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Build or Buy? When Choosing an OVP, Ask Lots of Questions

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Clients often ask me to answer the age-old, but ever-evolving, question, “Build or buy?” The answer requires an ongoing discovery effort to evaluate the latest online video platform (OVP) offerings. The big names in the business—such as Brightcove, Ooyala, and Kaltura—have been around for a while now. But the sector is growing fast, and if your preferred online video service vendor hasn’t added an OVP-like offering yet, chances are it will in the near future.

An OVP typically offers an end-to-end solution for companies looking to outsource everything in the ingest-to-deployment streaming video pipeline. If you upload your source content to the OVP, it can (hopefully) handle everything you need to get your video in front of your audience. Common services include encoding, metadata/tag editing, hosted streaming, and players that you can embed across various applications.

Depending on the OVP, you may pay for each of these services a la carte, or you can choose a package that’s tailored to your needs. Most of the larger OVPs have annual contracts, and minimum packages can be as low as $500/ month. Most OVPs factor the amount of content you will be managing (e.g., 10 hours of content? Hundreds of hours of content?), and how much video your audience will consume, into their pricing calculations. You might be better prepared if you have the more technical details of your needs, such as the highest bitrate and/or resolution you want to offer, ready as well. These criteria affect the amount of storage and bandwidth used.

If you’re looking to offload the responsibilities of your online video pipeline, an OVP may be the right choice for you. You don’t necessarily need a video solutions architect like me to guide you through the process—OVP providers want your business, and they have competent salespeople who can bring in technical staff to answer questions.

That said, the process of deep diving into the technical aspects of OVPs can be laborious. Most starter technical documentation produced for an OVP is intended to be reviewed by content providers managing their own libraries of assets. Clients building custom front-end components in their own native applications for mobile or desktop often need assistance to evaluate even the low-level OVP technical documentation.

If you want to build a user-generated content (UGC) site/application that mimics YouTube, for example, you may or may not be able to build your offering around the services of the OVP.

One very technical aspect surrounding APIs is who or what can access the OVP’s back-end services. A quick-and-easy example is a file upload. Say you want a subscriber of your mobile application to be able to upload a video shot on his or her smartphone. Do you need to have your mobile app upload the video first to your web server and then have your server transfer the file to the OVP, or can the mobile app upload directly to your OVP? This seemingly simple question can be complex to answer. Some OVPs require all API calls to carry the account holder’s credentials—something you could never do from a mobile app that’s distributed publicly. In such a scenario, you’ll need to proxy all requests through your server before tapping the OVP. With more advanced APIs, you can generate an authorization token with the OVP’s API on your server, pass that token to your mobile app, and securely allow your users to interact directly with the OVP’s back end.

If you have specialized needs for your online video pipeline, be prepared to go through a series of emails and phone calls with each OVP you evaluate, as the initial salespeople may need to bring additional technical staff to answer more complicated questions. Remember, if it doesn’t make sense to you, it may not make sense to your developer either—just ask!

Will you build or buy for your next project? Custom projects need custom questions to get to an informed answer.

This article originally ran in the July/August 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “OVPs: Past the FAQ.”

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