Interview with Darrius Thompson of DivX about the new Stage6 Beta | 15 Questions

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I was lucky enough to catch up with the insightful Darrius Thompson, the co-founder of DivX, to put him in the hot-seat for 15 questions on the beta launch of Stage6, the video platform and community from DivX.

5 Take home points from the interview:

  • Stage6 is more about enabling independent content producers with a professional platform for distributing video online than sharing home video clips.
  • Stage6 actually allows you to download content and play it on DivX-compatible consumer electronics.
  • HD video is all the rage over at Stage6
  • Innovative community features including “Karma” have been introduced in Stage6 beta.
  • The DivX software has been downloaded over 200 million times from the Stage6 site.

Darrius Thompson in the hot seat:

  1. Hey Darrius, before we crack on with the interview, tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do at DivX and Stage6, where were you before DivX and where do you see yourself in the future.

I’ve had a mixed past.  Everything from being in a special ops group in the military to a NASDAQ market maker, technology strategist, wannabe music producer, guitar maker, player, and lots of other wannabe positions.  When we created DivX we did it for a few reasons.  As an employee, and consultant, working for and with a variety of companies in the past I came to realize I really disliked how many companies behave with both their employees and as corporate citizens.  I’m here at DivX because I believe we can create a better place both within DivX and outside.  I’m here because we have a passion and belief that we can in fact change things broadly by using the digital medium and open networks like the internet as a tool for mass impact.  Enabling more impactful stories to be told and heard. That in itself makes getting up in the morning easy. 

At DivX I’m responsible for our corporate strategy, new business development and now Brand.  Additionally I’m currently responsible for a business group whose core mission is to “transform the media industry”.  Stage6 happens to be a product of that group (N3, “New New Network”) and you’ll see more activity to support that mission that goes beyond just Stage6.  The transformation of this industry requires finding those with a shared vision and passion such that we can explore new concepts and business models around content.  It’s as much about relationships as it is software and products.  It’s about working with content creators and to solidify the value chain existing around content.

In the future, regardless of role I have at DivX, or anywhere else, I see myself focused on ensuring that open media and media technologies are created to enable a better media future.  Increasing the ability to create, distribute, discover and access content.  That’s what drives me. 

  1. So Stage6 has launched a new beta version of its site and it’s looking very slick. Could you summarize the recent changes and innovations for me?

Besides a more robust backend and a redesign of the overall user interface, the Stage6 Beta makes discovering meaningful content much more intuitive through very sophisticated tagging features and content alert capabilities.  At the same time, the site gives content creators powerful new community-building tools to create an engaged and connected audience for their work.  Stage6 is also as much about our testing and shaping product components that we can use to enable others publishers on their own publishing properties.  So, in the not to far future, you might start seeing other properties that have the ability to enable playback of high quality content on their site, while enabling both monetization and discovery.  Stage6 just happens to be our first customer.  We believe in eating our own dog food.

  1. The big thing about Stage6 is the quality. I have to admit I love those big, clear and sharp DivX videos over those poxy pixilated flash videos. Do you think this is your biggest selling point or is it something else?

I’ll first give you the “marketing” answer and then tell you what get’s me truly excited.  Marketing answer first… There are several advantages: video quality, powerful community tools, most uniquely interoperability for the video on the site with inexpensive consumer electronic devices.  There are over 70 million DivX certified devices on the market today that can play back Stage6 content, not just on the computer, but also in the living room and portable devices. 

That said, for me, the most exciting thing is the rapid growth of the talented independent content creators we are seeing who are coming to Stage6 and engaging.  This is what Stage6 is about: the creators and their audience interacting.  Over the past week I’ve become really excited about seeing a handful of gifted filmmakers from the independent film scene meeting and engaging with each other on the site to share ideas.  Imagining a place where content creators will get together to also inspire each other and the audience is inspiring.  This is what will enable the creation of great impactful content.  It’s also why we have such a focus on the video quality.  Such content deserves and requires it to have the best chance to be impactful.  So for me, the biggest selling point is Stage6’s role as a place where this content is beginning to be created and distributed to an engaged audience. 

  1. Do you think any other video sharing sites will be improving their video quality to a standard similar to yours, and if so how long will it take them?

It depends on the type of content and user case they are targeting.  For example, a 30 second dog on a skateboard clip doesn’t need high def.  Watching a news clip on your mobile phone doesn’t require perfect quality.  But watching a 60 minute documentary filmed in the Himalayas in search of Shangri-La requires the best quality possible, or else the potential impact for the story would be diminished.  We think about this also from the perspective of “Lean Back” vs. “Lean Forward”.  Lean forward for short entertaining clips that really don’t need great quality and “Lean Back” for longer form content that deserves quality and ultimately would thrive in your living room.  And finally, bandwidth is expensive, so if you are going to host large files, you really need a viable business model. 

  1. What else does Stage6 have over other video sharing sites?

Ultimately we don’t see Stage6 as primarily a “video sharing site,” but instead as a technology platform for the actual content creators rather than “sharers” to build their brand and create an audience.  That over-riding goal really dictates what we do and how we approach Stage6’s development.  When we think about “video sharing” we think more about someone finding a video (dog on a skateboard) and sharing it with others.  Instead, Stage6 is focused on creating a place for actual content creators to engage with an audience and deliver a message. 

  1. How many videos are on Stage6 so far, how many new videos are you getting each day, and how many visitors are you getting?

We have not released our numbers yet.  Basic traffic numbers are available from online web analytic sites, of course.  In general, we are very happy with Stage6’s growth since going live in August as an “alpha” site.  Growth is encouraging generally, and we are very excited by the international nature of the Stage6 community, with large numbers of users from Japan, UK, Canada, and Western Europe.  The most important metrics are around “engagement” and these numbers are also highly encouraging and have increased substantially with the new release. 

