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The 411 on OVPs

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There are dozens of online video platforms (OVPs), each with a feature list as long as your left arm. How do you choose between them? While all potential buyers will have their own unique needs and requirements, in this article, I’ll provide questions and considerations that should help you narrow down the list, particularly as it relates to new features that will become critical in 2011 and beyond. 

To compile the list of questions, I tracked the OVP market during the year, taking press briefings, attending webinars, and the like. Over the last 2 months of the year, at Streaming Media Europe and Streaming Media West, I plied various OVP executives with food and liquor to get their takes on the critical features for 2011, as well as features that generally distinguish their product offering from others. Finally, I scanned the press areas and blogs of many OVPs to make sure that I didn’t miss any key feature releases during late 2010. 

As an aside, I’ll mention features provided by specific OVPs to help illustrate the points that I’m trying to make. Unless otherwise stated, don’t assume that the identified OVP is the only one to provide that feature. 

Let’s start with a brief overview of the services that online video platforms provide and how they’ve evolved over the last several years. 

What’s Past Is Prologue

When companies started streaming video, all implementations were proprietary; companies encoded their own videos, built their own players, distributed progressively or via a streaming server that they installed, and managed and cobbled together whatever statistics and analytics they could. 

Of course, streaming video was very simple back then; it usually required a single, low-bandwidth stream distributed to desktop and laptop computers with a relatively nonconfigurable player such as RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, and QuickTime Player. Then came Flash, enabling both branding and customizable features, as well as broadband, smartphones, and adaptive streaming, and streaming video became a serious technology that needed to be optimized, protected, and, in many instances, effectively monetized. As a result, producing and distributing streaming video became both complicated and expensive.

OVPs sprang up to allow companies to offload the capital and day-to-day operating costs associated with encoding, player creation, server configuration, and maintenance. As with all new products, the first OVPs were basic, with relatively limited features and format support. 

Over the past 12 months, OVPs have added features aggressively, both to support new formats and technologies (Apple’s iDevices, adaptive streaming) and to plug the most relevant feature gaps in this still-new service category (support for advertising networks and for pay-per-view or subscription purchases). 

If your needs are fairly generic, almost any OVP will do, and they all operate the same basic way. That is, you upload your videos to the site and it encodes them into the appropriate streaming format. The OVP supplies a player template that you can customize for feature set and branding, and it provides big pipes for streaming media delivery, typically via an arrangement with a content delivery network (CDN). All OVPs provide statistics relating to your viewing audience, from number of views to the location of viewers to how long viewers watched your videos without dropping off. 

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