Wide Open Spaces

FTR1-Open Source: Wide Open Spaces

From coding to agency models to online video, where there's a will, there's a wiki.

The sun rises in the east, the earth revolves around the sun, and an open source solution arrives when the business it serves has become fat and lazy. At least that's how it used to go. That's what happened in operating systems when Linux was born. That's what happened in content management when Alfresco emerged as that industry's open source entrant.

How then has the Internet television business already spawned its first open source player? The Web video business is anything but fat and lazy. It's still a nascent, nimble, growing industry. That's why open source online video platform Kaltura's entrance into this field so early in the industry's development is curious - it reveals both how fast Web video is moving and that open source, as a technological movement, is evolving.

But Kaltura's emergence also speaks to a broadening of the open source ethos into various facets of the media business. Publicis's recently formed digital media unit VivaKi will lean on an "open source system" in tapping open market technology tools to use. The New York Times now offers an application programming interface that lets developers access and use New York Times data in other features. Then there's the iPhone and its popular App Store, which lets anyone develop and submit applications.

Indeed, open source is spreading its wings and hooking into all sorts of media projects. At its core, open source is an approach to software creation that lets anyone freely develop, design and contribute to a technology without copyright instructions. The source code is free to use, integrate with, enhance and develop upon. Kaltura, a venture-backed company, is aiming to be the Linux of online video platforms and offers a video player, syndication, delivery and other standard Internet TV services on an open source basis. The company makes money based on premium features and on client service and maintenance. "Every industry has its open source leader. We are doing that for online video," says Ron Yekutiel, Kaltura's CEO.

After launching two years ago, Kaltura has already landed a range of clients including telenovela producer Dori Media, PBS station WNET-TV in New York, WordPress, Coca-Cola, Universal Studios, Lionsgate, Metacafe and Wikimedia Foundation. Under the Wikimedia deal, Kaltura's open source video development tools will be accessible to anyone updating and creating Wikipedia entries, giving online video capability to the popular Web encyclopedia.

What's interesting about Kaltura's growth is that it occurs as online video business models are still being sculpted, companies are still being launched, and advertisers are still being wooed. In fact, Kaltura formed just as its competitors - online video technology platforms like Brightcove, Maven Networks, PermissionTV and thePlatform - were making big deals and landing major media firms as customers. But that's just not how open source is supposed to happen.

FTR1-Open Source: Wide Open SourcesOr is it?

Could the online video business be rewriting the playbook for the creation of open source options? Kaltura's emergence early in the development of the industry is challenging long-held assumptions about open source solutions. (Kaltura's the only open source solution so far in online video. PermissionTV recently added free production tools on top of its player so users and media companies can customize their video experience, but Permissiontv is not an open source platform.) The company is also staking its claim as open source and open development are becoming more widely embraced.

"Kaltura is an example of something that people thought open source just couldn't do, and that is innovate," says Matt Asay, an open source expert who writes a blog on the topic for CNET. "People thought open source was great after a market was fat and lazy and open source could trim that fat. But Kaltura is not commoditizing a fat, old lazy industry where vendors need somehow to create a new cost-effective alterative. Kaltura is coming in at the beginning and creating a new market with the social software so it has a greater chance of adoption."

To be fair, online video has flirted with commoditization from time to time. Some big media companies have already started to create their own Web video delivery technology, sometimes borrowing open source tools to do so. Also, many media executives expect commoditization to set in at some point in the development of online video. Disney-ABC Television Group has said one of the reasons it doesn't buy technology companies is because of a basic belief that technology becomes commoditized. CBS believes the same. "The industry in general is going toward an open source approach, and infrastructure will become more of a commodity," says Anthony Soohoo, senior vice president and general manager of entertainment for CBS Interactive.

The incumbent platform providers are aware of this possibility and are fighting to stave off commoditization through innovation by continually offering more features. They're also still inking big contracts with big players.

And yet, here's an open source solution gliding on into the business not because the industry is desperate for a better way, but because online video has been built on the idea of collaboration. Kaltura is the natural outgrowth of the online video world.

For starters, consider the Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to make it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others within the rules of copyright. The group does that by providing free licenses and other legal tools to let others share, remix and use commercially someone else's work within certain guidelines. Last year, the music group Nine Inch Nails released the album Ghosts I-IV under the Creative Commons license, while a number of prominent online video creators such as "Ask a Ninja" allow Creative Commons use of their work.

Then there's Wikipedia, which has quickly become the most important encyclopedia in the world. People rely on Wikipedia because of its reach and because it's been created by individuals; anyone can contribute to a Wikipedia entry or create one.

That very same drive is fueling the open source push in online video. Under Kaltura's deal with the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia will start to include, for instance, clips of speeches by politicians in its entries, says Eric Moeller, deputy director for the Wikimedia Foundation.

"The same principles that apply to open source apply to online video," Moeller says. "What has changed is the ease of use and the ability of people to make contributions. What we are seeing now is fields of collaboration expanding into other areas and collaboration like uploading photos and videos. It's empowering people who didn't have access before to the technology to do things with content in ways they couldn't do before."

Open source is not that different from how kids play, Yekutiel says. They play in groups and generate ideas in groups. From there, innovation erupts. "The mindset we had was to create a solution around video for spurring collaboration, not only from having multiple people create stuff and edit stuff, but also from the philosophy that we came into the video space to find something more collaborative," Yekutiel says.

Perhaps, then, it's simply a myth that open source can't innovate from the start, Asay suggests. "The benefit [with Kaltura] is coming in and helping create the market faster than it could without," he says. "Brightcove can only hire so many salespeople to knock on doors and find people interested. Kaltura can find new customers by doing a download, and it's free."

Kaltura is generating downloads in the hundreds every day, Yekutiel says.

But don't expect open source options to upend existing contracts the incumbents have already landed with media firms like cbs and nbc and cable networks like Lifetime and Showtime, says Will Richmond, industry analyst with "The landgrab has already occurred for media companies," he says.

For open source to truly impact the Web business, there needs to be a concentrated developer community, and that has only just started in online video, says Ian Blaine, CEO of Kaltura competitor thePlatform. "We are big believers in standards, and open, accessible frameworks for developing online video solutions," he says.

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