The five-year-old company, which is part owned by CBS, has been working with the CBS O&Os and affiliates in preparation for the launch of the network’s online video service. To participate, each station must equip itself with a Syncbox server, which digitizes and compresses the station’s signal and then passes it along to the Syncbak Dynamic Rights Resolution Engine in the cloud that determines who gets to access it.
The technological lynchpin to delivering the linear TV content of CBS-owned and affiliate stations for the network’s new CBS All Access over-the-top digital video subscription service is a humble looking 1RU server tucked away in the racks of each participating station and a cloud service that dynamically manages programming rights.
The Syncbak Syncbox server plays several critical roles in content preparation before streaming a station’s linear feed to the cloud, says Jack Perry, founder-CEO of Syncbak. Those tasks include transcoding an ASI program feed from the station; encoding and compressing it for delivery to the cloud; wrapping in closed captioning data and Nielsen ID tags; and ultimately handing it off to the cloud.
Once there, content is processed by Syncbak’s Dynamic Rights Resolution Engine, which determines whether or not a program is cleared from a rights point of view for live streaming, decides whether it is available only for in-market streaming and decides the types of devices it is destined to be viewed on once it is handed off to CBS Interactive for All Access delivery, says Perry.
Perry would not discuss how much it will cost affiliates to participate in the service. But one source said each station will have to pay $10,000 for the Syncbox server, plus a monthly fee of $1,500.
From a strategic point of view, however, this approach may be the single most important technology decision CBS made in the All Access rollout, not because of any specific thing the server and rights engine does but because together these components represent a technology standard, Perry says.
“Everyone has to have the same platform with the same approach and the same content to make this work,” he says. “You couldn’t have affiliates going out and having 100 or 210 different solutions for how to reach viewers over the top, and CBS recognized that.”
Having a single standard will make it possible to scale CBS All Access rapidly, he adds. Syncbak has been working with some 200 CBS affiliates in preparation for today’s announcement of the All Access service. “It’s just a matter of flipping the switch to take an affiliate live,” explains Perry. “That was one of the reasons CBS invested with us — our ability to scale very quickly because once this thing takes off, viewers in every market are going to want access to CBS live.”
The Syncbak technology was designed to be a standard that any station could use, regardless of location or depth of engineering resources, so that it would be simple and fast to deploy and could “take a broadcast and put it to the cloud and keep it in the market,” he adds.
In April 2013, CBS invested in Syncbak, joining NAB, the Consumer Electronics Association, a handful of former NBC executives as backers of the enterprise. CBS All Access rollout is by far the most significant development in the company’s five-year history.
And it is also significant for the TV industry, says Perry. “It really is the beginning of the future of television where no matter what device, no matter what platform, whether it is over the air, over cable, over satellite or over the top, the network and its affiliates are going to get their product to the viewer. It is an important first step and I think the marketplace will tell us where to go from here.”