Disruptive Spotlight: Ryff CEO - Roy Taylor
In the March 2019 edition of Disruptive Spotlight℠ David Gross, our Founder & Managing Director, speaks with Roy Taylor, CEO of Ryff. The Los Angeles-based company has developed a pioneering, AI-driven video platform — “Placer” — that enables content-creators tailor the products, people, and other images in their video programming to individual viewers.
David Gross (SVP): Roy, how did Ryff’s all-star team come together? At Advanced Micro Devices, you led AMD Studios which collaborated with Hollywood studios and producers to bring cutting-edge technologies and capabilities to filmmaking. You’re also a Nvidia veteran. COO Mark Turner previously served as an executive at Technicolor, and CTO Steve Scherf came from Gracenote. It sounds like there is a lot of talent pouring into the Company.
Roy Taylor (RT): I am a passionate believer in networking and meeting people. I keep a mental note of interesting and brilliant people and always follow up. As a result, I have never needed to employ a headhunter. I know who I want even before the role is fleshed out. Once the idea was clear in my head, I knew who I needed to make the all-star team.
David Gross (SVP): Let’s talk about Ryff and what your company actually does. If I understand correctly, my neighbor and I could be watching the same television show, and as I see a can of Diet Coke, he might simultaneously see a bottle of Corona beer. Or, while I see a Toyota sedan drive across the screen, he may see a Porsche convertible. Pretty cool stuff. Is that right, Roy?
Roy Taylor (RT): Yes, but you should think about it in a broader sense. For example, if you’ve ever played a video game — like Fortnight or Counter-Strike— you may be playing against literally hundreds of other players. At the same time, there will be millions of other people playing the game. Every single one of those millions and millions of players, has a unique view. Nobody else sees what they see. We don’t usually think of it that way, but that is the case, and you’re able to do it because you can direct the pixels on the screen as you move around. You change what you see because you can manipulate and change the pixels.
Now, when you watch a television show, whether you watch it on traditional television or whether you watch it streaming to a connected device, the video you see is flat. It’s static, and it’s not changeable. You have no control over it whatsoever. But we have discovered a way to reach into the screen and manipulate the pixels. the first use of our technology is to change and swap out brands. But, you can use this technology to define separate stories or change preferences — so that’s what we do. We make images intelligent.
SVP: When you say change stories, how do you see this playing out on a television show?
RT: Take Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” episode last Christmas. The show is produced by Netflix. If you watched the episode, you were asked to make decisions — lots and lots of different decisions, as the episode unfolded. Like which cereal to eat or whether to or not to push a person off a balcony. You had choices, and the show unfolded based upon the choices you made. And, you did have to make choices. I would argue since Netflix already knows everything there is to know about you, you probably didn’t need to make those choices. They already know your preferences, so why not give you your personalized version of the show without asking you to make those choices?
SVP: Wow! That’s wild. Talk to us a bit about Ryff’s "Placer" technology. Specifically, what need does Placer address, and how does Placer address it better than solutions offered by competitors?
RT: Our main competitor is manual placement company, BEN, the Branded Entertainment Network. They appear to be leading the $10B USA product placement industry.
For a fee, they will make sure your brand or product turns up in a film or TV show. They refer to it as Unskippable Unblockable Unstoppable. But, the way they do it is they have a team that drives to the set and literally drops off branded products for the scene. What I call delivering ‘cans in vans’. Once on set they ask they ask the director to make sure it’s clearly visible in the shot.
We think since we’re in 2019, and not 1919, this is an antiquated way to integrate brands into entertainment. Once you film something that way the product is fixed into the scene in perpetuity and cannot ever be changed or updated. So, for example, in the image below we can see Daniel Craig as James Bond in the movie Spectre. It’s still a very popular movie and is still watched every single day around the world. But, his computer is a Sony VAIO, and Sony doesn’t even sell them anymore. Why shouldn’t it be updated with a Dell or HP notebook?
