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The Essential Guide to Video Hosting: What Companies Need to Know

If you're looking for a simple, nontechnical solution for hosting on-demand videos on your website, there are three categories of products that you should consider; user generated content sites (UGC) like YouTube and Vimeo, online video platforms (OVP) like Wistia and Kaltura, and hybrid services like Vimeo Pro and Vimeo Plus. In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of each group of products.

VideoHostAs an overview, all three product groups operate similarly from a workflow perspective. That is, you upload your source file to the site, which encodes it into one or more iterations for delivery to various target platforms. To add the video to a page on your website, you grab an embed code from the service and paste it into the page. All these services create and host the required player for you. Beyond this common workflow, however, the products differ in multiple respects.

(By the way, we aren't including content delivery networks (CDNs) in this article because they typically don't provide the complete encoding and delivery of OVPs and UGC sites.)

User Generated Content Sites (UGC)

Let's start with UGC sites like YouTube and Vimeo. With these sites, you can display your videos on the UGC site, or embed the video into your own website or blog. These sites make money by selling advertisements that appear before, over, or around your videos on the UGC site. For this reason, you can use these sites for free, even if your video goes viral and generates millions of views. In fact, one of the key benefits of this group is that they help generate views for your videos, though you'll be competing with millions of other videos.

UGC sites offer sophisticated players that work on the most popular platforms, with many offering advanced features such as closed captioning. UGC sites provide tools to help generate views for your videos, including user engagement functions like comments and ratings, sharing capabilities like emailing or embedding, and the ability to tweet or like a video. However, there are some downsides to consider, especially when choosing a service to embed into a business website.

Figure 1. UGC sites offer fully-featured players that work on most computers and mobile devices. Here, a YouTube video is playing on an iPad.
Figure 1. UGC sites offer fully-featured players that work on most computers and mobile devices. Here, a YouTube video is playing on an iPad.

For example, the player that you embed in your website may not have the same set of features as the player on the UGC site. With YouTube, for example, the embedded player doesn't offer captions, comments, or thumbs up/thumbs down ratings. Also, embedded players usually shows the UGC brand, which may tempt the viewer to click over to the UGC site, especially if player features are better there.

On the UGC site itself, you can't control what videos are shown next to yours. While they're typically related to the content of your video, they may show a competitor's video or other unsuitable content. While you can generate revenue from many UGC sites, you usually can't control which advertisements appear with your videos

UGC sites all use their own encoding presets, which may or may not correspond with how you want your video presented. On a more fundamental level, you may encounter upload size or duration limits, particularly when you first start working with a service. You may also have to limit the content of your videos to meet site requirements. Vimeo, for example, has a restriction against promotional videos on its free service. It also doesn't let its embedded player stream HD video, a significant limitation.

For many companies, given that UGC sites are free and can help generate views, there's no serious downside to uploading videos to one or more of them. You'll want to consider other ways to host the videos embed on your own site or blog, however.

Online Video Platforms (OVPs)

Where UGC sites are free and help you generate video views, OVPs charge you to host your videos and don't directly help generate video views. However, they offer greater control, access to marketing-oriented features, support, and superior analytics, as well as platform support and a feature set that matches or exceeds that of most hybrid services.

Figure 2. Customizing the OnlineVideo.net player within the Brightcove OVP
Figure 2. Customizing the OnlineVideo.net player within the Brightcove OVP

Most OVPs let you customize the appearance and branding of the video player to match your website. This means you're displaying your own brand, not that of the service provider. You can create playlists of similar content to enhance the stickiness of your site. If you do monetize your videos, you have greater control over which ads appear and when, and you can customize the presets used to encode your videos. If you need to protect your videos, many OVPs offer access to encryption and other forms of digital rights management.

Some OVPs offer marketing-friendly enhancements, such as the ability to add a call-to-action to a video, create video email blasts, or collect the email addresses of viewers. Some OVPs can generate a video site map to enhance your videos' discoverability on search engines, and can synch videos to presentations. Many OVPs can automatically syndicate your videos to UGC sites like YouTube and Vimeo, which helps generate views.

OVPs provide much greater access to support, typically with the option of buying a support plan that meets your needs. On UGC sites, telephone support is typically non-existent, and email support may be limited to accounts with high video views.

Most OVPs offer superior analytics, such as drop-off statistics that show when viewers click away from your videos. Knowing this can help you produce videos that do a better job retaining viewer attention. You can also track which videos a particular viewer watched, and for how long. If video is mission critical to your organization, the benefits offered by OVPs over UGC sites are worth paying for.

Hybrid Services

If neither category meets your needs, consider a hybrid service. These minimize the limitations of free sites, while costing less than a typical OVP. Vimeo offers two hybrids: Vimeo Plus and Vimeo Pro. Vimeo Plus ($59 per year) (http://vimeo.com/help/faq/vimeo-membership/vimeo-plus) offers more storage space than Vimeo's free service, improves video quality, eliminates banner ads, enables unlimited HD embedding, and allows some player customization. Vimeo Pro ($199 per year), lets you add your own logo to your video player, further increases the bandwidth caps and duration limits, prioritizes your encoding, guarantees one-hour email response times during business hours, lets you sell your work, and provides advanced analytics. Vimeo Pro also removes Vimeo's restriction against commercial video. While most UGC sites don't offer these types of premium plans, they're worth investigating if your company needs more than UGC sites can offer.

Figure 3. For $199 per year, you can buy Vimeo Pro and host commercial videos.
Figure 3. For $199 per year, you can buy Vimeo Pro and host commercial videos.

For companies just starting out, it's important to think ahead when choosing video hosting. While changing to a new system is simple when you only have a few dozen videos embedded in your website, once you go beyond this number the time involved in transferring metadata to a new system and changing embed codes can get prohibitive. If you find yourself switching hosts, check out Switching OVPs? How to Break Up with Your Online Video Platform for tips on how to make the process as smooth as possible.

Jan Ozer's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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