By Alex Li
Dan Rayburn, often referred to as the “voice of the industry”, is one of the foremost authorities on streaming media technology and online video business models. Over the past 25 years, Dan has been noted for his expertise and insights on cutting-edge technologies, content, strategies, solutions and business models all tied to the streaming media industry.
Recently LiveVideoStack had the opportunity to interview him (email interview). In this interview, Dan talks about the biggest challenge the whole OTT industry is facing, how one can stand out among the competitors, the tradeoff between technology and business, and the importance of educating people in the streaming media industry.
Photo provided by Dan Rayburn
As the Chairman of NAB Show Streaming Summit (which will take place next Monday), Dan also shares his secrets of organizing a successful conference, his thoughts on online conference, and what we can expect from NAB Show Streaming Summit 2022.
We really appreciate that Dan could take time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.
The following is our conversation with Dan Rayburn.
LiveVideoStack: Hi, Dan! Thank you so much for being here with us. Before we start, could you give us a brief introduction of yourself?
Dan Rayburn: Over the past 25 years, I have been an analyst, consultant, writer, blogger and Chairman of conferences, all tied to the streaming media industry. I also spend a lot of time on live TV including CNBC, Bloomberg TV etc. and educate many on Wall Street around OTT business models. I have received invitations to speak as a witness at hearings by both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on topics pertaining to net neutrality, telecom mergers and content delivery architectures. I'm the Chairman for the NAB Show Streaming Summit and previously, spent 15 years as Chairman for industry conferences at StreamingMedia.com. I got my start in 1996, working as an Apple certified systems engineer and then co-founded one of the first webcasting production companies in the industry.
LiveVideoStack: You said you see yourself as an educator, so could you tell us why it’s important to educate those in the streaming media industry?
Dan Rayburn: While I do a lot of different things in the industry, my job, as I see it, is to inform, educate and empower others. To separate "opinions" from facts. To provide real-world information based on actual methodology and data, without any marketing fluff. Those that I am influencing include broadcasters, sports leagues, vendors, OTT platforms, members of the media, investors etc. and they need accurate information to make informed decisions. I am always trying to set proper expectations so that people understand what’s actually taking place in the industry, backed up by data, as opposed to what many think is taking place or assume is taking place.
LiveVideoStack: What’s the biggest challenge the whole OTT industry is facing? How could it be addressed?
Dan Rayburn: There are always business and technical challenges in the industry, but the business challenges are the ones that matter the most. They dictate success or failure. Profitability matters the most. Streaming services have to be cash flow positive. It's not about the best tech, it’s about what consumers want, are willing to pay for and what the service can make money from. For instance, a lot of videos are not in 4K today, not because they can't be done technically, but because OTT platforms say users won't pay for the additional quality and many can't even see the difference. There has to be a business value in anything streaming services do and there is ALWAYS a tradeoff between tech and business ROI.
LiveVideoStack: With lots of companies entering the OTT world, how can one stand out from others?
Dan Rayburn: Many stand out in various ways including type of content, live versus on-demand, TV shows versus movies, original content, business models like AVOD versus SVOD and a host of other factors. Things like live sports can be a differentiator, how a service packages their content as well as the business model behind how they operate. Amazon is a commerce company, AT&T is a wireless company, Apple is a devices, platform, OS company etc. Netflix makes money from only one product: streaming. So many of the companies’ business models are very different as are their reasons why they are in the video business.
LiveVideoStack: Do you have any advice for small companies on how to maintain sustainability?
Dan Rayburn: Hard to say not knowing what the small company does, what their core product or service is etc., but it's all about getting to profitability. Profit and loss are what matters most and the numbers can't be argued with. Smaller companies tend to not be able to take as larger bets as bigger companies, but it's all about focus. I like a lot of smaller companies as they focus very well and you know exactly what they do, what they offer and what their value proposition is.
LiveVideoStack: In China, we have our own OTT services such as IQIYI, Youku and Tencent video. What lessons (both good and bad) could they learn from services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+ in the US?
Dan Rayburn: I think all services globally can learn from each other when it comes to consumer trends. What do viewers want to watch? On which devices? In what quality? With what type of interaction? Free with ads? Paid with no ads? There is no right answer for each company. It all depends on their type of content, business model, limitations of devices in certain geographic regions and knowing what consumers will pay.
