Next Galaxy Corp. is the company behind the CEEK metaverse platform and the CEEKARS 4D audio headphones and controller. Today, we meet the person behind the company: Mary Spio. A true industry pioneer, Mary has done it all and impacted technologies we take for granted every day.
This is part one of our two part interview with Mary Spio. Clearly a remarkable person!
When I mention the film “Coming to America”, what comes to mind? What influence did it have on you?
I watched that movie a few times because when I was coming back to the US at 16 it was sort of my research, I imagined America would be like what I saw in that movie. Movies are great for helping us imagine the seemingly unknown.
Similar to the characters in the movie, I understand your first job was working at McDonalds (or was it McDowells? 😉 ). What lessons did you learn from working there and how did they impact your career?
Yes. Good O’l Mickey D’s. I learned that I didn’t like living in fear of hot exploding oil droplets – I was a fry cook. My experience at McDonald’s pushed me to look into doing something else, which led me to the Air Force, and ultimately Tech – so I guess the lesson there is to find your place in the world; where you shine more than you bleed.
Why did you join the Air Force?
I wanted to do more with my life, I saw a commercial for the Army, and it looked promising so I went to join the Army. Saw the Air Force recruiter, who was much cuter, so I ended up in the Air Force. I was just 17 when I joined the Air Force; I had to get parental release since I was under age.
What were your responsibilities on the field?
I was a satellite communications specialist. Basically I maintained military communications equipment, earth stations, gathered and analyzed satellite ephemeris data – making sure the satellites were properly tracking, in good health and that kind of fun stuff. I was in Desert Storm, which was an interesting experience. We were in Turkey – being in the military is an experience like none other. It’s ironic because for a machine that’s supposed to serve hate, there’s so much camaraderie and love – it’s a family – one where you’re reminded constantly of the fragility of life, especially when you’re in a place like Turkey during a war.
I didn’t see much action besides a wild pig (real pig) trying to invade our foxhole one night when I was on duty. Was a great experience! These amazing things always happen to me; I was named the Face of the future and part of a mural that is in VA hospitals etc. They are looking at turning it into a stamp. The image below is Hilary Clinton being given the mural; they give these to honor POW’s and other veterans. It’s the female equivalent of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Your education didn’t stop there. What formal training did you undergo after the air force?
After the Air Force I got a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Then a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I loved my course work because I had spent 4 ½ years hands on in the Air Force, I had very little experience with coding etc when I went back to college, so I nearly dropped out of Engineering, but am glad I didn’t. I love Psychology – it was engineering or a relationship counselor. I had a job as a Rocket Scientist doing orbital simulations for projects like Iridium (77 Satellite Constellation) by day and worked as a matchmaker by night and on weekends; so in the end I indulged both passions: tech and my love of helping people.
Tell us about Panamsat. Why was this such a revolutionary company at the time?
Panamsat was such a revolutionary company because before them, satellite air space was monopolized by an international treaty-based organization called Intelsat. By creating a commercial satellite air space provider, they effectively democratized the air space leading to innovations in commercial sector that we have today: cable TV, the Internet, mobile phones and the list goes on. Panamsat was later acquired by Intelsat for $3.2 Billion in 2005.
What did you do for them?
I was a Deep Space Engineer – I came up with applications that used satellite air space, did more orbital simulations, as well supported all the broadcasters and telecom companies from Disney to HBO and AT&T. Apps like Sirius Radio and Direct TV were all a result of what other applications engineers did back then – come up with apps that used satellite air space. I didn’t work on either project, but knew some of the guys who were working on those projects.
The most notable thing I did at Panamsat was lead the team in creating a contingency plan for transitioning one Satellite at its end of life and move in a new satellite. A critical operation as any mistake and you lose millions of mobile phones and crucial data operations, not to mention the potential PR nightmare of having all the cable and broadcast networks go dark. When I was there close to 98 % of the broadcasters were all on our satellites. Here I am signing the Proton rocket carrying the PAS 10 satellite which went to replace I believe PAS 4.
Before we talk about the next hop in your career, I’d like to discuss an industry challenge. In the days of movie reels, how expensive was it to get movies into theaters? How big a problem was it if a movie reel would wear out and needed to be replaced? Can you put a financial number to it?
It was astronomically expensive to release movies via film reels. If you did a global distribution to say 30,000 theatres on multiple screens, in multiple languages, you had to create reels for each, the costs multiple exponentially. That plus the shipping costs, it wasn’t unrealistic to spend tens of millions on distribution alone compared to digital distribution via satellite where you’re making a single broadcast to theatres. So digital distribution is a substantial cost savings, plus there are security benefits against piracy, and there’s also the ability to track how many times the movie has been played.
