at NAB, which was cancelled due the pandemic. Can you tell me more about the Dynamic OTT monitoring innovation and how it will revolutionize live events?

The innovation in Dymos is to help our customers solve the problem of monitoring their deliverables at scale, whether it is the pop-up channel or some other form of delivery. Monitoring and compliance are part of the overall requirement, not just to help meet internal Service Level Agreements, but also to help monitor and manage the consumer experience.  

At Qligent, we intend to capitalize on these cost-efficiencies to enable better OTT/DTC monitoring and data analytics. Whether programs are part of a broadcast network or simply event-based streams, Dymos helps us meet these goals at scale by running in the public cloud.    

How important are trade shows to Qligent?

Now that large social gatherings cannot be held safely, I’ve had time to reflect upon the value and importance of trade shows. Like many vendors, I’ve written rather large checks over the years to secure exhibit space at our top industry shows. The reaction has been to look backwards after the shows to see if the leads generated justify the money spent.

Now that these shows are on hold, I think we’re seeing an often-overlooked benefit of these events. They represent a point in time where everyone can get together, share ideas, discuss trends, build meaningful relationships, and uncover information beyond what’s publicized.

Prior to COVID-19, if you asked industry executives for a meeting, you would compete with everything on their calendars. But trade shows are conducive to meetings, including the impromptu chats you can strike up with customers, other vendors, and attendees as you explore the show floor. This insightful social interaction is what we will miss if we can’t find a way to bring back trade shows.

That said, this is an opportunity for major trade show organizations to really expand the scope of their events, and the value proposition for exhibitors. Since it takes great effort to schedule and conduct product demos at a booth, it might be worthwhile for the tradeshow organizations to host a new kind of virtual trade show. These would act as extensions of the physical trade show space, and stretch its value through a virtual equivalent. By extending the physical tradeshow experience into the virtual space, vendors realize more value for their tradeshow investment, and the platform could act as a way of extending the conversation that originates on the tradeshow floor.  This offers the best of both worlds, given the timing, convergence, and social impact of the regular tradeshow coupled with the ability to make use of that investment on a more regular basis.

No matter what happens, my opinion on the value of tradeshows has become more positive as we learn to live without them, while my expectations are that the tradeshow organizations should find a way to provide greater value to the vendor and customer community.