  1. The fact that you have to download and install something first in order to watch a video is a bit annoying. This must have an impact on people leaving the site. Do you not think offering a lower quality non-DivX flash version to new visitors and encouraging them to download the DivX player for high quality videos would be a better scenario?

The plug-in aspect definitely impacts us.  That said, DivX software has been downloaded over 200 million times from our site alone.  Additionally as we look at building other features that enable better engagement, discovery, viewing experiences, and monetization for creators, we need the ability to develop those tools right into the player which are not possible with the Adobe Flash player.  In regards to offering up other formats for the video, certainly this is something we will be doing in the future.  Ultimately, our job is to get that content to the viewer in the environment they want to watch it in, so we’ll look at using the right formats for the right use case.  To enable impact means we need to enable as many eyeballs as possible. 

  1. I noticed the new design has a widescreen feel to it with the video thumbnails and other design bits having being presented in the widescreen rectangle. Are you trying to attract those widescreen HD lovers?

Absolutely!  We are trying to create a site that enables a truly cinematic experience.  HD really should be seen in its native format, which is 16:9 (for the most part). If you are a content creator, you want the ability to showcase your content in the best way possible. 

  1. Billionaire Mark Cuban said HDTV will slow down the uptake of web TV. High definition video is a big part of Stage6 and you are well placed for the HD revolution. What would you respond to Mark Cuban’s comment?

No one can deny that video on the web is growing, the cost of production of HD content is now accessible by general consumers, broadband continues to grow and it’s pricing is continuing to drop.  We believe that as production prices drop, computer performance increases, and broadband penetration inevitably grows, the appetite for video in HD will rise as well.  We’re planning and pushing for a future that we and the content creators around us want.   

  1. I enjoyed the debate between Mark Cuban and Fred von Lohmann of the EFF over copyright infringement on YouTube. It’s a broad question I know, but what are your views on the future of copyright?

When I think about the new era of content creators entering the market, I get excited about seeing their behavior help change the shape of how many people currently think about “copyright”.  The new era of creators see the power of community and open creation and as stated by the Creative Commons group “understand that innovation and new ideas come from building off existing ones” and thus they create licenses around copyright that “enable” not “disable”. 

This is critical today given the challenge for content creators to be able to create original works without worrying about copyright and as they make their works available for use by others.  The new generation of content creators has grown up with the ability to produce great work as costs of video and audio production has dramatically dropped.  With the increased volume of work, we will see the quality (visual, audible and visceral) of content increase. 

It’s sad that today we are still seeing incredible video content limited by restrictions around preferred audio sources.  What happened to using video as a way to market music?  But again, I’m excited knowing that change is happening now with creators and groups like Creative Commons where copyright can become more about thinking of “enablement” not “disablement.”

  1. What’s your favorite DivX video.

Jeff Lew’s “The Killer Bean 1 and 2”.  It was made in 2000 before internet video took off.  It demonstrated that things were about to change.  It’s a high quality, end-to-end digital production using reasonably accessible tools.  Jeff Lew created everything in the Killer Bean himself including the soundtracks.  Amazing work, and he’s gone on to work on movies like Matrix Reloaded and X-men. 

For me, this remains my favorite video given it gave a glimpse into the future.  Full use of end to end digital production, and use of the worlds largest content distribution network, the internet, before anyone else was doing it and with so much style.

My latest favorite Stage6 Video is called “We are here: The Pale Blue Dot

  1. Which other broadband video site do you love at the moment?

I have to be honest and say I don’t have one that I can truly say I love.  I’m a bit of an idealist and I love scouring the web for content that carries an impactful story and that kind of video content is more likely found on individual sites but not yet at any one single place where it can be discovered.  So in that context, if I had to call out a single creators site, it would be Ze Frank.

  1. The new Stage6 has a lot of new and attractive social features, one of them being Karma where you show how much influence a Stage6 member has. Digg recently got rid of its top 100 digger list for that reason to reduce abuse. By making Karma public don’t you think you open the site up to abuse?

Ultimately, our users will decide these kinds of questions.  The top 100 digger list is different from the notion of “Karma.”  Karma takes into account your overall behavior as a user of Stage6 and not just a single activity.  For example, if you are doing bad things on Stage6, like tagging content inappropriately and the community is having to actively remove your tags, your Karma will change.  And as is with life, doing bad is more damaging and harder to recover from compared to the karma you get for being just a good community member.  We look at the holistic behavior and utilize the community to shape each others Karma.   So Karma takes into account not just the positive behavior but negative behavior you may engage in.  Also, as time goes on, and more features are added, it will allow us to shape the Karma system. 

  1. Stage6 is boasting that its DivX video is compatible with 70 million consumer electronics. I’m a bit confused about how you plan this to work. I’ve not seen a downloading option for videos on the site. So how do I get Stage6 videos on my DivX compatible PMP or DVD player or whatever?

All the videos are downloadable!  When you go to a video, there are two icons visible, the side arrow starts playback and the down arrow begins download.  So yes we need to do a better job of making it known that we enable download for playback on DivX Certified devices. 

  1. What’s the next biggest thing in the pipeline for Stage6?

For content creators to thrive, we need to help figure out with them how to use digital and the internet as a way for them to monetize their efforts, so they can continue to produce content. 

To do this means we need to experiment with a variety of methods that go beyond basic traditional models just mapped to the web.  To transform things means we need to change things.  There is a word that someone at DivX “borrowed” from Ian Rogers from Yahoo that we love, “Disintegration”.  We need to disintegrate current models and innovate new models and that is the next phase for the efforts in the N3 team, of which Stage6 is a critical piece. 

Big thanks to Darrius for the interview!