Brightcove Basks In Light of Adobe’s New Strobe

4/20/09Follow @wroush

Cambridge, MA-based video hosting provider Brightcove has long had all of its eggs in Adobe Systems’ basket: the company’s entire platform is built around Adobe’s Flash streaming media format. But now the two companies’ relationship is growing even closer.

At the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas today, Brightcove and San Jose, CA-based Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) are announcing a collaboration intended to make it harder to pirate Flash-based streaming media files and easier for users of Adobe’s video production software to publish their videos through Brightcove’s system. Brightcove also says that it intends to make its platform compatible with Strobe, a new media player development framework unveiled by Adobe today.

Strobe is a response to complaints from Web developers that it’s too difficult to build extensive Web-based media sites using the existing Flash development tools. It provides building blocks that developers can use to create customized, interactive websites that include games, software, advertising, and the like. Brightcove—which serves customers like the New York Times, Showtime, and the Discovery Channel and is the single largest host of Flash-based video for big media companies—says it wants to make sure that developers who turn to the Strobe platform can still use Brightcove to host the video portions of their sites.

I caught up with Jeff Whatcott, Brightcove’s senior vice president of marketing, by phone last week before he set out for Las Vegas. Whatcott, who’s an Adobe veteran and also helped to launch Drupal publishing company Acquia, says he believes Brightcove was “the first phone call” Adobe made when the media software giant set out to find partners for the Strobe launch. I asked him to explain, among other things, how Strobe’s features overlap with those of Brightcove 3, the new, more customizable hosting platform the company introduced last October.

Xconomy: The Strobe platform that Adobe is introducing today sounds like it actually has a lot of the same features as Brightcove 3, when it comes to customizing the look and feel of a Web video player.

Jeff Whatcott: It’s similar in some ways. But we’re coming at the market from two different directions. They are coming at it from the application developer side—people building totally customized user experiences, which is certainly a valid set of use cases. We’re coming at it from the complete solution side, where people want to do a lot of deep branding that…affects the appearance of the player, as opposed to completely tweaking it out. The two kind of meet in the middle. With Strobe and Brightcove 3, the full spectrum of use cases is covered.

There’s nothing out there like Strobe from a company of Adobe’s stature. If that’s going to be in the marketplace, we want to make sure that people can use it with Brightcove’s service. So we’re going to working with Adobe on interoperability between their player and our backend service, so it will work in that environment.

X: Don’t most Brightcove customers—companies that host their videos on your backend—use the Brightcove player almost by default? I’m not clear on how the Strobe integration would benefit them, unless you’re saying that customers could substitute Strobe-based players for the Brightcove player.

JW: The vast majority of our customers absolutely do use our player today, although with the rollout of Brightcove 3 last fall we made our whole platform something that you could adapt in whole or in part. Our server side has a bunch of APIs [application programming interfaces] for getting video out of our system into whatever framework you want to offer to build a custom user experience. So yeah, customers could theoretically substitute those two.

But again, the focus of Strobe is more application developers who are building completely custom applications that have video as a part of them. The way to think about it is, a lot of times, with video on the Web, you see a Web page with a video player in it, and that video player needs to be customized to look like the rest of the page. That is the classical use case for the Brightcove 3 player today. Whereas Adobe is focusing here on people building out completely custom websites in Flash. For example, think of a major shoe manufacturer running a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. They are going to run a splash page that will be a completely customized experience, where you can play games, or log your runs, or whatever. In some cases it may make sense for those people to use Strobe…and we want to make sure the video portion of that can be served from Brightcove.

X: Brightcove has been a Flash house since the beginning—that’s the format your whole system is built to support. So I imagine that the relationship between Adobe and Brightcove has always been pretty tight. How will that change with this new strategic partnership?

JW: We have had a great relationship. You are 100 percent correct, the platform has been built from the beginning on the Flash platform. It was ironic for me especially. I was working at Adobe two years ago when Brightcove was bringing its first products to market, and now I am on the other side of the fence. But Adobe is a large organization and the Flash platform is global, so they have a lot of organizations pulling and tugging at them. I was in that role on the other side. Frankly it can be overwhelming, and it’s not always clear who has traction in the market, who actually has the ability to give significant synergy and leverage the adoption of the Flash platform.

I think what you’re seeing here is that we have had a good relationship over time, but now we’re deepening that relationship through a significant initiative. I don’t want to put words in Adobe’s mouth, but I think they recognize Brightcove as a leader in the space. We think that together we can really change the way media is consumed on the Web for the better, by combining the reach of the Flash platform with a complete video solution like Brightcove. That’s something that the media companies at NAB should be very interested to hear about.

X: I wanted to ask about some of the specific aspects of the joint announcement. One of the areas where you say you’re going to be working with Adobe is content protection—”a plan to enable content owners to prevent abuse while offering an outstanding end user experience.” Isn’t there already some digital rights management technology built into Flash and into the Brightcove platform?

JW: There is, and there will be more over time. We want to work with Adobe to improve that technology and bring it to market together. There is a DRM technology in the Adobe AIR client, and there is encryption technology that allows [Flash] streams to be encrypted so that they can’t be tampered with, and there is swift verification technology that verifies a player so that it can connect back to the video securely, and you know that your content is being accessed by a player that is authorized to request that content. There is a lot of security technology that Adobe has built up over the years, and what Brightcove proposes to do is to take that technology into our complete solution and make it consumable by organizations from the cloud, as part of a cloud-based service. I’m being a little intentionally vague here because one of the things we’re doing with Adobe is developing a joint roadmap around the next generation of security technology that we hope to bring to market together. This alliance provides a framework to allow us to work on that together. We hope to have more news on that for you soon.

X: Another part of the announcement is about a plan to “better integrate” the Brightcove platform with Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 video production platform. In what ways does the integration need to be improved?

JW: Right now you can create video using the Creative Suite tools and do all the post-processing that the Creative Suite tools are great for, but you then have to take that file and separately, manually put it into the Brightcove system. The kinds of integration we are pursuing with Adobe would allow a one-click “publish to Brightcove” type of scenario. We have some work to do to bring that to pass, but it would make it very convenient and easy as part of a natural workflow to get content into Brightcove, and to make sure that the metadata that the author intended to describe the video is carried over into our system. That’s made possible by the fact that we have opened up our system with Brightcove 3 as an open platform, with open APIs to allow this kind of integration. It’s one of the benefits of having a true open platform—you can get deeper integration with all of the other things around your solution.

X: I haven’t been following a lot of the other news from companies gearing up for NAB, but I’m wondering whether we should expect to see a whole spate of announcements from Adobe about new partnerships around Strobe, or whether this partnership you’re announcing with them is something really unique. For example, are we going to see a press release about an equivalent deal between Adobe and Maven?

JW: I don’t think you will see that. I do think you will see other vendors in different categories announcing support for Strobe, but I don’t think you will see anybody that is in the same business as Brightcove. And again, I think that there is a recognition on Adobe’s part of who the leaders are. That doesn’t mean that over time other vendors won’t be involved in the same technology in other ways. But I think we were their first phone call. That should tell you something.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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