Remembering Sam Blackman

AWS Elemental founder was a leader in both industry and community August 31, 2017

I remember when I first met Sam Blackman, founder of AWS Elemental. It was at an NAB Show press conference in 2010, their first big industry show. To say that the company exploded onto the media technology scene is an understatement—AWS Elemental seemed to come out of nowhere and quickly made its presence known. Over the years it launched a number of products that revolutionized video processing and helped bring the power of transcoding to an ever larger array of services. AWS Elemental’s rise mirrored the rise of OTT and helped democratize video streaming. Every NAB seemed to bring a new benchmark to its success in the industry.

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Dan Marshall (L), vice president of sales, and Sam Blackman, CEO & Chairman of Elemental Technologies, accept the TV Technology Mario Award for the Elemental Live Streaming Processor at the 2010 NAB Show.

By now, we know the history behind its success, that it was launched by three former Pixelworks engineers, Jesse Rosenzweig, Brian Lewis and Sam Blackman in 2006. Its meteoric rise caught the attention of Amazon, which acquired the company in 2015 for $296 million. At the time, Amazon Prime was a fledgling player in the OTT space competing against the likes of Hulu and Netflix; AWS Elemental helped bring Amazon Prime to the forefront.

Sam was a gentleman and a true visionary; as one of his colleagues mentioned in his passing, “He was the most inspiring mentor and leader for whom I have ever worked.” He always found time to share his enthusiasm and passion for the industry to everyone he met and this was a common theme among his associates with whom I spoke with after his passing. He also “had a sense of wonder,” according to one friend who I spoke with this week. Another colleague of mine commented that “he was like a kid,” when she watched him introduce the International Space Station live 4K broadcast at the 2017 NAB Show.

Sam’s qualities as a leader went far beyond the corporate world; he was also very much involved in the Portland, Ore. community. I was struck by how the city of Portland reacted to the news of his passing; AWS Elemental was a rising star not only in our industry, but in the community as well. Sam also helped launch one of the most successful charity events in our industry, the 4K 4Charity Fun Run, which takes place three times a year: IBC, NAB and in Portland Ore. in the fall. Since its launch in 2014, the event has raised more than $450,000 and attracted more than 4,000 participants.  The IBC run will kick off at 7:30 AM on Saturday Sept. 16 at AmstelPark in Amsterdam for Sam. To register or donate, visit http://4k4charity.com/. Even if you don’t plan to run, you can remember Sam by attending the event, which will be preceded by a moment of silence.

One of the most important factors behind becoming a successful company is the ability of its leaders to hire the best people; AWS Elemental didn’t come to be what it is today without a talented workforce and its future is as solid as ever. That success, along with a proactive community spirit will be among Sam’s foremost legacies. 

The Blackman family has asked that donations be made in lieu of flowers to three organizations that cover the areas he was most focused on giving back – hunger, the environment, education.  

Oregon Food Bank 

Forest Park Conservancy

Rosemary Anderson High School

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