Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Sorenson 360" -- Video Publishing, Re-Imagined. And Game-Changing.

Big big day for my company, Sorenson Media, for our customer base and for all video professionals and SMBs interested in Internet video.  And, of course, we hope you agree.

First, today we introduce our entirely new corporate identity, including our completely redesigned website (note: Tabula Rasa -- started from scratch) and our new Sorenson Media logo.  Check it out -- we are proud of it.  We hope you like it. 

Why did we do it?  Because technology should not be hard, technology should not be daunting.  Technology -- if it works, and if done right -- should delight, should invite, and should solve your problems (like how to get my videos onto the Internet) with ease and elegance.  That is what our new corporate identity represents.  Our new logo -- the Sorenson "bloom" -- represents the elegant blooming and organic growth of Internet video.  It also represents the blooming of innovation and creativity at Sorenson Media.  Sprouting upward and blooming vividly, yet firmly rooted in Sorenson Media's 14-year tradition of innovation, stability and trust.  We sweat the details here to get our corporate identity just right.  And, I am very proud of my creative team.  But, tell me if we succeeded -- I want to know.

But, as big as this news is for us, that is only the beginning.

Today, we move beyond our existing leadership position with Sorenson Squeeze (our gold standard video encoding application) and Sorenson Spark (the most ubiquitous video codec in the world that helped to popularize Internet video in the first place).  Today, we introduce a completely new "all-in-one" hosted service that ties all of our best in class elements and fleshes them out into a complete work-flow solution for video professionals and SMBs.  It is a service that our long-time users have requested us to build for a long long time because they have needed it for a long long time -- and it is something we have been "baking" for a long long time to get it just right.  

Today, we introduce "Sorenson 360", video publishing, re-imagined.  We call Sorenson 360 a Video Delivery Network (VDN).  What is our Sorenson 360 VDN?  It is our new all-in-one hosted video publishing solution that re-imagines what a video publishing platform should be.  

Who is the initial target market for Sorenson 360?  

Our core Sorenson Squeeze customer base -- video professionals and SMBs.  We know our users and others like them intimately because we have worked with them for years (14 to be exact), and our users know us and trust us -- we have always had a continuing dialog with them.  They know the Sorenson Media brand means quality.  They know the Sorenson Media brand means innovation.  They also know we listen to them -- we listen to what they like, but we also listen to what they don't like.  We listen to what they and others like them want.  We built Sorenson 360 based on those expressed wants.  We didn't simply slap features on a wall to see what sticks.  

This market segment -- video professionals and SMBs who want to publish their videos onto the Internet -- is massive by itself.  According to AccuStream Media Research, the market for professionally produced Internet video grew nearly 25% in the past year to over 41.6 billion views.  And, as I like to say, this is only the beginning ... we are in inning 2 of the 9 inning online video market opportunity (in fact, maybe we are only in the bottom of the 1st!).  The hockey-stick growth curve continues unabated, and that is good news for video professionals and SMBs ... and also for our company.

Why did we build Sorenson 360?  

Because, like I say above, our Squeeze customers asked us to build it.  They told us that they have been frustrated by existing video publishing platforms.  They told us that they want an all-in-one solution that does it right -- quality, ease-of-use, affordability.  And, they know they can get that from us -- because they have seen our quality and innovation for years.  We have been doing video a long long time (again, 14 years), so we know video.  We are not trying to be everything to everyone.  We are laser focused on the video needs of video professionals and SMBs -- in other words, the type of user who uses, wants or needs Squeeze.  (By the way, this does not mean that consumers and media companies/enterprises cannot benefit from Sorenson 360 -- it simply means that our initial focus is elsewhere -- squarely in the massive middle that our core target audience represents and is largely ignored in the marketplace today.)

How is Sorenson 360 differentiated from all the other services out there, and why do we call Sorenson 360 a VDN and not a video publishing platform like all the others?  

Because Sorenson 360 re-imagines what video publishing should be based, once again, on the feedback of Squeeze users (and others like them that the market segment represents).  Sorenson 360 solves the significant short-comings of all other services that miss (either intentionally or not) the needs of this massive market segment.  Quite frankly, the term "platform" did not do our new service justice -- we think Sorenson 360 is differentiated from all other services in very significant ways.

