We talked to Morten Kolle, CEO of video enhancement firm Pixop about why cloud-based AI video enhancement and upscaling is their best shot at getting classic movies and TV shows back on the air.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Morten Kolle: While this pandemic has been a challenging time for a lot of families, mine included, it has been really nice to spend more time together. Lockdowns have made things difficult, but with vaccinations ramping up, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel, so we’re looking forward to that.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Pixop.
Morten Kolle: I am an entrepreneur. I started one of Denmark’s first web and game development firms, Certus, in 1996. I sold that in 2006 and continued working as part of the management team in the company that purchased Certus for another five years. After that, I spent a further five years as head of a DevOps team at a telecom company. All that time spent in corporate environments made me realize I really missed the startup world and entrepreneurship. So when Jon Frydensbjerg (Pixop’s CTO), whom I had worked with at Certus, presented me with an algorithm he had developed to upscale low-res footage to a higher resolution, I jumped at the opportunity. Just like Jon, I am fascinated by AI and ML technology and its many possibilities it gives you if used right. It didn’t take us long to decide on a direction for a new venture, which we named ‘Pixop.’
Because manual video restoration is so difficult and expensive, TV networks don’t use it a lot — even if that means that older but much-beloved TV shows are aired in a quality that is completely out of sync with what viewers are used to seeing today. Both Jon and I are convinced that AI and ML can be used to solve this problem. Furthermore, we set out to simplify video enhancement using AI and ML to help our customers with the process as much as possible. You don’t have to be a highly skilled engineer to use our service. We are 100% cloud-based, with no plugins that need to be downloaded and no specialized hardware to be bought. And with us, customers only pay for what they use.
The filters we offer today (Super Resolution, Deep Restoration, Denoising, Deinterlacing, Dejittering, and Film Grain) cover a range of enhancement scenarios and make it really easy and inexpensive for both individual creators and larger media companies to enhance and monetize their archival content, putting it back on the air at the quality that viewers have come to expect. Our customers can access our filters directly via the web app on pixop.com and our REST API.
How does Pixop innovate?
Morten Kolle: Our main focus is on leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing to create the best video enhancement and upscaling algorithms on the market. We invest a lot of our time and budget into continually optimizing and developing new algorithms and filters, all in an effort to make video enhancement and upscaling a simple, cost-effective, and intuitive experience. We recently launched our film grain filter and have a few others, including converting SDR to HDR — set to launch this year.
We also did a complete overhaul of our payment model to get rid of subscription fees and move over completely to pay-as-you-go. This is unusual in the SaaS world, but we feel that transparency works better for both our users and us.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Morten Kolle: It has certainly been challenging. We were slated to attend two big broadcasting technology conferences last year (IBC in Amsterdam and the NAB Show in Las Vegas), but both were canceled due to the pandemic. This meant that we weren’t able to present our software to big players in the industry, which was a key component of our B2B model. However, we quickly pivoted and poured all of our attention into the B2C side of things, and the Pixop web app, concentrating on SEO optimization and digital marketing to drive traffic and generate interest among individual video professionals rather than big corporations and production companies.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Morten Kolle: Though the idea was always to grow our web app and sign up as many individual users as possible, having to pivot so suddenly and put B2B on hold was challenging, and it definitely meant something for our bottom line. However, we’re a small team and take pride in our ability to adapt. We overhauled our entire strategy, concentrated on launching our new and improved website, and focused a lot of energy on raising awareness about our service through SEO and digital marketing efforts. AI and ML video enhancement and upscaling is a field still very much in its infancy, and there isn’t a lot of awareness outside of academic circles, so getting the idea out in front of the general public is key. We also realized how important it is to be flexible and adaptable, especially when running a startup. Whether that’s in terms of budget, or remote working, or strategy, you have to be willing to adapt at a moment’s notice.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Morten Kolle: Given that our team has been working remotely for the better part of a year, we’ve gotten really good at collaborating and staying on the same page. We stay in contact throughout the day on Slack and video conferencing — I need to make sure we don’t lose the spirit of camaraderie that exists in startups and is a big part of what makes the experience different from working in a larger corporate office. We’re also committed to keeping our users in the loop and providing the best customer service possible, so we use Intercom for CRM. Apart from that, given that we’ve focused a large portion of our marketing efforts on SEO and social media, we use a bunch of tools there as well.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Morten Kolle: Since AI video enhancement and upscaling as a cloud service is such a new development, we don’t have many direct competitors who also offer a cloud-based platform that automates the entire process. We have a few indirect competitors, but they are either AI-powered plugin solutions (rather than cloud-based) or use classic enhancement filters (without using AI). That’s where we differentiate ourselves — using AI, and a cloud-based platform has made it possible for us to make the entire process inexpensive and accessible, with no startup costs, software downloads, or steep learning curves. So we’ll continue doing what we do best: developing and releasing new filters and optimizing our filter catalog and user experience.
Your final thoughts?
Morten Kolle: Right now, we are experiencing exponential growth on pixop.com — mainly from casual videographers and individual video professionals. Going forward, we have no doubt that the broadcast media industry will be much more present in the cloud than they are today and that artificial intelligence and machine learning will be a huge part of their workflow due to the many obvious advantages AI, ML, and the cloud offer.
Further reading: The streaming wars are officially underway (article), Pixop helps TV 2 bring royal history into the present (customer profile), Comparing video upscaling methods on stock footage (comparison of different upscaling software — including Pixop — tested on stock footage).
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