Envivio CEO talks multiscreen 2.0, 4K and the changing pay-TV landscape

Julien Signes, Envivio

Signes (Source: Envivio)

On the Hot Seat with Julien Signes, President and CEO of Envivio

As a provider of multiscreen video software solutions Envivio works with a lot of different companies in the pay-TV ecosystem.  The company, which was founded in 2000, got its start in video encoding and now touches on many different aspects of the video experience including compression technology. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company has offices around the world.  FierceCable Editor in Chief Sue Marek recently sat down with Envivio CEO Julien Signes at the company's newly opened office in Denver.  Here's an excerpt of their interview.

FierceCable:  Envivio has customers all over the world. Why is it important to have an office in Denver?

Signes:  We have a lot of big customers out here.  We have Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWC) in particular and Denver is a good hub for content delivery and content distribution.  It made sense for us to open our technology/sales support office here.

FierceCable:  You have been very involved in multiscreen. Do you think multiscreen is plateauing? 

Signes:  To me television is going to become multiscreen by default.  I think it was the "new" thing two years ago when we launched with Time Warner and Comcast with Xfinity.  But now consumers assume that content is going to available across multiple platforms.  I think multiscreen is maturing--it's multiscreen 2.0.  Now it's going to scale.  More content will be available.  And there will be more flexibility to go from one device to another.

A lot of people assume multiscreen is taking a portion of your TV and bringing it to other devices. We see multiscreen 2.0 as being all the content is available whether on demand or time shifted across different networks and devices.  Television becomes multiscreen and that is a subtle evolution.

But multiscreen 1.0--putting a few channels available on an iPad--has plateaued. Some operators are pushing the envelope with multiscreen and others will have to follow.

FierceCable: What about these recent announcements of HBO and CBS both taking their content over the top.  How does that impact what you do?

Signes:  We've launched a new initiative called "Nuage," which is a cloud-based offering that we think is perfectly fitted to that new vision of the world.

I think the world will be segmented between big operators and their value will be the aggregation and the ease of use of bringing together different content on one platform vs. the hyper-segmentation of  the OTT business. I think content is going to be available in two ways.  It will be available through the direct access via online and the OTT model that they brand, and through an aggregated version. 

I think this is going to dramatically change the landscape. It will force the mainstream operators to be more flexible with their programming and their packages.  And it will force them to innovate as well. What else can they do?  Consumers will be able to download the CBS app or the NBA app and they will be able to do it easily and view it anywhere. So that creates a question. What will the operators do?

FierceCable:  So it's the responsibility of the operator to make that customer experience so much better than customers will want to continue with their service?

Signes:  Yes. For us it changes things. Traditionally we have sold to the big operators but we saw a need for a more packaged solution.  Even a CBS or smaller cable operators or smaller broadcasters want to offer video service but don't have the technical capacity. We think for these players a cloud-based solution is a good offer. We can take care of the complexity.

FierceCable:  Authentication continues to be an issue. Customers continue to complain about it. Do you see it improving?

Signes:  Authentication will always be a barrier for the general public.  I think there are strategies around it.  You can link to your Facebook account or some other strategy to make it easier. The flip side is content protection.  How will the content owner feel more comfortable with their content in the cloud?  One big initiative we have is part of this evolution. We do user-based watermarking so that authentication can be tracked down to the end user per session.  All the DRMs play a critical role in this. We have an open approach and work with all the industry standards.   

FierceCable:  4K is getting a lot of buzz right now.  You have formed a partnership with some other players like Huawei to drive 4K adoption.   What do you see as the difficulty with 4K?

Signes:  There are two difficulties. One is bandwidth. We are promoting HEVC as a codec that enables 4K transcoding in manageable bandwidth.  

The other problem is decoders. All the new 4K TVs will be able to decode HEVC and 4K.  But those are two technical issues that are coming along.  We project next year the decoding will be mature. But the challenge with 4K remains the business model and the content.

At the moment we see interest in 4K but we don't see it at the scale of HD. There are not enough 4K screens out there. I think it will take a while to scale.   Next year we will see some 4K content. I just see that as prudently rolling out.  Interestingly HEVC might become more prominent on the wireless side than 4K itself.

I think 4K is the new HD but it will take some time for the critical mass to get 4K TVs.  People will start to see the difference if they go up in size of their TV screen. You need a 65-inch screen to justify 4K. At 65 inches you will see the better resolution.   But I think it will be a progressive change--not a hockey stick.