Video streaming solutions: there’s more than just YouTube
Once upon a time, YouTube launched and changed the world by adding online video to marketers’ toolboxes – fast forward to 2013 and Google owns the once tiny startup and web video has gone mainstream across the globe. A lot has changed, so we’ve tapped into the mind of an expert to examine these changes and help businesses of any size understand the options available today.
Jamie Sherry, Senior Product Manager at Wowza Media Systems has more than 15 years of experience in digital media, telecommunications and networking technologies. He has worked with top brands in media and entertainment, enterprise, government and sports across North America and Europe, including Vevo, Hulu, HBO, Viacom, DirecTV, DNCC, Adobe, ProSieben, BBC, Al Jazeera, IBM and more to identify, drive and execute technical solutions that solve unique business problems, achieve results and grow revenue.
Sherry opined, “Video has become a powerful and primary communications medium for companies of all sizes, thanks in large part to YouTube paving the way by democratizing access and distribution. There’s no dispute that Google’s platform has certainly blazed a trail, enabling the discovery of many surprise viral hits and providing a perfect on-demand solution for hipsters and young startups.”
“But,” he adds, “as the power of video, the technologies and content creators have matured, many companies are starting to wonder if perhaps it’s time for an upgrade. Might a software solution provide the features, flexibility, scalability and control they need to meet their expanding video streaming needs? That answer, of course, depends upon a number of factors, but the critical first step is to understand the difference between a video sharing service, such as YouTube, and video streaming software.”
Video sharing vs. video streaming software
In his own words, Sherry outlines the key differences between video sharing and video streaming software, noting that it’s “all about control.”
“The primary differentiator is control,” Sherry reports. “Regardless of the platform you choose, the use of video sharing services requires you to relinquish some level of control over your content (Terms & Conditions are the first clue). For example, the moment you upload a video to YouTube, you submit to the rules and regulations of the Kingdom of Googleopoly. Exactly how much you must surrender depends upon the service provider, whether you opt for the free or paid platform, and the kinds of individual content controls configured.”
“This lack of control manifests in several ways and may have critical implications for your overall strategy,” he notes, offering the following six controls users have and what they mean:
- Restrictions on length and quality. Some services simply have limits. For example, in its free platform, YouTube restricts the length and digital quality of content to short clips and specific resolutions to ensure the most reliable delivery through the viewer—a sort of lowest-common-denominator approach. As a result, long-form content is prohibited and content creators have few choices in adjusting their quality level. The platform is beginning to adopt adaptive bitrate streaming to dynamically adjust quality based on the CPU, network activity and other parameters on the viewer’s device to eliminate buffering and prevent video playback from stopping. However, this actually creates another set of quality hurdles: the video keeps playing at all costs, often with reduced resolution or audio and video that are out of sync, which negatively impacts the viewing experience.
- Content filters. Particularly in the YouTube ecosystem, viewers can take it upon themselves to flag content as inappropriate, which means your competitors could easily “flame” your content, thereby damaging your reputation and hindering distribution.
- Limited viewing and sharing capability. Not all video sharing services are compatible with all screens. For example, viewing video on YouTube requires a web browser or mobile app—it’s simply not compatible with many set-top boxes or connected TVs. In addition, many services offer limited options for seamlessly sharing content—it works with Facebook, but not LinkedIn, for example.
- User experience. In many cases, the advertising and other video suggestions featured on some service platforms may not jive with your business or message. First, let’s look at the obvious: on its free platform, YouTube may embed advertising or suggest videos trumpeting your competitors’ products or a conflicting viewpoint which may offend or—at the very least—confuse your target viewer. While a paid YouTube channel eliminates some of those issues, it still prevents you from monetizing your own content by selling your own ads. And, YouTube doesn’t currently offer a solution where viewers can rent, subscribe or pay to view your material, nor does it provide any way for content creators to control in-stream or overlay advertising unless it’s built directly into the linear footage that’s uploaded.
- Limited live streaming capability and zero support for linear broadcasts. Live streaming has become increasingly popular—and possible—for a wider range of organizations. Educational institutions have begun broadcasting lectures and sporting events, companies now broadcast shareholder meetings, conferences, training and more, religious organizations broadcast worship services to shut-ins and out-of-towners, and even government/municipal organizations broadcast meetings online C-SPAN-style to the public. YouTube offers this capability for accounts with at least 100 subscribers, and while this and some web-conferencing services might suffice for corporate purposes, neither supports broad set-top box or connected TV viewing. Plus, there’s the issue of controlling access on a public platform (see #6 below). And, what if you’d like to develop a linear channel, providing ongoing content on a rotating schedule, much like we’ve become familiar with on TV? No video sharing services support this growing trend toward micro-broadcasting.
- Access control and monetization. For some applications, hosting video content on a public platform is less than ideal. For example, educational institutions may want to stream lectures behind a secure login or pay wall, making it accessible only to enrolled, paying students. Similarly, enterprises may want to stream employee meetings, but make them accessible only to employees, and host them on their own private server. Most video sharing services offer no way to ensure this security and control access.
“On the other hand,” Sherry notes, “using streaming software puts you firmly in control of everything—content, accessibility, scalability—and provides access to a wider range of features to optimize the content, delivery and the viewing experience. Your content remains on your servers (or on third-party data center assets or cloud instances that you manage), entirely unrestricted and with the freedom to do with it as you choose. It supports live, linear and video-on-demand applications, and gives you the ability to add appropriate security restrictions, integrated social connections, pay wall or subscription modules, and other features as desired.”
Sherry notes that sharing services like YouTube, Vimeo and others make it exceptionally easy to basically upload and go. Getting started is extremely simple, and with many free options available, cost is clearly not an issue. With software, there is more to manage, both in terms of cost and administration, but depending on your purpose, business strategy and future plans, the potential return may be well worth the investment.
Choosing your upgrade path
While YouTube and other sharing services provide an out-of-the-box, easy way to get started with many built-in features to quickly launch an upstart video presence, if/when it’s time to upgrade, there are several key factors Sherry advises brands to consider in choosing a new software solution.
- Will the new solution allow you to create, distribute and play back video content in multiple formats on multiple viewing devices? One of the reasons video is so hard is because the lack of a universal standard can make it cumbersome and costly to create content that will work across the range of viewing options. Choose a software that handles this for you, to save time, reduce costs and allow you to focus more on creating great content than on file conversion.
- Is the solution flexible and extensible enough to let you control content, distribution and monetization today and in the future? Technology, customer expectations and business models are continually evolving. Make sure the video software you choose today can evolve in lock step so there’s no need to change things up again just a short time down the road.
- Does the solution provide the performance you need without added workflow? Stuttering, de-synchronization, buffering and poor image quality can severely impact the viewing experience and your company’s professional reputation. The software provider must be able to certify quality and delivery standards to provide peace of mind that the content you’ve worked so hard to create will generate a positive response. And, it must be simple to administer. Developing great content should be your biggest challenge—the software to deliver it should be the least of your worries.
“While a video service may be a terrific starter home for your company’s digital channel, when the growing pains begin, it may be time to start looking at a software solution designed to meet your expansion plans,” Sherry asserts. “As the use of video becomes an increasingly popular communication vehicle, robust technologies are enabling even the smallest companies to harness the power of ‘big company’ software to deliver compelling and creative video content to satisfy their business goals.”