How, even more specifically, is Sorenson 360 fundamentally different from other services?  

First, as I say above, it was built with a specific user and market segment in mind -- the video professional and SMB.  We are not trying to be everything to everyone at launch.  

As an example, our Squeeze customers and our core/target market segment generally are not video destination sites that need to directly monetize the videos themselves; they have told us that they are not looking to add advertising to their videos. 

Instead, existing Squeeze users and other video professionals and SMBs have told us that they want -- and need -- to use Internet video to monetize what really matters -- i.e., their businesses!  Their Internet videos themselves are the advertising!  This core market wants to use Internet video to showcase their goods and services (as an example, a wedding videographer) in order to market more effectively and attract new customers, sell more goods and services (e.g., be hired as a wedding videographer), better educate and engage with their customers and potential customers, and create an ongoing relationship with their customers.  That is the ultimate power of Internet video for them!    (For a deeper discussion of this "right" way to think of the Internet video monetization question for 99% of businesses on the Internet -- i.e., Internet video's unique power to monetize businesses themselves -- and the fundamental misunderstandings surrounding this issue of monetization, check out my earlier blog post that is linked here.

We are laser focused on this massive "middle" market of video professionals and SMBs that largely has been ignored up to this point.  We built Sorenson 360 based on the actual, identifiable and verifiable needs and wants of real existing customers.  And, once we built it, we went back to our base to get their feedback -- the good, the bad, the ugly.  Then, we went back again -- and built and refined some more.  In other words, unlike all other services, we aren't starting from scratch -- we aren't starting from "patient 0" who serves as a test subject until something just kinda' works.  We have an established massive user base that is hungry for this solution ... and hungry for that solution from us.  We have the customer interaction, dialog, and surveys to prove it.

Other absolutely critical differentiators: 

(1) QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY!  Need I say more?  For video professionals and SMBs, video quality is absolutely essential ... it is fundamental.  All flows from that.  And, no one can dispute Sorenson Media's long-tradition and reputation for quality.  Sorenson 360 is the only -- only -- video publishing service that uses client-side encoding to give video professionals the choice, control and quality they need (as just one example, we uniquely support multiple video formats and not just Flash).  And, how about this?  We offer client-side encoding in two ways -- yes, with Squeeze itself (and, by the way, today we introduce a newly enhanced version of Squeeze that works seamlessly with Sorenson 360).  But, we also -- check this out -- put the Squeeze engine directly into your browser, giving you client-side encoding with absolutely no download necessary!  Simply drag and drop -- boom, you're done; your videos are published.  You decide which path you choose.

(2) Ease-of-use -- this is real.  This ain't just marketing speak.  Our Squeeze users told us that other services are way too complex -- way too hard.  So, what did we do?  We didn't dumb it down.  Instead, we focused on the mantra I discuss above with respect to our new corporate identity -- i.e., technology (and our Sorenson 360 VDN) should be inviting, aesthetically pleasing, clean lines, intelligible ... in other words, easy!  Not daunting.  Not scary.  Not intimidating.  Not mind-boggling.  

Why is this seemingly obvious point missed by others?  Because, as they say, "easy is hard."  We sweat the details.  We have boatloads of experience in focusing on the customer and getting user experiences right.  And, if our press briefings prior to today serve as data points for whether we accomplished this goal, then the answer is a resounding "yes."  They told us that we didn't lose them at "hello", unlike other services that lost them within 5 minutes of their product demos.  We heard praise for our ease of use and elegance time and time again.  That's the talent of my team.  But, check it out for yourself and let me know if you agree.  Don't just take my word for it.  We give 30-day free trials in order to make that easy too.

(3) Affordability & Pricing Transparency -- this concept flows naturally from ease-of-use.  Our pricing should be affordable, of course -- and we are; we beat others around our space hands down.  But, pricing also must be easy -- must be intelligible -- must be transparent.  This seems obvious, doesn't it?  To others in our space, however, it isn't (and that comes from our Squeeze base).  So, we have directly addressed all of these pricing issues head on.  

First, how about this for a novel concept?  We actually show our pricing on our website!  As straightforward as this sounds, many others in our space don't do that -- they force you to call their sales team and hear the full pitch in every case.  But, is that easy?  Do you really want to be forced to do that in every case?  Didn't think so.  Nor do we.

