When news about Brightcove acquiring its long-time competitor Ooyala’s online video platform business for $15 million broke in February, many assumed that this would be the end of it for Ooyala. Turns out that was wrong: The acquisition officially closed last week, Ooyala is still and independent company, and its CEO Jonathan Huberman recently caught up with Variety talk about his company’s new focus, and the changing online video business.
First, a bit of a refresher: Ooyala had been one of the companies providing the plumbing for the nascent online video business ever since its founding in 2007. Initially, it focused on providing video hosting for other companies, with a particular focus on the media business. Later, complemented this with ad-tech and video management tools.
The entry into the ad-tech market in 2014 coincided with Ooyala getting acquired by Australian telco giant Telstra, which at the time hoped to become a major technology player, with a significant digital advertising business to boot. Ooyala’s second major focus at the time was the video platform business, as hosting and related infrastructure services are called in the industry, with video management tools ranking last on the list of the company’s internal priorities.
However, Telstra made a course correction last year, writing down much of its investment in Ooyala, and subsequently selling the company to Ooyala’s management for an undisclosed amount.
That newfound independence forced Ooyala to take a hard look at its existing lines of business — and realize that its priorities didn’t make a lot of sense, argued Huberman. “We had that pyramid inverted,” he told Variety in an exclusive interview last week. The ad-tech business in particular was a lot more challenging than Ooyala had anticipated. “We were competing with this little company called Google,” joked Huberman. Ooyala ended up selling its ad-tech business in December.
What’s more, the traditional platform business wasn’t seeing nearly as much growth as Ooyala’s video management tools. “The media and entertainment space has become saturated,” said Huberman. There wasn’t much room to grow with video hosting for media organizations anymore, and competitor Brightcove was much better positioned in the enterprise video market — which is why the company decided to sell its platform business to its longtime competitor earlier this year.
The new Ooyala is entirely focused on what it calls its Flex Media Platform — a set of video management tools that help publishers with their entire supply chain, from production to publishing and analytics. It’s an underserved niche, argued Huberman, with many media companies not having anything similar in place. “We are replacing spreadsheets and Google Docs,” he quipped.
Much of Ooyala’s work these days has been about helping companies integrate various bits and pieces from a variety of vendors into a unified workflow. Just this week, the company announced an integration with Google Cloud Video Intelligence and Avid’s Media Composer tools at NAB in Las Vegas.
It’s nuts and bolts kind of stuff, but it’s been paying off for Ooyala, with Huberman saying that the company’s Flex business has been doubling in size year-over-year, compared to the single-digit growth it had seen in the video platform business. Some of Ooyala’s Flex customers include HBO, Turner and Arsenal FC, with the company set to announce a new deal with U.K. post-production house The Picture Production Company this week.
But while much of what Ooyala is doing is about the plumbing that’s powering online video behind the scenes, there is also a bigger industry story behind the company’s shift of focus. Traditional media companies are increasingly being challenged by tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Google and Netflix.
The tech giants aren’t just spending billions of dollars on content, but also have huge teams to develop sophisticated technology for their video businesses in-house. And in may cases, these companies can subsidize their massive tech investments with money from other lines of business — be it ad sales for Google or iPhones for Apple. “Profits have a different meaning” to these companies, said Huberman.
To compete with these deep pockets, media companies not only have to step up their game and bet big on online content, but also increase their efficiency to make sure they squeeze out every penny out of the videos they have — something that’s not that easy if you rely on spreadsheets and Google Docs. That drive to efficiency will further help Ooyala grow its suite of video management tools. “It is a green-field opportunity,” said Huberman.