Jack Perry is no stranger to technology and innovation. In his professional career, he’s shepherded a number of “firsts” in digital and broadcast realms from concept to execution. The bedrock of his current efforts, Syncbak, has been a fixture in the streaming television industry since its debut in 2009. But there’s a new apple in […]
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Jack Perry is no stranger to technology and innovation.
In his professional career, he’s shepherded a number of “firsts” in digital and broadcast realms from concept to execution. The bedrock of his current efforts, Syncbak, has been a fixture in the streaming television industry since its debut in 2009.
But there’s a new apple in the eye of this energetic and forward-thinking entrepreneur. It’s called VUit, and Mr. Perry sees it as the clear future of direct-to-consumer streaming entertainment.
“What we’re banking on is the future of ad-supported streaming to many different platforms, ultimately leading to the personalization of television, where you really have just one channel and it’s yours,” Mr. Perry said. “That’s the stage that we’re setting.”
Steps in the journey
To understand where Syncbak and VUit are going, it’s instructive to recap the steps in Mr. Perry’s wide-ranging journey. He started his first software package, Running Counts – “the first-ever fitness tracking package,” in his words – back in 1989. After licensing that technology to another company, he worked with several other Midwestern software firms – Prisma Software in Cedar Falls, Power Core in Chicago, CE Software in Des Moines – before becoming president of US Digital Video.
“That was one of the first MPEG video compression companies out there,” he said, ”which is really important to what we do today, because that was the beginnings of streaming and interactive television.”
Mr. Perry was subsequently brought on board by The Gazette Companies (now operating as Folience) to either “turn around or shut down” Decisionmark, a television data and technology company.
“I had actually decided we were going to scrap the whole thing,” he said. “And in the process of shutting the company down, I stumbled into an opportunity in the broadcast world that led to the creation of Geneva Technology, which managed the relationship between the two (main) satellite companies and all the local broadcasters in the United States. That was my first foray into creating internet-slash-broadcast technology.
“Decisionmark went from being on its last gasp to a very profitable company that lasted for 13 or 14 years,” he added. “And when I sold that company, I started Syncbak to take over-the-air (television) broadcasting and put it on the internet. And that was 11 years ago.”
The basics of Syncbak
At its core, Syncbak’s established product provides a proprietary system to dozens of local television broadcasters nationwide, digitizing their signals and facilitating distribution of those signals to direct-to-consumer streaming services such as Hulu, Fubo and Apple TV. It’s often referred to as an “over the top,” or OTT, service – providing streaming content via the internet, rather than through cable, satellite or other traditional delivery methods.
For local broadcasters, the service is essentially plug-and-play, with the company’s proprietary Syncbox powering the SimpleSync technology that creates the digital streams. It’s been an easy sell for Syncbak, with more than 100 stations nationwide utilizing the company’s service.
“On any given day, FedEx shows up at our building and hauls away a bunch of boxes, those boxes arrive at TV stations the next day, and within 30 minutes of their chief engineer opening the box, they’re up and streaming,” Mr. Perry said. “Most of the people who worked for me at Decisionmark ended up joining me at Syncbak, and we’ve always had a great relationship with the chief engineers at the local TV stations. So, we just picked up the phone, called our old friends and said ‘hey, we’re gonna take you over the top,’ and they said, ‘send us a box,’ and away we went.”
Simplifying the streaming process is key for local television stations, which may operate with limited in-house resources to support such services.
“It’s extremely hard and it’s extremely expensive,” Mr. Perry said of video streaming. “So, we try to help as many broadcasters as possible to move to the streaming world. Sometimes there are rights issues. Maybe they don’t have the streaming rights to broadcast something, or they have to keep streams in their market. So, especially for (digital subchannels), they’re not ubiquitous yet. We’re here to help when they’re ready to go over the top.”
The next big thing, in Mr. Perry’s view, is the VUit service, an ad-supported, direct-to-consumer streaming platform. To use the service, consumers simply download the VUit app from Google Play, the Apple app store, Roku, Amazon Fire or AppleTV, or on desktop platforms. Then they set up their personal preferences for access to local video streams from broadcasters nationwide.
“It’s a hyperlocal streaming product, so you can watch local television and local events from anywhere in the United States on any device,” he said.
The possibilities for such a service, Mr. Perry said, are limited only by the creativity of local broadcasters. “KCRG, for example, is getting out and covering Hawkeye Downs Speedway,” he noted. “They’re getting out and covering all eight fields at Prospect Meadows. We’re really focused on bringing hyperlocal programming, that you can’t get anywhere else, to this category we’re now calling over the top.”
