Entrepreneur’s ‘double happiness’ day

July 26, 2013

It was a “double-happiness” day for Hui Zhang, CEO of Conviva, a San Mateo, California-based startup specializing in pre-emptive video-stream optimization and big-data video analytics technologies.
His company announced on July 23 that it had been awarded a contract from CNTV, the online video site of Chinese national broadcaster China Central Television, and that it also had won the annual AlwaysOn Global Award, which recognized Conviva as one of the 250 top private companies in the world.
Conviva’s cutting-edge technology is software that stops “buffering” of online videos, which causes media companies to lose an estimated $2 billion annually in revenue, according to NScreenMedia, a research website that monitors delivery of media to video screens. The software, used to ease network congestion, can also oversee millions of video streams simultaneously by optimizing the resolution and picking the best internet paths and servers.
CNTV partnership
As the demand for worldwide video streaming expands, viewers from around the world have come to expect the highest quality in online streaming. CNTV, which provides multi-language, multi-terminal news to six continents in 190 countries, is looking to expand its global presence in live news and entertainment content.
Zhang described the partnership with CNTV as “a big step forward” for Conviva in furthering its global presence to ensure viewers everywhere get the online experience they deserve.
“CNTV shares our commitment to consistently delivering quality video and we are honored to partner with them in their efforts to expand their offering,” said Zhang.
“As China’s national broadcaster, CNTV realizes the need to ensure the best QoE for our viewers in every country or continent where our premium content is accessed,” said Weijun Song, CNTV’s chief technology officer.
“The ability to provide quality content worldwide without the distraction of buffering and stuttering is monumental for our brand,” said Song. “In addition, the ability to seamlessly add additional CDNs (content distribution networks) in different regions to our own streaming servers allows us to rapidly expand our reach while maintaining the highest user experience and containing the cost overrun.”
Zhang said the company’s preemptive adjustment software detects, locates and resolves any possible failure before it has an impact on the end viewer.
The solution increases video resolutions by up to 180 percent as measured by average bit-rate while simultaneously decreasing buffering events up to 90 percent.
“Bandwidth on the Internet is just like highways, some are less crowded than others. Our product detects congestion ahead of time and direct users to the fastest and safest way, by measuring road condition,” said Zhang.
Conviva’s customer list has included online video carriers such as HBO, ESPN, NBC, Disney Univision, Microsoft and Direct TV.
“Our customers expect the same high-quality experience on their iPhone as they do on their flat-screen TV. With Conviva, we’re able to ensure that our customers can watch their favorite game, on the go, anytime, anywhere and at the best quality picture possible,” said Damon Phillips, vice-president of WatchESPN and ESPN3.
In recognizing Conviva’s advanced solution for online video streaming, the AlwaysOn award, known for selecting a key forward-thinking industry for its annual competition, singled out Conviva for its significant market traction and for pursuing game-changing technologies.
“The companies on this year’s AlwaysOn Global 250 represent the highest-growth opportunities in today’s private company marketplace,” said Tony Perkins, founder and editor of AlwaysOn.
“These companies are not only providing the space to develop daring, indispensable applications for a growing and increasingly mobile universe, they’re making sure that everyone has their information, data, media, and apps whenever and wherever they happen to be,” he said. “The innovations these companies are developing go beyond consumer, beyond business enterprise – it’s the future, in the palm of your hand, on your desktop, in your car.”
Entrepreneurship for Zhang didn’t happen in a typical way. In 2006, he started the company with three partners while taking a leave from full time professorship of computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. He has managed the company onsite and offsite in the past seven years commuting between San Mateo, California and Pittsburgh.
Zhang received his tenure during a leave of absence from Carnegie Mellon, and he attributes that achievement to the trust and flexibility the university has extended to him.
“A professor is like a CEO and the university is like an incubator,” he said. “We hire our own crew, teach, manage all research projects, and look for funding – computer professors are like entrepreneurs and we do many things by ourselves.”
Zhang’s dream is to shape and change the video industry standard in future. Working equally at ease in both the academic and entrepreneurial worlds, he said he is extremely lucky to be living in this modern era.
Born and raised in Harbin in the northeast part of China, he studied at Peking University and went to the University of California at Berkeley for his doctorate in computer science in 1988. A year after that, Zhang joined a group researching how to improve online video quality.
“That year Bill Gates sold about 3 million copies of Windows and there were approximately about 200,000 users of the Internet. The group I worked with was already talking about transmitting data on the Internet, and that we will be listening to music and watching movies on the Internet, not on TV. To think back from today, it is pretty amazing,” said Zhang.
“Then I witnessed the boom in 2000, millions and millions of dollars poured into the industry, yet the bubble popped and the market crashed in a few years. What I learned was that vision is empowered by academic research and timing is important for industry, it takes both to succeed,” he said.
After founding Conviva (meaning “life together”) and raising $59 million in venture capital since 2006, including a $15 million led by Time Warner Investments, the company now has 100 employees at its San Mateo headquarters and offices in London and New York.
“Running the business is like raising a kid, there are new opportunities and challenges everyday as the business grows,” said Zhang. He is now, however, planning to enter the Chinese market.
“People in China are more used to watching online video for free, whether it’s via in the US or in China. Selling software is also a challenge since many times people don’t see the value of the intellectual property,” said Zhang.
Zhang’s dream is for Conviva, which now oversees 3 billion video streams monthly, to make an impact in the telecommunications and entertainment industry.
“Online video penetration is only 10 percent of the video viewing today,” said Zhang. “It is still in its infancy and has huge growth potential. And if we succeed, we will be the Microsoft of the video industry.”