Second, our pricing beats the others -- check it out for yourself and compare -- we offer affordable pricing at any level, pricing that speaks for itself.  How can we do this?  Here's one reason -- yup, our uniquely powerful client-side encoding again.  Other services charge their users for the "privilege" of uploading videos to their servers because the encoding is done on the server-side, meaning that the huge raw uncompressed video file requires mega-bandwidth (and mega-time, by the way).  Sorenson 360's client-side encoding, on the other hand, compresses the file locally and negates this mega-bandwidth need and cost on the upload.  And, we pass those savings on to our customers.  We also solve the "total cost of ownership" question for our customers by providing an all-in-one workflow solution that is substantially cheaper (by hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars per month) than if they were to cobble together their own total solution via multiple separate providers.  All they need comes from one cost-effective service -- Sorenson 360.  

Third, our pricing is intelligible -- it makes sense -- the user understands exactly what it means. There is no game of "hide the ball" here.  When other services do show pricing, which is rare, they set their prices by the Gig (as in byte).  But, what does that mean?  How does that help me as a video professional?  How many streams are in a GB?  I certainly don't know, do you?  Well, borrowing a page from Apple, we let you know exactly what our pricing means -- our $99 entry level plan means 2,500 streams and 500+ videos of storage (of course, the choices are many -- this is just one example, but you get the point).  That's why Apple tells you that their 20 GB iPod holds 5,000 songs (or something like that).  They know that we all can't simply pull out our calculators, apply multi-variable calculus, and otherwise hold a Ph.d. to figure it out (even Ph.d.'s don't want to do that!).

Fourth, our pricing is transparent -- no hidden charges or set-up fees!  Again, this should be obvious -- but, check out the others -- it ain't!  We at Sorenson Media believe in being good to our customers.  I already mentioned the fact that we charge no upload fees because we can (client-side encoding) -- check out the other guys, most of them do (as mentioned above)!  And, we don't ask you to pay us just to sign up to use our service -- there are absolutely no set-up fees or other hidden fees of any kind.  Can the others say that?  Many of them can't!  They ding you here, they ding you there, and they hope you don't notice.  But, we did.  And, we chose not to do that.

(4) Reliability and Trust -- We Will Be Here!  Here, it all comes full-circle (Sorenson 360 anyone?).  We have innovated in the video space for 14 years -- we have helped drive the Internet video revolution from the very beginning (Sorenson SV1 codec in Apple Quicktime; Sorenson Spark codec in Macromedia Flash; Sorenson Video Relay Service -- live video communications for the deaf community -- spun out a couple years back in one of the largest private equity deals at the time; Sorenson Squeeze -- the gold standard for video encoding).

Now we turn our sites to Sorenson 360.  We bring all of our unique expertise, technology, and customer experience to bear.  We have been a successful and profitable business.  We have a track record of developing successful products that have been embraced by the marketplace.  And, as a result, we are a respected and trusted brand -- our customers know that we mean what we say.  Up to now, and despite the prevalence of our products in the marketplace and our massive user base, we have flown under the radar.  Not anymore.  

They also know that we will be here in the future.  How many others in the space can say that?  Virtually no one.  Virtually all others have been around for a few years max -- and are still struggling to find a business model that works.  Let's face it, many of those other companies are continuously searching for financing, and it ain't exactly a great time to be doing that.  Many, quite frankly, will simply fail -- won't be around.  And, if you are a video professional, this matters -- why trust your prized video assets with a service that may not be here tomorrow?

Our customers have told us that Sorenson Media gives confidence.  And, that is our mission.  We, as a company -- and to a person -- are absolutely committed to continuing to earn that trust and confidence as we move forward and continue to innovate for content creators and consumers alike.

So... to sum up:

Quality, check.  

Ease-of-use, check.  

Affordability and transparency in pricing, check.  

The Sorenson Media brand, check-mate.

But, don't just take my Jerry Maguire-like words for it.  Check it out for yourself.  Welcome to Sorenson 360 -- we really hope you like what you see ... and I want to hear from you.  And, I personally assure you that my company WILL listen to you and be responsive to you as we move our company forward.

Peter D. Csathy