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Dr. Sugih Jamin: Founder/CTO of Zattoo (IPTV)

CrazyEngineers exclusive interview with Dr. Sugih Jamin of Zattoo as a part of Founders Circuit initiative
CrazyEngineers
CrazyEngineers Staff · 14 Apr 2008
Founders Circuit Team
"Make sure you enjoy what you do."
- Dr. Sugih Jamin, Zattoo

Welcome to the new era of Digital Entertainment! IPTV has been around for some time.

Zattoo is Europe's leading commercial IPTV provider with over 1.9 million users! We are blessed to have have Dr. Sugih Jamin (Co-Founder, Chairman, CTO of Zattoo & Professor at The University of Michigan) who answered your questions.

Check out our Small Talk with Dr. Sugih Jamin...

CE: Sir, you are the co-founder of Zattoo and also a professor at the University of Michigan. Tell us more about your work at Zattoo and how do you manage both?

Dr. Jamin: I took a leave of absence from the university to start Zattoo. Now that Zattoo has grown to be a structured company, I have delegated most of my original responsibilities to professionals we hired. My main function now is to oversee the company’s strategic direction (as Chairman of the Board) and that of our technology (as CTO).

CE: Could you tell us what exactly does Zattoo mean?

Dr. Jamin: We found out by googling around that in Japanese it means “a large crowd”.

CE: What are the difficulties involved with an internet protocol television & what scope does it have for engineers and businesses alike?

Dr. Jamin: We need to differentiate between IPTV systems which run on their own segregated networks and offerings such as Zattoo that deliver TV content over the common Internet. The latter would have to deal with the vagaries of Internet bandwidth and connectivity as they are. Our engineering team continues to spend a large amount of effort to deliver as good a quality of video as possible given the fluctuations in Internet’s quality of service. From the business point of view, the challenge has been to acquire content for legal distribution over Zattoo. We are currently carrying over 150 channels in eight European countries.

CE: How is Zattoo different from other Internet televisions and what are the measures you have taken to make it 100% secure?

Dr. Jamin: We are focused entirely on carrying live content. So far we don’t carry on-demand archival content, nor do we carry user-generated content. We use our proprietary digital rights management system based on the AES encryption standard. We also geo-target our delivery such that viewers in each country see only content for which we have rights to distribute for that country.

CE: Will Zattoo be able to air live matches, say NBA or Champions league football? How?

Dr. Jamin: We are indeed best suited for live matches. Our system is not based on peer-to-peer file sharing, but rather was optimized from the start to distribute live content. Given the available upload capacity of most peers, however, we do not rely solely on peer-to-peer, rather we also have to invest heavily to build out our own infrastructure and network bandwidth capacity to carry live content.

CE: Could you tell us more about the technology that’s behind Zattoo and the challenges you have in terms of development? Could you also suggest what kind of infrastructure goes behind such set ups?

Dr. Jamin: We build an end-host multicast, peer-to-peer network to deliver the content of each channel. So each channel forms its own overlay network. One of the many challenges we faced was to ensure uninterruptible viewing experience to existing peers when a peer leaves the network. Since each peer, on average, can only upload about a fifth to a quarter of the bandwidth required by our streams, we also rely on a network of our own repeater nodes to amplify the bandwidth available on the Zattoo network.

CE: What are your views in adopting set top boxes instead of PC based system? Can you differentiate between them?

Dr. Jamin: The main difference will be in the mode of viewing and the resulting viewer expectations. With a set top box, the viewer will probably expect HD quality video, with content navigation using a remote control over a 10-foot user interface. On a PC, we rely on the user being able to do targetted access with a mouse and a keyboard. Users on a PC may also have higher tolerance of occasional glitches in quality when the Internet is congested.

CE: How do you propose to get around the DRM issue?

Dr. Jamin: The Zattoo player doesn’t provide pause, rewind, fast-forward, and record functionalities. The content we distribute is encrypted using our own DRM mechanism. To receive the content distributed by Zattoo, a user must first be authenticated by our system.

CE: You must aware of the Indian market as a fast growing market for media industry. So do you have any plans for India?

Dr. Jamin: We hope to carry Indian contents in our current European markets soon, and also when we enter the US. We don’t currently have any plans on entering the Indian market as a whole, though we would be interested in being present at least in the big cities with good broadband penetrations.

CE: You must also be aware of India and/or China as the biggest outsourcing hubs. Do you have any plans in this regard?

Dr. Jamin: For each market we enter, we carry the local content live. Most of the time, this means we need to establish local presence to capture the live signal locally, as opposed to having a heavily centralized operation.

CE: Last but not the least, if budding engineers from our forum approach you, would you involve the worthy ones to do a small project with you?

Dr. Jamin: Most of our engineers are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, though we also have engineers in NYC, France, and Spain. We have an active internship program that has been quite successful in attracting highly qualified students. Please have your engineers contact us at zattoo.com.

CE: Thank you for talking to us. What message would you like to give to the Crazy Engineering Community?

Dr. Jamin: Make sure you enjoy what you do.
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CrazyEngineers is thankful to Helen Schoch in her efforts in making Small Talk with Dr. Jamin possible. For more information about Zattoo, log on to www.Zattoo.com