A few days ago I received a call from a very knowledgeable person in the media technology field who excitedly said “Stop what you are doing I want you to check out this company called Wildmoka. They have this amazing new technology that you will love. Well, being the technology nerd that I am, I did stop and I did check them out. After reading the press release twice I was hooked and wanted to know more. ProductionHUB caught up with Thomas Menguy the President and CTO at Wildmoka. He walked us through a very interesting process of seamlessly real-time converting horizontal images to a vertical for viewing on smartphones via AI and the cloud. He also shared some of the research that was instrumental in the development of their new product Auto ReZone.
PH: Tell us about yourself and this new emerging technology from Wildmoka.
Wildmoka (Thomas): I’m Thomas Menguy, President and CTO at Wildmoka. Before Wildmoka, I have held various management positions in high tech companies of the TMT industry (Telecom Media and Technology) including Texas Instrument, Openplug and Alcatel-Lucent. I started Wildmoka in 2013 with Cristian Livadiotti aiming to support the media in their digital transformation.
This month, we’ve just launched Auto ReZone™, an AI/ML-based technology (world-first, patent-pending innovation) that transforms in real-time horizontal frame layouts to vertical ones. Auto ReZone™ works for Live, recorded, and archived type of content.
Our solution solves a paradox in the news broadcasting industry, which is: despite smartphones becoming the primary channels for news consumption, news broadcasters keep producing horizontal linear TV format even when consumed over a smartphone.
This horizontal TV format contradicts the way mobile users tend to hold their phone, as they hold them vertically 94% of the time (ref: ScientiaMobile/ Lemonlight). Due to the shape of our hand, it is more natural to hold our phones vertically and it often requires our two hands to hold it horizontally.
A mobile-first experience where all the surface of the phone when hold vertically is taken, is becoming a must-have and Auto ReZone™ provides the solution for broadcasters without requiring them to invest in a new dedicated vertical content production chain and associated team.
PH: How does the conversion technology work? Is there a control unit in the control room or is this SAS?
Wildmoka (Thomas): Wildmoka’s platform is 100% cloud-native and Auto ReZoneTM is offered on a pure SaaS pricing model. There is no need for a broadcaster to install any server or to invest in supervising the service. News broadcasters only need to send their horizontal 16:9 streams to Wildmoka’s cloud platform and in return, they get the rearranged vertical stream.
The transformation is done automatically and in just a few seconds, in order to minimize the delay between the original live stream and the newly generated vertical stream. This solution has been specially designed for 24/7 news live streams, which is the most difficult case (compared to recorded video transformation).
PH: Does the end-user need any extra apps on their phone to make this conversion happen?
Wildmoka (Thomas): There is no need for an extra app. However, the news broadcaster app needs to be able to offer vertical visualization to the end-user.
In the case of the BFMTV app, a small symbol has been added to enable the viewer to select the full-screen vertical view (see step number 3 of the image below).
PH: Is this strictly a “news” app or can you apply this technology to episodic television?
Wildmoka (Thomas): The Auto ReZone™ technology that we developed can serve many other use-cases and industry verticals. We started with the 24x7 live news programs, but we are already extending it to other use-cases and industry verticals with some of our existing and early adopter customers. The flexibility that a company of our size provides is perfect to innovate with broadcasters and right holders who want to lead the race to innovation.
PH: You stated that people view their phone more than broadcast television (94%) Is that a global figure? What about in the United States?
Wildmoka (Thomas): We stated in our blog that “Due to the shape of our hands, we hold our phones vertically 94% of the time”, giving the associated reference to it (https://www.lemonlight.com/blog/video-trends-in-2020-vertical-video/) which itself comes from breadnbeyond. https://breadnbeyond.com/articles/vertical-videos-marketing/. There are many studies and surveys on the importance of vertical video. We picked one of them, but the important message is that people hold and watch their phone vertically for most of them and trending social media such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok adopted this format right away.
PH: What was the biggest challenge from a technological standpoint to get the signal converted from the horizontal to the vertical?
Wildmoka (Thomas): The speed at which it converts the formats. As this technology is used for Live streaming programs, it is important to minimize the delay between what is streamed in 16:9 and what is streamed in 9:16. It can only be few seconds. The speed for the AI to detect the changes of layouts/scenes is also important and needs to be frame-accurate.
PH: What is the trigger that changes the broadcast signal?
Wildmoka (Thomas): There is nothing to change on the broadcast production chain, they just need to send the created horizontal stream to Wildmoka in the cloud and they will get in return the verticalized version of it (or Wildmoka will publish them directly to the various digital channels). Wildmoka will rearrange each frame individually in real-time thanks to our ReZone AI engine that analyses and transforms each of these frames in real-time.
PH: Can a station use this technology across all platforms?
Wildmoka (Thomas): Yes, they can. Broadcasters only need to send their RTMP (or HLS or SRT) stream to Wildmoka in the cloud and they will get their associated output stream reorganized in vertical mode within seconds. They can then share it on their App or directly on their Social Media in vertical.
PH: What has been the feedback so far?
Wildmoka (Thomas): Creating videos in the vertical is not new. What is new here is the fact that it is done in real-time and only by recomposing a source image that has been created (mixed) in another format. Creating a news program in a single format is already pretty expensive. Getting a second format of the same content without having to invest in a second production chain and team is where the ‘Wow effect’ comes.
So, the feedback of the news producers is just a big “Wow, how do you do that? I want to see it myself on my content” and we are now engaged in discussions with several major news broadcasters.
The feedback from people not engaged in video production is also very positive, “it is so cool, it boosts the user experience” but they probably do not measure the level of complexity and benefits this innovation brings.
PH: Who is currently using this technology?
Wildmoka (Thomas): BFMTV, part of Altice France Group, is the first customer using this new technology. We’ve worked with them in close collaboration to bring this innovation to life. If you want to see it in action, you can directly download their app BFMTV and click on “Le Direct Vertical”.
PH: Is this an individual station license or a group?
Wildmoka (Thomas): The license is based on the number of streams that need to be verticalized.
PH: What do you want people to know about this technology and about Wildmoka that they may not know?
Wildmoka (Thomas): Auto ReZone™ is a patent-pending, world-first technology. We believe it fits with the way news is consumed nowadays and will boost a broadcaster’s audience, including both Youth (used to vertical content on mobile) and Senior (better visual experience) market segments.
Auto ReZone™ delivers a ‘mobile-first experience’ for broadcasters without the need for changing the existing Newsroom set-up, workflow, or teams.
Finally, it’s also an opportunity for broadcasters to be seen as innovative and the place to be for advertisers, so it offers even more monetization opportunities.
Making Your Audience Happy
I love new smart technology, don’t you? Technologies like Wildmoka’s
Auto ReZone will continue to reshape how and when we watch content. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that once this horizontal to vertical pitch takes off, a lot of viewers (including myself) will be happy campers. As with any “new” technology, there will be a learning curve. The good news is that broadcasters don’t have to worry about new investments in technology hardware. Wildmoka through Auto ReZone and AI does the heavy lifting and end-users will still get to choose how they watch their content either in the traditional horizontal or vertically.
I am thinking that newscasts are a good place to start. Quick video and audio bites and you are on to the next story. But here is some food for thought. I will be watching closely how the entertainment world will take to the vertical. I can only think of how some of my favorite movies and television shows would look in the vertical orientation.
Check back in a few months and we’ll give you an update on which way the world (and the news) is being watched on smartphones.