Book Excerpt: Choosing an Online Video Platform (OVP)

Here’s an except from my (Jan Ozer) new book, Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5.

You work with an OVP the same way you work with a UGC site: you upload the file to the service; it encodes and supplies a player and embed code. Regarding the player, most vendors offer the ability to create a branded player with all the normal playback controls and embedding and email options, if desired. Another common feature is the ability to embed a single player in a page and create a video library for viewers to click through.

Be sure to check the extent to which you can customize the player and video libraries presented within the page, and note how easy or how difficult these features are to customize. For example, some OVPs offer drag-and-drop widgets that let you easily create players and video content windows in a variety of shapes and sizes, along with a comprehensive programming interface for customization. Brightcove offers four levels of player and video window customization, from simple enabling and disabling of player-related features to a programming interface for custom programming or dropping in third-party plug-ins.

Also determine if you can create different players for various pages on your website and custom players for customers or others to distribute your videos. For example, since Kohler sells solely through distributors, it has produced extensive libraries of streaming content to reach potential customers directly. Kohler makes these libraries available to its distributors with a custom player that reflects both Kohler’s and the distributor’s branding.

  • Resolution and data rate flexibility. You’re hiring an OVP to deliver video to your website at the resolutions and data rates desired by your web designers, not those selected by the OVP. Make sure that your OVP supports all the resolutions and aspect ratios that you plan to use on your site, at the data rates necessary to make them look good.
  • Content management. All OVPs supply basic content management capabilities that typically include the abilities to tag media for search and retrieval, to select preview images or thumbnails for the videos, to incorporate multiple videos into a playlist for sequential playback and to incorporate the uploaded videos into your own content management system.
  • Analytics. Once you make your videos available, you’ll want to know how and where your videos are played. At the very least, most OVPs detail video views and report download bandwidth and details like the country and domain of your viewers. Some offer the ability to download CSV files so you can further analyze this data in Excel. If you’re a current user of analytics programs from providers such as Google, Omniture, or Visible Measures, look for the ability to integrate your data into these packages.

Figure 10-9. These “drop-off” analytics tell you when viewers stop watching your videos. 

Beyond these basics, many OVPs also present true viewer analytics that allow you to identify patterns within the statistical data. One common and exceptionally useful feature are “drop-off” statistics that identify where viewers stop watching the video (Figure 10-9). For example, if you have massive drop-offs in the first 30 seconds or so, you have the data to back up recommendations such as ditching the CEO’s greeting or the 20-second introductory animated collage. If few viewers make it through to the end of your 4-minute product demo, you know that you need to get to the point more quickly or, perhaps, present that video later in the sales cycle. If you’re displaying advertisements in your videos, you’ll be able to tell where they have the most impact, and where they simply drive viewers away.

Beyond these basics, there are many advanced features that you should consider when choosing an OVP.

  • Supported platforms. Virtually all OVPs have Flash-compatible players, but make sure they’re streaming with H.264, not VP6. If you want Silverlight, you’ll have to dig harder since relatively few OVPs support Silverlight (and again, make sure the service streams H.264, not WMV). In the short term, the most important aspect of HTML5 support involves reaching iOS devices, which you can do two ways: via the browser or via an iPhone or iPad app. If an app is in your plans, find out if the OVP has a software development kit (SDK) that can assist your efforts. Also ask if iOS support is single-stream or adaptive.

    In addition to iOS devices, determine the OVP’s plans for Android, BlackBerry, HP webOS and other relevant platforms, again asking whether support will be browser-based, app-based or both, and if adaptive streaming will be supported. Ask the OVP about its scheme for browser detection, which is necessary to direct mobile visitors to the proper stream. Does the company have logic you can use to accomplish this, or do you have to develop your own?

    If you’re a sandal-wearing, tree-hugging HTML5-fanatic, ask about WebM support. Not that I’m being judgmental, of course.

  • On-demand, live, or both. If live events are part of your content mix, determine if the OVP handles both on-demand and live events. If live is a major component of your strategy, check out Chapter 11, Streaming Live Events. If the OVP does support live, determine the ancillary formats supported (PowerPoint? Screens from other applications?), and social media components (chat? polls?), and ask if you can get production support if you don’t have your own camcorder, encoding gear or in-house production talent.
  • Single stream or adaptive. By 2011, if an OVP doesn’t offer adaptive streaming, it is far behind the times. Ask whether the OVP can transmux the streams you input to distribute them to multiple formats, or whether you need to send it a discrete stream for each format. Obviously, the former approach is desired.
  • Supported protocols. As you learned in Chapter 7, Protocol (RTMP vs HTTP), there are multiple protocols for distributing your on-demand and live video. Though RTMP is more proven at this point, many experts feel that HTTP enables higher-quality, higher-bit-rate streams. If you’re streaming in Flash, ask which protocol the OVP supports, which hopefully will be both. Also ask if the OVP supports multicasting and peer-to-peer delivery, which were introduced by Adobe with Flash Media Server 4. Most other formats, including Silverlight and Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming for iOS devices, are HTTP.
  • OVP Integration. You can use your OVP like a third-party service, uploading and managing videos on its site, or you can integrate its functionality into your content management system, which simplifies adding videos to your website. For example, Figure 10-10 shows how VideoPress integrates into a WordPress site, which is via the circled icon in the Figure. If you have multiple users contributing to your website, this level of integration requires much less training and support than a third-party service.

    If third parties will be uploading videos to your site, you also want the pages they’ll see to reflect your own branding. If these issues are important to you, ask the OVP about alternatives for integrating the OVP functionality into your content management system and website. For example, many OVPs offer plug-in support for common content management systems, like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and others.

Figure 10-10. VideoPress integrates extremely well into WordPress blogs.

  • Support for your business models and stream security. At some level, all producers need to monetize their videos, whether via third party or in-house advertising, or some other technique. So be sure that the OVP supports your intended models. If you’ll be serving ads, make sure the OVP supports the IAB Digital Video-related advertising formats you plan to use (for more on IAB advertising formats, see Also ask if the OVP will support the advertising networks that you plan to work with. If you’re not serving third-party ads, ask about intro and outro videos that you can use to market your own products and services.

    If you’ll be selling your content, be sure that the OVP supports your intended model, whether subscription, pay-per-view or other hybrid model. The flip side of these payment models is securing your stream, so non-paying viewers can’t access them. Security techniques can include access control through authentication, limiting access by domain restriction and geo-filtering, stream encryption, and SWF verification. If you need to secure your streams, these aspects will be a major focus for you.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Doceo Publishing, from Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5, by Jan Ozer. Copyright © 2011 by Jan Ozer.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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