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Choosing an Online Video Platform

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Summing Up UGC Sites
OK, so the potential value proposition of UGC sites is clear: You get free encoding and content delivery services; an attractive, fully featured player (albeit with the site’s branding); and the chance for additional viewers via the community aspect. What are the significant negatives?

First and foremost is the loss of control over your clips. Though some of the for-fee sites allow you to limit who can embed your video, the sites with broader distribution such as YouTube do not (at least for public videos). You also get a one-size-fits-all approach from a resolution, quality, or customizability perspective, which might not fit the approach that you want to take.

In addition, you also forego many of the benefits that are available for a nominal fee from the SaaS crowd, such as interactivity, truly useful viewing analytics, or integration into your internal blog or wiki systems. Finally, with most of these UGC services, technical support is either very hard to access or nonexistent. If you’ve read this far, it likely means that you consider the streaming video mission critical to your enterprise. This makes relying upon an essentially unsupported service a questionable strategic decision.

The SaaS Market
Let’s take a short look back at the history of streaming delivery to help explain the value proposition of the current crop of software-as-a-service players. Back in the late 1990s, when streaming became mainstream, the biggest category of service providers were the content delivery networks (CDNs). These companies would store your videos on their servers, distribute them on their networks, and assure their smooth distribution to the ultimate viewer far and wide.

The CDNs and their services spawned a range of third-party service providers offering ancillary services such as player interactivity, viewership statistics, syndication of your video to other websites, and hooks to advertising-related services—the latter two so you could monetize or make money from your video content. Over time, all these services plus the CDN function (although often it’s contracted out) were merged into a single, consolidated product offering by companies such as Brightcove, VMIX, and Ooyala.

As you would suspect, these companies targeted media companies with high stream counts and the distribution budgets to match. There are not many of these companies around, however, so the third-party service providers’ focus inevitably turned to corporate users, from small to large. As their focus changed, so did minimum pricing, which transitioned from low four-digit figures to pay as you go. Sign-up procedures, which initially involved much paperwork and significant upfront financial commitments, have also become much more streamlined. One vendor, Ooyala, claims that you can download its Backlot software and start streaming in less than 15 minutes without speaking to an Ooyala employee or making any long-term financial commitment. Pricing varies dramatically from vendor to vendor, so do your homework in that area early in the selection process.

However, though getting started with a SaaS (or, as some are calling it, VaaS—video as a service) company is simple, choosing one isn’t. While researching this article, we reviewed dozens of companies that offer either a single ingredient in the recipe or the whole enchilada, many of which are cataloged in the table at www.stream ingmedia.com/article.asp?id=10952. This is a very fluid market, however, and the list is no doubt incomplete.

As you read about the features discussed next, recognize that unless otherwise indicated, many are fairly generic and not unique to the company identified. The purpose of this article was to identify the costs and benefits of using a SaaS provider, not to exhaustively catalog the various companies in the market.

With this caveat behind us, let’s take a closer look.

Encoding/Content Management
Most SaaS providers offer both encoding capabilities and content management. This frees you to simply upload your uncompressed video files and avoid all the complicated configuration parameters associated with streaming video. Note that some SaaS vendors allow you to accept user-generated content, or content from webcams or microphones, while many do not; be sure to check feature availability early in the selection process.

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