When I think of Boeing, I think of aeronautics, airplanes, and rocket ships. When they brought you on board, what secret technology were they working on?
As a Deep Space Engineer, I worked on classified projects in that vein, for instance I worked on phased array antennas for helicopters used by deep sea mining companies to securely distribute seismic data to land. They were using helicopters to transport the information; this was fuel, time and resource intensive – compared to doing it digitally. The secret tech was Digital Cinema: I was one of the first three engineers on the project and of course I jumped in head first given my love of movies.
What is the historical significance of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones? What was your involvement with this?
Star Wars Episode II was the first movie we distributed globally to theatres. We worked extensively with the guys at Skywalker Ranch – no, I didn’t meet George Lucas. I saw him once, but never met him.
How did standards come about from this? Why were they so important?
In order for the industry to be effective, we needed standards. Boeing worked with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and other industry organizations to champion theses standards. Adoption of efforts like the DCP resulted from these recommendations, which facilitated interoperability within the industry. We need the same for VR given the growing number of devices and applications.
OK. You know you’ve made it big with one word…Oprah. Do tell!
I was on a her show on a segment called the courage to pursue your dreams. It talked about leaving Boeing to do a startup, my company also had the rare opportunity to create a documentary on the singer Mary J. Blidge and Oprah was one of the people we interviewed for the documentary. That was a cool experience as well; writing the interviews questions for Oprah because she’s usually the one doing the interviewing.
Here’s a clip of the documentary:
Before we talk about the modern Next Galaxy Corp, tell us about its roots. How did it start out, and what problem was it designed to solve?
Next Galaxy’s roots is as a technology and content solutions company providing technical direction and content development for our clients. We’ve worked with everyone from Suncoast Motion Pictures to GameStop and FYE, at one point our clients made up over 60 percent of all music sales in the US – of course traditional entertainment retail was turned on it’s head by iTunes – those guys didn’t move fast enough.
We evolved to a content solutions/marketing company based on the needs of our clients, we even at one point did the entire season casting for ABC’s The Bachelor. Then we merged with Media Evolution – one of the leading production companies in the world, and became Gen2Media to service clients such as XBOX, Billboard Awards, John Mayer, Tribune News, and Black Eyed Peas. We did the content and video automation for the Superbowl halftime show when Black Eyed Peas performed, VMAs, hold the record for the largest global broadcast (Live8) and a long long list of fantastic achievements including creating an online video platform which was used by the likes of Coca Cola, Toyota, Ford to name a few.
By 2010, I had three other partners and the vision of the company I originally created had been completely lost. Ultimately I ended up leaving the company that I started, took some time off after my son was born, launched another effort – a dating site (great concept but I wasn’t able to get the funding I needed to make it reach its full potential) and in June of 2014, I re-launched Next Galaxy Corp as a completely new entity to focus on building CEEK the VR Content hub.
How did your work impact brands like XBOX and Coca-Cola? Why was Next Galaxy critically important to them?
It was the joint effort, i.e. a Gen2Media effort (Next Galaxy+ Media Evolutions) effort – the work we did at my last company enabled brands to distribute video online. If you’re Coke, the last thing you want is a Pepsi ad scrolling in between your videos because you’re using YouTube or a boat full of cats unleashed on your site when you’re trying to convey a different message. Some of our other clients who used our online video platform included Tribune News Company (parent of LA Times, Chicago Times etc) and over 200 radio stations.
It was simple and easy; they didn’t have to worry about building a platform and infrastructure they could just plop down ours and be on their merry way.
The learnings from more than a decade of delivering media in various mediums ie satellite, online and XBOX are what has enabled us to shortcut the process and build a truly robust back end with content management, analytics, and media distribution.
We are already doing a lot within the VR space with media that I hear a lot of people say can’t be done. Within the next few months am looking forward to releasing our mobile application. We are working on markers that will enable users to walk around even in live action 360 content – right now you can’t really move around in 360 live action, our team is excited to see where we end up with all of this.
Satellites, digital cinema, video streaming…I’m starting to see a strong pattern in your career: affordable distribution for all. Why do you think you gravitated towards these types of opportunities?
My career has simply followed the trajectory of media – media has flowed from The BIG Screen to TV’s to the Internet and the next big wave is really on smartphones, and it’s going to be enabled in a big way by VR and AR.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to help transition media twice, and now I get to do it again with VR. Digital Media creation and delivery is what I know, what I love and how I continue to be of service. That and finding and creating great content – I’m so passionate about content – most people don’t realize I have written three books including a novel – that’s how passionate I am about content. I find what am doing now to be infinitely gratifying.
This is a great set-up. In part two, we will talk about Mary’s excitement for VR, Next Galaxy’s new platforms, and what the big challenges are and how they will be overcome. Very interesting stuff!