SVG Sit-Down: Videon Central CEO Todd Erdley on Connecting Sports Fans Through Live Streamed Experiences
Current strategy centers around an augmented and streamlined process
Since its founding, Videon Central has been supplying affordable live streaming and encoding solutions for a wide variety of production verticals. With EdgeCaster, VersaStreamer SDI, and VersaStreamer 4K leading the way, the company has made significant headway in supporting digital productions of some of sports’ biggest events. SVG sat down with CEO Todd Erdley about how the company is virtually bringing fans together throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, overcoming technological challenges to provide this content, simplifying the user experience for better engagement, and where these at-home models of live streaming go after the pandemic ends.
How has the ongoing pandemic accelerated Videon’s efforts in digital streaming?
Since people can’t get to the venue, we’re trying to come up with unique ways to bring content to the viewers by working with different sports leagues. We want fans to engage in an event in a meaningful way that feels like they’re sitting next to each other but they’re actually in two different households. Some of these examples include gamification, opportunities for micro betting, or a different camera angle. Since the start of the pandemic, another level of storytelling that’s popped up is the larger idea of a second-screen experience. We want viewers to have the broadcast on the big screen, but also have people watch their favorite player on another screen.
What technological challenges is the company overcoming to produce a quality product?
Some leagues want a particular camera location to be streamed and delivered for remote operators to use. In addition, we might also blur some things that would otherwise be visible because we don’t want full access to that type of video. We’re really trying to produce elements in low latency video because that’s extremely important for real-time engagement points. We’re also talking about a rapid deployment of assets in a low-cost way to hook up video streaming and edge computing at every camera like a pylon cam and an in-car cam.
Aside from a production standpoint, how are you changing your behind-the-scenes workflow to better enhance the experience?
[The industry] hasn’t put in the effort to create a quality product in live streaming that we have with broadcast. The typical video workflow has been encoding a video, pushing it up to the cloud, letting it re-encode in the cloud and break apart into pieces, and then send it to different destinations. That complex process takes time, requires money, and reduces reliability, so we’ve decided to simplify this workflow. We’re now treating the supply chain of video in a way that we optimize it. For example, let’s encode that video, put it in the right packaging, and deliver it directly to the CDN by bypassing the cloud. We want it to be correctly formatted so that it’s going to play [efficiently ] on your phone, tablet, or computer. We also want to reduce costs and increase the number of opportunities that people have to deliver that video.
How do you see the streaming sector of the industry growing over the next 6 to 12 months? Will second-screen experiences have a lasting impact on viewing habits?
There are a couple of things that are going to happen. When fans go to a stadium and it’s in between plays, they’re going to be watching a specific angle of a replay or something that’s personalized on a phone that’s delivered in real-time. 5G in sporting venues will also be a perfect application of technology and will help with delivery. If they’re not in the stadium, the experience will be able to include video, social media, and enhanced graphics.
Ultimately, we’re not going to see a decrease in second screens, but actually an increase. The phrase “second screen” isn’t going to be used within a year because it’ll become a huge part of the primary screen. If you think about ad placement, there will be all sorts of different monetization opportunities for major sports leagues.
Lastly, the industry has controlled what we watch and what the pandemic has taught us is that live streaming is becoming democratized. Anybody can watch anything at any time. People want to watch corn hole or ax throwing league and they want to bet on sports like cricket. At the end of the day, we need to solve the steps that are within the supply chain. We want to automate complex elements like GOP structure and frame alignment to give an impressive user interface.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity