A startup called upLynk LLC thinks it has cracked the code when it comes to helping programmers and pay-TV operators scale their TV Everywhere services to reach a wide range of tablets, smartphones, smart TVs and gaming consoles.
Rather than requiring them to build, store and stream a bunch of different adaptive bit rate streams for all of those devices, upLynk has developed a platform that lets operators create one version of a live TV or on-demand video stream that can be stored centrally. When a stream is requested, it's delivered to the end device -- an iPad, Xbox 360 or Roku Inc. box, for example -- where a small software client converts the stream into the proper format for playback.
That approach with the TV Everywhere workflow essentially attempts to erase the kind of scalability and complexity issues faced by popular streaming services such as Netflix Inc., which has developed apps for just about every type of platform under the sun. But to support them all, Netflix estimates that it must encode more than 100 different versions of each movie. (See Quantifying 'The Netflix Problem'.)
upLynk says its approach does away with duplicative encodes and the costs associated with them. "Instead of encoding for multiple formats, we encode in a single adaptive format that's delivered to every device," says Ken Brueck, upLynk's chief marketing officer. "It's essentially future-proofed."
The two-year-old company already has support from a media giant. Walt Disney Co., upLynk's launch partner, is currently using the company's platform to power a handful of streaming video apps for live and on-demand video, including the ABC Player, ABC Family and the family of "Watch Disney" applications (Watch Disney Channel, Watch Disney Junior and Watch Disney XD). upLynk is not powering the popular WatchESPN app, at least not yet. upLynk estimates that it has streamed more than 130 million hours of content since its system went live with Disney last March.
upLynk's approach is similar in some ways to the one being pitched by Azuki Systems, another TV Everywhere systems provider that targets cable operators and other service providers. Azuki's system packages and delivers adaptive bit rate streams in one format -- Apple Inc.'s HTTP Live Streaming -- and relies on client software to "normalize" those streams into a format that the display device can handle. (See Azuki Pitches Simplified TV Everywhere to MSOs.)
One area where upLynk hopes to stand apart is in its simplified business model. Rather than charging by the gigabyte, a model that could cause some programmers to shy away from HD streaming, upLynk charges for each hour of content uploaded and stored (HD or SD) and the number of hours of content that's played back. Other platform elements, such as ad insertion and content replacement, come with the overarching service.
upLynk, founded in the fall of 2010, is self-funded and has about a dozen employees. It turned its first profit at the start of this year, according to CEO Ralf Jacob. "We are open to any discussion, but we are not in need of funding right now," he says, noting that, if anything, upLynk might look at taking on a "strategic partner."
Why this matters
Despite growing deployments, TV Everywhere remains a complex and costly requirement for most operators, many of which have relied on home-grown approaches in the early phase of deployments. The window of opportunity could open up for companies such as upLynk as programmers and MSOs look for more efficient ways to deliver on-demand and live programming to a wider array of devices while also using a model that helps them forecast and manage those costs.