This is a english translation of the original article posted at Digi.no
OSLO (digi.no): Unfortunately, there are not many Norwegian software companies with international ambitions. But there are some. One of these is Movi Tech, which is headquartered in downtown Oslo. The company is developing a solution that will offer completely new possibilities related to video playback on mobile smart devices.
At Movi, digi.no meets two of the co-founders, CEO Lars-Erik Ravn (on the right) and CTO Espen Bjarnø. They have worked together in different contexts for more than ten years. They met each other in the demo scene related to the computer event The Gathering, a larger group of young people who engaged in creative computer graphics and games.
First class citizen
- Over the years we have gained pretty good insights into how computer graphics work on mobile phones. In particular, many new opportunities came when the iPhone was launched. But we also saw that video was still a "click to play" experience, which has essentially been adapted directly from the big screen, via the PC and finally to the mobile phone, says Ravn.
The VHS player with its buttons and icons has followed along.
- The VHS player with its buttons and icons has followed along all the way, Bjarnø interjects.
Ravn says that even though mobile apps like Vine, Snapchat and Instagram have given mobile users the opportunity to be more creative than before with content, the video experience is still the same.
- Even with Byte and Tiktok today, you sit as a consumer and watch. But if we manage to bring the video experience to the same level with the rest of modern smart device capabilities, then there are quite a few opportunities that open up there, he believes.
At present, many are talking about Disney+ doing something about the competition in the video streaming market. This Ravn disagrees with.
- Netflix's biggest competitors are precisely the ones we talked about - TikTok, Snapchat, and so on. It's about leveraging user behavior and user motivation to play, create and curate in real time. Alpha and omega for anyone working with any kind of user interaction and design is that if you can manage to manipulate the data directly, then they will be available to many more people, Ravn says.
- It's about being able to take some of the user behavior and inner drive for creativity that is currently used for social content - which really has no particular value to anyone other than those who send and receive - and to move it to the corporate world where It's paid content that actually has value, he says.
The product of Movi that was launched last summer is called Movi Player. This is not an end-user product, but a video player that can be integrated into other content provider’s mobile apps. The player itself can be used by all app developers for free. There is a set of additional services that Movi makes money from.
During a demonstration of Movi Player, Ravn first plays a video on Youtube, then plays the same video in Movi Player.
- In the Youtube player, there is an "overlay", a layer on top of the video to control playback. It mimics traditional remote controls to control playback on the mobile interface. You have the start, pause and opportunity to jump back and forth in the video. What Youtube has recently introduced is that you can double-tap on either side of the screen to jump either ten seconds forward or backward. What they have found is that the regular navigation is too messy. But the underlying technology restricts them from doing anything more than this, since it's based on search points in the video, Ravn claims.
- In our player you control directly from the video surface, you also have free "scrubbing", where you can play fast or slow, you can zoom in and get with all the best details, or just very quickly get to what you are looking for, he says.
Everyone has something to say about the content they see, whether it is a football game, a guitar course or something about cooking.
- It's a free, kinetic control of time, Bjarnø adds.
Sharing the video experiences
- If you double tap on Movi Player, you can share with others the last ten seconds of what you've seen. There are very few who have such an interesting life that they can film anything and become super popular on TikTok. But everyone has something to say about the content they see, whether it is a football game, a guitar course or something about cooking. This is very much in line with what content publishers now need for new tools to drive the audience and engagement with their service. When someone shares commercial content with you in their name, we can put in marketing messages and deep links, Ravn says.
- In regular video players today, as the user navigates back and forth, you as a publisher get some indication of what the user cares about. But when we record usage patterns 60 times a second, we know very well what the user is looking at, what the user has zoomed in on and where it is the user has their attention.
- It's about the player itself and the interaction patterns that it opens up for when the user can control the video completely kinetically. We do not record video, we record the interaction patterns. There is nothing heavy for the device itself, says Bjarnø.
We do not record video, we record the interaction patterns.
- When sharing, you can share either the interaction patterns or by encoding a video that you can share on other media that does not support this. We also had in mind the viral impact and creativity in that people remixed others, which in turn remixed others, he says.
Dropped new codec
Work on the player started already a few years ago.