(RT continued): The other thing is, you can sometimes put a big television program together with a particular brand or talent and then find out for whatever reason, you need to make a change. For example, the smartphone in a scene starts catching fire in the hands of real consumer, and you just spent $10 million integrating the phone into a show. With us, you could quickly update the phone a new model which doesn’t catch fire.
SVP: Who is Ryff trying to target with Placer? Are you targeting the Coca-Colas, Coronas, Toyotas, and Porsches of the world or smaller companies with modest advertising budgets? Or, both?
RT: All of the above. Of course, we will support the major brands, just as you would expect we would. However, our vision is to give everybody their 15 minutes of fame. The vast bulk of television viewing is not watching the hottest show on Sunday night.. The vast bulk of viewing is watching Grey’s Anatomy season five on a Tuesday morning in Omaha, Nebraska. If you said to Coca-Cola, “Is this audience appealing to you?” They may say, “No.” But if you ask a local rancher in Omaha if they would like to be in Grey’s Anatomy on a Tuesday morning, and you said to them that you only have to pay for the shows where your ads are seen and your product is available, we believe that would be a very attractive proposition.
There are 28 million small and medium businesses in America and countless millions more worldwide. We believe that every single one of them should have access to branded entertainment. In the same way, that Google AdWords enabled local brands to appear in contextually-based search results. We believe that we are the Google AdWords for the moving image.
SVP: You’re really democratizing branded entertainment and making it available for the masses. This raises the question of whether your system will allow small and medium-sized business owners to target specific audiences, just like with Google, and then Ryff will and fulfill these requests through an inventory creation and management system?
RT: Absolutely. The advertiser might want to be in a kitchen scene with Sandra Bullock to audiences in Southern California and New York, in the next three months. We’ll be able to say, “Ok, we’ll deliver those audiences.” Or, the advertiser could want a pre-paid package of 100 minutes on daytime television for Palm Springs, and we can deliver that too.
SVP: That’s pretty powerful and really cool. I can see why brands would be really attractive to Ryff’s value proposition, especially as all the costs of advertising and production come to mind. Ryff saves time and money, and makes changes which have been historically cost-prohibitive, possible. All this being said, what prevents competitors from replicating Placer?
RT: We are unique in Hollywood. Silicon Valley people who know, love, and understand film and television. There are very, very few or no BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) or AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) or HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) members working in San Jose. There are some in San Marin north of San Francisco but none in Silicon Valley. To Google, everything is an algorithm. In Hollywood, the art and the story is king, as they should be. The Ryff team understands and integrates both.
SVP: There has been a lot of publicity around Ryff’s strategic partnerships. What roles will these partnerships play in Ryff’s near and long-term success?
RT: We passionately believe in the power, scope, and need for ecosystems. At Ryff, anyone and everyone who supports and believes in our mission to make images intelligent matters. We plan to invest and expand in partnership programs in a way which has never been seen before. We’re enabling story tellers to get their vision funded, and we’re enabling products and brands to get airtime and exposure like never before. Any person or company who believes in us matters to us.
SVP: Roy, the Ryff team is definitely running down an exciting road. For our audience out there, what is the best way to learn more about Ryff and Placer technology?
RT: First, please allow us to say thank you for the chance to talk about Ryff today. Second, please just visit www.ryff.co or email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, the word unicorn has become almost a parody of itself. There aren’t many real unicorns. But we have the ability to literally become the Google AdWords of the moving image — that’s not hyperbole. We’re hiring and looking for people interested in our mission and who want to have a sense of fun. We want these people to come and join us!
SVP: Thank you, Roy. Finally, I’ve got to ask, when you're not working to scale Ryff, what do you do to unwind?
RT: I love to cook and to entertain. The laughter of family and friends is the greatest thing in the world.
SVP: Roy, it’s been great chatting today. Thanks for your time, and best of luck to you and the entire Ryff team in 2019 and beyond.