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Switching OVPs? How to Break Up with Your Online Video Platform

The OVP (online video platform) market is maturing and consolidating, which means that some customers are considering switching, either because their existing service provider is going bye-bye or because they've found a service that better suits their needs. With potentially thousands of videos uploaded and embedded, and significant time invested in player customization, CMS and analytics integration, and workflow rules and administration, how daunting is this switch?

To size up the task, we spoke with a number of service providers, including Brightcove, Ensemble Video, Kaltura, and Ooyala, as well as Unicorn Media, which provides mobile video solutions. We also spoke to two customers who had recently switched OVPs: one a software company, the other an online university, both on the condition of anonymity. The definitive answer is that the cost and complexity of the task depends on a number of factors, which we've outlined below.

OVPs: How Complicated Is Switching?

BreakUpAt a high level, the switching tasks usually involves the transfer of content and metadata from one data store to another, though if the content is independently or self-hosted, only the metadata would need to change hands. Embed codes or pointers to the content needs to change, and any player customization, workflow rules and procedures and content management system (CMS) integration must be duplicated on the new system. And, of course, users also need to be retrained.

The good news is that you aren't the first company to switch OVPs and most larger OVPs have professional services teams that can automate much of the content and metadata conversion. In some instances, even embed codes can be automatically replaced so you won't have manually re-embed every video in your web site. The other elements? Most of those can't be automated.

But let's take a look at each element point by point to learn what factors contribute to cost and complexity, what to ask your OVP, and how the experience was for the two switchers we interviewed.

Transferring OVP Content and Metadata

All the OVPs we spoke with can automate the ingestion of content and metadata, usually through XML files or via MRSS feeds. However, not all smaller OVPs have this facility, so it's a question to get out on the table early. Both of the users that we interviewed were able to automate the content and metadata transfer during their changeover at minimum cost, but different service providers charge different fees for this service, so ask about costs early, as well.

Will you need to re-encode all of your files? Approaches to file reuse will vary from situation to situation. For example, the online university user retrieved the highest quality file from the former OVP and re-transcoded from there. The software company was able to retrieve and use all of the encodes in the adaptive group. Your experience will vary depending upon:

  • The encoded formats in the old OVP data store: You should be able to use most H.264 content without re-encoding, but content encoded with VP6 will need to be re-encoded to play on mobile devices.

  • Metadata quality: Both users commented that the switch highlighted the need to have consistent and complete metadata for each file, since finding and sorting the content in the new system relies on this data.

  • High-resolution masters: Both users also related that it's critical to archive original masters of all content, not only to facilitate a switch, but also to support new platforms like mobile as they become available.

Re-embedding Content for a New OVP

Asset IDs and embed codes control which videos appear on which pages, and the task of switching OVPs may, at worst, involve manually re-embedding all of these videos, a gruelingly boring and repetitive task. Here, your experience will depend upon the content management system that you use to create your pages and the standardization of your approach.

For example, the software company user deployed Drupal as its content management system, and assigned the content in the new system the same ID as the previous system. Their Drupal programmer was able to write a conversion script to switch to the new asset store in about four hours.

The online university user deployed an online learning system that didn't offer this element of automation and had to manually re-embed each video. However, the university left it to their professors to determine which videos needed to be transferred to the new site and many dropped off, dramatically reducing the number of videos that had to be re-embedded.

Non Automatable Tasks when Switching OVPs

Many of other tasks, such as player customization, creating workflow rules, and CMS and analytics integration can't be automated, but often there's a silver lining in those gray clouds. For example, one of the motivating factors behind the switch for the software company was superior CMS integration, so it choose an OVP with a Drupal SDK that provided more functionality than its previous OVP. While this necessitated some reworking, the overall result was a vastly improved integration.

Both users reported that staff retraining didn't present a significant challenge since experience on one OVP makes it simpler to learn how to use the second, and both changed to a system with an easier interface. The university user streamlined the task by making the new system as similar as possible to the old system, using the same URL, user names, and passwords. The university also created a help page with several videos demonstrating how to use the new OVP.

Lessons Learned from OVP Switchers

Both users walked away from the experience with a renewed sense of the importance of complete and consistent metadata, and the value of stored masters. The university user, who made the switch in a brief four weeks, recommended that people give themselves more leeway, advocating that switchers run both systems side-by-side for as long as possible to minimize details falling through the cracks. The software company did just that, running both systems simultaneously for several months, which allowed for a smooth transition.

While the switch may not be as expensive or complicated as you feared, there are lots of details to manage. Giving yourself three or four months of simultaneous operation may be the best advice of all.

Heart image via Shutterstock.

Jan Ozer's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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