LiveVideoStack: As you can see, what are the risks of subscription business model? When the rapid growth comes to an end, what else can be done to drive profitability?
Dan Rayburn: It's all about knowing the customer and what they are willing to pay for. Content matters a lot but so does ease of use and reliability of any service. Streaming services need to better understand not what their churn is, but what drives it. Saying words like "quality" without any definition of how to measure it is useless. So it's all about understanding the consumer journey.
LiveVideoStack: Some people think that best technology can bring best business. Do you agree? In your view, what matters most in business?
Dan Rayburn: 100% disagree. P2P was supposed to be better, it goes no traction in the US. Multicasting was supposed to change everything, today it's only used inside enterprise networks. 360 degree video never took off, nor did curved or 3D TVs. Tech isn't what "drives" business. You have to have the right business model and then use and apply the best tech to make the business model work. The best technology is not what usually gets adopted. Look at 4K, it's better than HD, but in most cases, there is no business reason to implement it. 4K doesn't drive more ad revenue, or equate to higher margins.
LiveVideoStack: You’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, and witnessed many companies going through ups and downs. Which company’s story impressed you most? What can we learn from it?
Dan Rayburn: I don't think I could pick out just one but I would say the companies that are smart make decisions without emotions. They pivot based on business models that are realistic, are focused, are striving for profitability and know who their audience is. They make decisions based on real data, with proper methodology behind it. They don't chase the latest fad like blockchain, VR, 8K video or tech that has little to none actual business in the streaming media industry today, or anytime in the next few years.
LiveVideoStack: What are the key factors for planning a successful conference? What was the best lesson you learned from the past?
Dan Rayburn: There are so many. I've been Chairman for and planned nearly 60 conferences now, across two continents. You have to think of the attendee experience from the moment they visit the website. Biggest thing I would say is attention to details matters most, especially onsite. Events should be bespoke, custom, focused, direct and you should never select a speaker based on them wanting to pay you. It has to be a quality over quantity approach. Something as simple as bringing your own doorstops to the venue to make sure session room doors don’t close loudly while someone is speaking – that’s the level of detail required. Now multiply that a hundred times.
LiveVideoStack: How do you differentiate NAB Show Streaming Summit from other conferences on streaming media?
Dan Rayburn: There are a lot of shows out there on the topic of streaming media, but many of them try to be everything to everybody. Many have no real focus. I don't think you can have a good show where you cover every single piece of the streaming media workflow, across every use case and every vertical. At the same time, you have so called "streaming" shows, but they are covering NFTs and blockchain as topics, which are entertainment focused, but have nothing to do with streaming media technology. For me, knowing your subject and focus is the key. Less is more. Too many events classify themselves as a “streaming” show and say they cover “cloud, security, IoT, hyperscale, private/hybrid/public, across enterprise, publishing and broadcast.” Events like that, trying to be everything to every vertical are already on their way out. That’s not how we consume business related content online and it’s not how we consume content in-person.
LiveVideoStack: Many conferences have been moved online since the pandemic, have you ever thought about organizing an online NAB Show Streaming Summit? Why or why not?
Dan Rayburn: I have but decided not to since so many webinars took place during the pandemic. Also, a lot of my content are fireside chats with key executives and that's not a format that works well online. The Streaming Summit isn’t a show where people are presenting papers, which lends itself better to a solo online presentation. I believe that online platforms should not be a replacement for a great show, but should enhance it, adding value and reducing complexity for the attendee.
LiveVideoStack: What can we expect from NAB Show Streaming Summit 2022? What will it focus on this year?
Dan Rayburn: Great speakers, real-world use cases, multiple networking events and the ability to do business in-person again. The two-day Streaming Summit will feature speakers from the broadcast, media and publishing industries covering the technical and business challenges and opportunities in packaging, monetizing and distributing online video. From ingestion and transcoding, to media management and playback, we want experts in the industry to show attendees the best way to streamline their workflow and provide the best quality experience.
To find out more about what’s coming up in the streaming media industry, read Dan’s blog and listen to his podcast (with co-host Mark Donnigan) here:
The 2022 two-day Streaming Summit is taking place April 25~26 in Las Vegas, more details: https://nabshow.com/2022/conference/streaming-summit/