THE AUSTRALIAN STARTUP THAT TAPPED IBM WATSON FOR ITS TECH-DRIVEN VOD SERVICE
Written on the 26 July 2017 by Ben Hall
VIDEO on demand technology startup Oovvuu has teamed up with IBM to launch a news platform powered by its AI product, Watson, which is designed to connect viewers to the most relevant video and news content.
We also knew that broadcasters all over the world had hundreds and thousands of brilliant video assets that were looking for an audience, and we knew that news media publishers online had billions of people who wanted more video, but the two didn't seem to be engaged with each other.
"So my co-founders and I quit our jobs to create a bridge for them, to enable them to work together and benefit the public."
The outcome is that we match the world's best videos with the world's best articles, and a billion people can get the news in video the way they want.
Talk us through the tech side of things and how it all works.
It's been a learning curve because we didn't set out to design a technical solution. Our initial idea was to do what traditional journalism has done. We hired a journalist to watch all the videos and read all the articles, and match them together. We learned very quickly that a person could only embed 40 videos a working day, yet a decent sized news outlet publishes as many as 2,000 stories an hour. A human just cannot process that much information.
So, we built technology ourselves to automatically read the articles and videos and match them. Then we added the value of the advertising it was generating so we could recommend video that people liked and made the most money. Soon, we were processing so much data that we began to break out machines. We couldn't handle the computing power.
How did you get a corporate giant like IBM to even talk to you?
When we sat down and looked at it, we realised we'd created a very small baby learning machine, or AI. When we told some friends about it, they led us to IBM. They came to see us, checked our tech and said 'Right, this is very cool. Why don't we give you access to Watson to help cope with all that computing power, and you can teach Watson how video works'.
This began just over a year ago. They have an urgent desire to make a world driven by AI for a whole host of reasons. It's fantastic for automation, it's incredibly efficient and accurate. Watson does millions of things well, but what we do is make Watson really, really good at video. As Watson rolls out across the world and becomes central to thousands and thousands of tasks there'll be thousands and thousands of companies making Watson smarter at thousands and thousands of things.
"You still have to have a human in the mix. Watson is a bit like a child at the moment and it needs to be taught and so that's the trade-off."
Watson provides us with incredible computing power and global reach and we teach Watson how video and video monetisation works.
How does the ad revenue system work between yourselves and the publishers, and which publishers are using your video on demand?
The result was that 250,000 people watch these film and generated a million dollars in advertising revenue each year, which was shared between the publisher and the broadcaster, like the BBC. That was the original model.
When we then partnered with News Corp Australia and changed that model. We began using people and then AI to embed videos directly into the articles. If you were reading an article on coral bleaching, you were interested in that, so we would place a 45-minute documentary about that topic directly into the article, where it then generated advertising.
We've now executed both those solutions, and it generates millions in ad revenue for the publisher and for the broadcaster. That creates a two-sided market place, that Oovvuu has facilitated. It means the audience gets to access video it couldn't before; publishers gets access to video they couldn't previously have, and broadcasters get access to millions more viewers than previously, and everyone gets paid.
In those early days, you were relatively unknown with an idea that was new, so how did you get funding?
"We self-funded. All of our key staff gave up their fancy C-suite jobs and everybody went to work for nothing."
We spent about two and a half years thinking about this company and nobody got paid. When we launched in December 2014, we had a frantic rush because nobody was getting paid because we had no cash flow. Even when we signed News Corp in April 2015, earnings were still not a lot. Of the five staff, three of them to this day have never been paid.
Mark Sowerby, Queensland's chief entrepreneur, told us that as an entrepreneur and a startup "it's a relentless journey and you have to give yourself no optionality for failure because you never know when the pain is going to end". Can you relate to this?
I get that 100 per cent. There are two rules I live by. The first is that you're forever one call from glory, and one phone call from failure. One call to make or break you. All you can do is aim for the stars but keep your feet firmly on the ground.
The second one came from a friend at Amazon. He told me once there were many things I would do as a start-up CEO, but he offered this advice.
"The one thing you'll only do once is run out of money. So, the golden rule is, don't run out of money, and that's been a real focus."
You know I used to have a big job with a big salary but this is far more interesting and far more stimulating.
There must have been times, especially in the early days, when you've thought about throwing in the towel, many startups say this, how do you get through that?
"There is a torture in the whole startup/entrepreneurial space that I didn't really realise. When something terrific happens, you have to move on and keep going as there is no time to celebrate."
And when something good happens, usually something bad happens straight after and vice versa and you have to get used to that and your family has to get used to it. If you have a partner, kids, mortgage ... they're all along with you for that ride and there will be good days and there will be some not-so good ones. All part of the journey.
Author: Ben Hall