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How to Shop for Video Hosting

This article also appears in the 2007 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook, which is available free as part of a subscription to Streaming Media magazine. Click here for more information.

Today, every organization is a media company whether they realize it or not. When it comes to video, most companies already produce and distribute a wide range of content via internal and external distribution channels. Each company that delivers this video through the web, by way of a service provider or content distribution network, expects to receive a certain level of quality. That quality, which can be defined by many factors, should be discussed in detail with the provider before you sign a contract. Since no two providers seem to name and sell their services in the same way, here is a list of the five most important questions you’ll want to ask when evaluating any provider.

1. What exactly does the service provider support in the way of delivery?
The word "streaming" is very broad these days and means many things to many people. Some service providers use it to sell and promote their services when, in fact, they don’t offer delivery from a media server, but rather deliver everything via progressive download from a web server (which isn’t streaming). In many cases, this will work, but if you will require actual streaming or a combination of the two, you’ll want to make sure the provider can support it.

One way to tell is to ask to see a sample clip of something live. If the stream you are watching is live, then you know it’s coming off of a media server that has been set up to stream. Also make sure to ask about the protocol being used to stream. I see a lot of service providers claiming to offer Flash Video streaming when it is really Flash Video delivered via progressive download. If they are doing streaming from a Flash Media Server, it has to be delivered via the RTMP protocol. If it isn’t, then it’s not streaming.

2. What formats does the service provider support?
When it comes to providers, some support all of the formats, some support some of the formats, and some only one of the formats. Rarely does any one provider support streaming of content in Windows Media, Flash, QuickTime, and Real formats. While it may seem odd that they don’t support all of the formats, there may be a logical explanation.

If a provider is only going after a specific vertical or industry, for instance the webcasting space, chances are they don’t yet support Flash Video, since the Flash Video platform is not yet used frequently for live streaming delivery. Or a provider may not support a particular format because the format provider will not allow them to unless they are certified and licensed to do so. Providers should be upfront and honest about what they support today and what they may support down the road. On Microsoft’s and Adobe’s websites, you can see who is certified to provide delivery services in both of their formats.

Microsoft’s certified partners list is located on two pages: here and here.

Adobe’s certified partners page is located here.

If a service provider says they support the Windows Media or Flash streaming services and are not listed on the website, chances are they use a third party and are private-labeling the service offering.

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