- We started by making some prototypes. This was in the days when Vine was up and running. So we thought we had to make something more out of this than a silo experience for the users. We saw that this is much bigger than that. We have to make this accessible to everyone, we have to become a middleware provider that allows all publishers in the world to create new ways to create engaging video experiences, ”says Ravn.
One of the first things they did was create a new codec that was a variant of the widely used H.264.
- But the market does not want a new codec. They have already invested too much in equipment and infrastructure. So since 2015, we built the stack in such a way that everything happens on the client side, so we work with existing video formats. A publisher only needs to replace the player inside their app code, and instantly gets the new functionality, Ravn says.
There should be quite a low threshold for developers to get started. After registering on the Movi website, they gain access to an SDK (Software Development Kit), documentation and "live support". This also includes the free use of the player.
We've done pilot integrations with large companies, and it's done in a couple of hours.
- For a developer, this can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a day, perhaps, depending on how big and complicated the app is, and how structured the developers have been in their development tool initially. It is really the latter that has the most to say. We've done pilot integrations with large companies, and it's done in a couple of hours - even in more than ten-year-old apps, says Ravn.
He adds that Movi Player fully replace existing players.
- The player is an SDK that any developer can use. It is connected to a backend for analysis, indexing and player insight. At the same time, it is a portal where paying corporate customers can dig into all the deep insight, Bjarnø adds.
In the portal, customers can see, among other things, a graph showing users' engagement distributed down to individual scenes or even every frame in the video. The scenes have been recognized with the help of a tool Movi has created.
- All videos are tagged by the content recognition engine. Global classification tags are used. This allows everything to be indexable, so you can query the content, Ravn says.
- Based on this, you get information on where it is best to place ads or to show the next video, since this is where users jump out. The information about what users actually care about is not available in today's legacy solutions, he says.
Bjarnø adds that both those who create end-user apps, and those who create content, can use this data to make things better.
The information about what users actually care about is not available in today's legacy solutions.
- It is about both that this can be automated and that you get much better understanding and insights. We like to be close to the customers, because we want to find out what challenges they have and try to solve this, he says.
- We want everyone to be able to create a more engaging video experience than Google and Facebook can. It would be a shame if it was these two who finally decided how we should experience video, Ravn says.
Smarter video buffering
- Traditional video players dare people who use almost no touch, because then they often stop playing. There are some technical challenges that need to be addressed to enable the user to dare to be interactive, navigate and such. Video is, after all, made for forward consumption. This applies to all formats, says Bjarnø.
- Since we cannot have our own codec, this has been a challenge. This includes things like startup time, buffering and understanding what actually video quality is. If things are set up correctly, we are down to 100 milliseconds startup time (time to first frame). When it comes to buffering, we know where the user is navigating the player and what he is looking for, so we know how to get the data fast enough and can do it instantly. We have resolved the need to wait for something when navigating the video in time, he claims.
Aggressive video quality management
When it comes to controlling the video quality of what is being shown in the player, we can be much more aggressive than is usual today.
- If you travelling by bus and reach an area with poor coverage for a few seconds, it is better that the quality is reduced, so you can still see something, than the playback stops. There are many such aspects of the player that you really expect just to work, and which we have solved, he says.
- Today, app publishers need to have a whole team to address these challenges, and often they are solved in the wrong place, for example, with an oversized backend that solves issues that apply to only a few users. But when they can use our SDK, which takes away all these concerns, they can focus on being creative and working on their core business instead, Bjarnø claims.
He says that today's video players make limited use of the strengths that exist in today's hardware.
- Using the hardware more efficiently means that you can offer a lot more functionality without the power consumption increasing a lot, says Bjarnø.
- The most important thing about the SDK is that it is a unified API, regardless of platform. The most relevant languages are Swift and Kotlin for iOS and Android respectively. However, because the entire core of the player is in C ++, it can be run anywhere. Nevertheless, there are unique things about each platform, so of course it has been optimized for each of them, Bjarnø continues.
We focus on what are the most popular platforms and languages at the moment.
- In addition to this, we have a public API, for the different frameworks that are out there, such as React Native. We focus on what is most popular at the moment. The only thing that is crucial is that there is analog input in some form and that we have access to the hardware, he explains.
Ravn adds that the different strengths of each of the platforms are also utilized. This includes the graphics APIs.
