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Studies in Flash Video: Best Practices from Real-World Producers

When you distribute more than 2 million video streams per day, you get a pretty good idea about what works best and why. For this reason, when it was time to get the real-world skinny on Flash production, we contacted Vidiac, an Atlanta-based provider of video content hosting and management technology and services that’s delivering just that kind of volume. If you want to build a website where French poodle (or muscle car) enthusiasts can upload and share their precious videos, Vidiac should be your first stop.

According to Chris Jones, who heads Vidiac’s sales and marketing efforts, Vidiac’s services are largely supported by advertising, though companies can opt to license the service in lieu of displaying advertisements. Vidiac has their own custom, embeddable Flash player, and can syndicate videos from popular sites like freevideoblog.com and videos.streetfire.net, splitting fees for pre- and post-roll advertisements with the website owner.

Vidiac currently supports post- and pre-roll video ads of any length and can synchronize them with a companion 300x250 banner ad. Video and banner ads can be served by Vidiac or by a third-party provider, and Vidiac has successfully tested their server software with a number of third party video ad providers, including Unicast, The Fifth Network, Broadband Enterprises, and Instream, maximizing the site’s revenue potential. Vidiac’s server software can also control the number of ads a viewer sees by tracking the amount of content they watch and maintaining a ratio of ads to content.

Though the company started with Windows Media Video, Jones reported that they gravitated towards Flash because Macintosh viewers had problems viewing Windows Media content. Once Macromedia launched Flash 8 with the On2 codec, quality became sufficient for general distribution. Vidiac still supports Windows Media, but pushes out Flash to most users.

Most videos displayed by Vidiac-enabled websites are uploaded from site visitors and automatically encoded into Flash format via encoding routines supplied by On2 in a software development kit. Vidiac encodes all videos to 428x320 resolution at 30fps, and encodes all videos to a combined data rate of 528Kbps, with 400Kbps video and 128Kbps audio.

Jones reported that using this higher resolution produced a better experience than encoding at a smaller window size and scaling on the viewer’s computer. He also felt that 128Kbps was the minimum for videos with music backgrounds, as most uploaded videos tended to have. According to Jones, most uploaded videos are five minutes or less in duration. Vidiac distributes all Flash Videos via progressive download, and Jones noted that interruptions are infrequent at the 528Kbps data rate.

Interestingly, Vidiac eschewed VBR encoding techniques because it can extend encoding times by 4X while delivering little additional quality. Jones also noted that data spikes in VBR streams also produced some playback inconsistencies, which also weighed into their decision to use CBR.


Below: Vidiac-enabled websites default to Flash Video, but offer Windows Media Video to those users who want it, as indicated by the button at the top of the frame above.


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