VUit also recently provided a livestream of the Iditarod sled dog races in Anchorage, Alaska, and built a channel with the Atlantic Coast Conference and Raycom Sports in advance of the NBA draft, so ACC fans could watch their favorite athletes prepare for their new lives in professional basketball.
Most of these streams can be produced with minimal local effort – perhaps a single webcam and a connection to a public address system, for example, with other production duties centralized at Syncbak’s offices.
“We’re partnering with hundreds of TV stations, so if each covers one or two events per week, all of a sudden there are 10,000 live events happening on our VUit platform,” Mr. Perry said. “We’re the people who have streamed the Super Bowl several times, and last time it broke every possible streaming record out there, but hundreds of local live events per day means every day is like the Super Bowl.”
Mr. Perry said he believes the VUit model – hyperlocal, ad-supported, with a wealth of content available free to consumers – will find ever-broadening support in a market jammed with fee-based streaming options.
“I think you’ll see television become more of a transaction-based business, even microtransactions, where people will spend two bucks for this or that program, and all the way up to Triller (a video-sharing social networking service),” Mr. Perry said. “Triller recently streamed the Jake Paul (boxing match) against Ben Askren. And you’re going to see more and more of that, because the line between the content owner and the viewer now is very short and very straight. People will vote with their clicks, and that’s going to drive the future of entertainment.”
New opportunities for broadcasters
Currently, local broadcasters are out of the mix if a consumer decides to spend hours watching a favorite show on Netflix or Hulu, where ads are absent. But if a broadcaster can provide a new streaming feed on VUit from a local event that could have regional or national appeal, revenue can follow, Mr. Perry said.
“What we’re talking about here is getting viewers something else to watch, so (broadcasters) can generate additional revenue and sit in a place that they’re comfortable with — between the viewers and the local advertisers,” Mr. Perry said. “When a viewer is binging on ‘The Crown,’ they’re off the grid to local advertisers and local broadcasters. So by putting more content out there, you give Dan Lynch Ford in Mount Vernon, Iowa, for example, an opportunity to get his message in front of a viewer that may be watching a high school baseball game or another local event.”
That kind of consumer-controlled content, with ad support at its base, will continue to take market share from traditional cable and satellite providers, Mr. Perry said, because he’s proving that the model works.
“When I first started this company, it was said to me, ‘you can’t possibly take broadcast television over the internet, you’ll blow it up,’” he said. “Well, we proved that was wrong, and I think you’ll continue to see more programming going this direction. Is cable going to be around for another decade? Probably, but they’re losing subscribers, and they will continue to. And I think it will be up to the industry to figure out, how do we get viewers and keep viewers and how do we deliver content to them the way they want? We believe that method is strongly ad supported.”
Fewer broadband issues
Many have expressed concerns about broadband capacity for high-volume streaming, particularly in rural areas. But those issues are become increasingly less significant, particularly with Syncbak, Mr. Perry said.
“We, as a company ingest or process 14 million hours of programming (every year),” he said. “And those 14 million hours are handed off to different destinations in the billions and billions of hours of streaming. We needed to scale for the Super Bowl, from a million viewers at any given moment to seven and a half million. It took us a few years to build a technology that could scale quickly. But we’re there now, and we can handle it.”
Broadband access remains an issue in some rural areas, Mr. Perry said. “But now with one of the Elon Musk companies, you have Starlink coming about, which is internet over satellite — much better than its predecessor, HughesNet,” he said. “So pretty much anywhere on the globe, you’re going to be able to get broadband internet whether you have a fiber connection or not, and that’s a good thing. 5G capability exists here in Cedar Rapids, and you can stream to your phone and you can tether that to your Apple TV or whatever. It may have been an issue 10 years ago, but you’re seeing a lot of the no data cap plans, so I think consumers are pretty much in control now of broadband and they have lots of choices for it.”
And as with all other technological challenges, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“It’s a basic math problem,” Mr. Perry noted. “Whenever business has a math problem, there’s somebody very smart, whether it’s in their garage or at their company, and they’re solving it. So what it used to take us a lot more bandwidth to do, we’re now able to do in about 10% of our original bandwidth constraints.”
Why stay in Iowa?
Mr. Perry refers to Syncbak as “a Silicon Valley company right here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” and nearly all his business ventures have been centered in Cedar Rapids. The company employs about 60 at its main office in Cedar Rapids and a satellite studio in New York City, and is currently remodeling the former Frank Magid office building in Marion as the company’s new home.
So, with all the technology at the company’s core, one might ask: Why stay in Eastern Iowa rather than relocating to a busier tech hub?
“This is where I live, so this is where the company’s going to be,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s really that simple. I just bought a 45,000-square-foot building to grow this company and perhaps some other ones I might start. I do get asked often, why I stay here. It really is as simple as this is home.”