- Now that we've done all this underlying work, by building a C ++ engine, it's very easy for us to extend support new codecs and formats, he says.
Although Movi Player is a complete solution that will work "out of the box" when integrated into an app, it is also possible for developers to create their own "native player".
- Then they don't really create their own player, but maybe their own user interface, styling, ad solution and analysis links. They choose how much of the SDK they want to use, either as a replacement for the built-in rendering engine, or whether they want to use the whole thing, which controls everything from subtitles, multi-audio and quality, as well as our user interface, Ravn says.
According to Bjarnø, the industry has made huge investments at every stage up to the distribution of the videos.
There has been some technical innovation, but there has been no innovation for creativity and end users.
- But if you look at the players, only Apple and Google make their own player stack on mobile. On the other hand, they only implement what they see as necessary. Google has invested heavily in what they need, including codecs, for YouTube. There has been some technical innovation, but there has been no innovation for creativity and end users, he believes.
Ravn points out that there are third-party players out there, based on Exoplayer on Android or AVFoundation on iOS.
- These make it easier to work with video. These players have an API that speaks to Exoplayer or AVFoundation, but they never come up in the application layer where they can create anything other than playback. In this way, these third-party suppliers can also be potential customers of ours, says Ravn.
When asked why the company offers the player itself for free, Ravn replies that this is about getting many users.
- If we are to manage quickly enough to own this market, we must have a licensing model that works in the same way as the built-in players. There we are uniquely positioned, since only our player can deliver anything other than playback. And that's where we need to get the money. It's about being able to refine the unique insight we have and activate it as experiences and transactions, he says.
Product sales integrated into the video experience
- We believe in a future where all video uses the interface for all it's worth. At the same time, we must focus on where this makes the most sense now, and what gives us the best advantage further on in this journey. That's why we're focusing on sports, where supporters might want to be their own VAR and see if the ball was on the line or not, Ravn says.
- What we also see that will be a huge market in the future is to make video more than just playback. You have to get people to buy things in video and to make "bets" based on video, he says.
He therefore mentions a new approach to content building, with video becoming the main element.
The next step is to be able to sell items within the video experience itself.
- The mobile screen is so small that we think we have to move from the text document - as all apps and web pages are today - to a video document where you put text and transaction elements. If I am going to buy something today, I go to Youtube to see what I need to know about the product. The next step is to be able to sell goods within the video experience itself, says Ravn.
- We need to have a player that makes it rewarding to interact with the content, and then we can use the insight of how people experience the content to create transaction-based elements for things like shopping, betting and sharing. We also need to find out what drives each customer's business and how we can use our new tools and insights to help them achieve this. It's about creating new video engagement and converting it into "business quotes". We want to reach the full potential of mobile video, not just compete for user interfaces, he continues.
Mobile and sports
- Among the customers we are currently working with, there are several mobile providers who want to be able to say that their device is best on mobile video, says Ravn.
Among other things, he mentions the new mobile brand ZmBIZI, which will be launched in the US shortly. It caters to urban young people and creates an ecosystem with different partners to offer something that, perhaps more than just a phone, is a recruiting unit that provides access to experiences and services such as audio and video streaming, radio, banking, insurance and payment.
Video is mainly for entertainment and learning.
- In addition, we address a lot of sports brands and publishers who need new ways to connect with their users. Video is mainly for entertainment and learning, so now we are also focusing in on the education market, says Ravn.
Existing streaming content providers are also among the potential customers Movi is looking for.
- They also need a good approach to be the best on mobile, since that's what their customers are going to demand, says Ravn.
- Customers say that the insight they get, it is so powerful that they are pleasantly surprised. They suddenly see new opportunities, Bjarnø adds.
Movi Tech now has 12 employees, most of them in Oslo, but also some abroad.
- All product development and technology is made here in Oslo. It is a Norwegian video player. We are going to grow in the future, so during this year we will at least be twice as many, says Ravn.
Movi Tech has a number of owners. However, the largest ownership group is the employees. The other owners are international investors.
- We have worked a lot to find the right people to have as investors. We have a lot of experience with technology ourselves, but if we are to create a large, global software company, which takes a dominant market position, then we need people who have done this before, says Ravn.
For digi.no's readers, David Helgason, the founder of Unity Technologies, is probably the best known of these.