Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seawell Announces $7 Million in Series A Funding, for "Next Generation" H.264 Scalable Video Coding (SVC)

I had an opportunity to speak with Seawell Networks CEO Brian Collie the other day about how his company is coming out of stealth mode and ready to make a splash in the online video market – starting today with their first public announcement of a $7 million Series A round of investment, including the conversion of seed funding. The Toronto, Canada-based software company was founded in 2008 and provides Internet video delivery products for content producers and their content delivery partner organizations. SeaWell leverages video compression standard, H.264 scalable video coding (SVC), which they see as the next generation of video streaming.

H.264 SVC is standards‐based technology that enables adaptive distribution of multiple streams to a range of target platforms with much greater efficiency and granularity. Instead of producing separate streams, the SVC encoder converts the source into layers in an "encode once serve many" model. The SVC stream is comprised of Base, Clarity and Size layers and each layer adds information to the lower layers, rather than just duplicating information into multiple bit rates. This allows multiple bit rates to be derived from a single file with a little headroom of only 10 to 20% larger than the highest bit rate required, and up to 1024 unique layers are allowed within the standard.

H.264 SVC been applied to the videoconferencing and surveillance industries and as Brian Collie noted, his company saw it as a perfect fit for dealing with the issues of video delivery to multiple platforms. Seawell has a 5-page white paper, "The Next Generation of Adaptive Streaming on H.264 SVC" on the benefits of H.264 SVC which you can request here.

Brian Collie is a self-described serial entrepreneur with previous successful startups, and he believes that his company's technology is a game-changing innovation. While he couldn't name any names due to Non-Disclosure Agreements, he said that they are working with some of the biggest content producers in North America, and CDNs and Telcos are also looking at the technology. Those announcements will be made later in the year, not necessarily as endorsements for Seawell, as Collie noted, but as endorsements for this new way of thinking about what they call "next generation adaptive streaming."

Since Seawell is not an online video platform or CDN, they are not trying to compete within the space – and while Collie says he's not naive to think that they will be the only one in the space – to his knowledge they are the first to pioneer this technology for optimizing and delivering Internet-ready video content with TV-like viewing experiences across platforms.

Online video veteran Andy Beach, author of Real World Video Compression, has joined Seawell as Chief Evangelist and Kris Alexander from Akamai and Richard Mavrogeanes founder of VBrick Systems, Inc. have both joined Seawell's advisory team. The company has some great momentum, according to Collie, who says that we're seeing just the tip of the iceberg right now in adaptive streaming and that typically ever two or three years there is a breakthrough. He predicted that many of the players within the video space that have adopted H.264 AVC will embrace H.264 SVC for its scalable platform.

Seawell's funding was led by BDC Venture Capital, the round also included Northwater Intellectual Property Fund and Ontario Centres of Excellence. SeaWell will use the funds to expand business development and marketing efforts. Seawell will be making more announcements in the coming months and will be demonstrating their technology at the NAB show next month and at Streaming Media East in May.