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Wowza Media Continues to Grow

Up until earlier this year, the biggest barrier to entry for publishers who want to stream Flash Video has been the costs associated with using Adobe’s Flash Media Server, costs. Sure, there was Red5, but the words "open source" don’t exactly inspire confidence in IT departments, no matter how well the server actually works.

Enter Wowza Media Systems, which began rolling out the beta of its Wowza Media Server in fall 2006 and was officially released on February 19 of this year. The company is now approaching 1,500 licensees worldwide, almost 200 of them in the last month. And even though many of them are free developer licenses, according to CEO and co-founder Dave Stubenvoll, that’s a more than respectable number for an upstart looking to challenge an established player like Adobe. And just within the last three weeks, they’ve announced three major new customers: StreamGuys in the U.S., Astream in the UK, and the Netherlands’ NetMasters BV (also known as FlashHosting).

So what’s the secret of Wowza’s success? What first draws people to the solution is the price. "We eliminate the ‘Flash premium,’" says Stubenvoll. "Now users can get the benefits of Flash and are able to do that at a price close to that of Windows Media Video."

In addition to the free Wowza Media Server Pro10 developer edition, which allows for only 10 concurrent streams, the company offers a 50-stream license for $750, a 150-stream license for $2,250, and an unlimited-stream license for $5,000. Flash Media Server has a similar ten-connection developer edition, while its Pro Edition allows for 150-2,000 streams and goes for $4,500. When you get beyond 5,000 connections—at which point you’re likely in territory where you’d want an origin and a number of edge servers—you’re looking at five figures or more for Flash Media Server. (It should be noted, however, that Wowza currently does not have a fully-featured Origin/Edge-type configuration, though they are working on one.)

But while cost savings is the bait, then performance is the hook. Users say that Wowza Media Server performs as well as, or better than, Flash Media Server in equivalent installations. "The Wowza server proved to be a reliable, industrial-strength Flash server," says Alan Caldwell, founder and CTO of technology consulting firm The SoftShop, which has been using Wowza Media Server since it was in beta. "We find that with its superior performance, flexibility, and features, Flash streaming can now effectively compete with Windows Media (on price)."

Wowza also claims that, in its own testing, Wowza Media Server outperformed Flash Media Server on reliability when dealing with "dirty networks," reconnecting quickly to a Flash Media Encoder live stream without the error thrown by Flash Media Server when the same test was run. Without independent testing, of course, it’s impossible to be sure, but the uptake in Wowza licenses indicates that users are satisfied with the server’s performance.

Stubenvoll says that around 60% of current licensees are in the European Union, including Fan Interactive Media in the Netherlands and Julius Blum GmbH, a major hardware manufacturer based in Austria. Why the concentration in Europe? Stubenvoll points to increased broadband penetration there and faster connections to the home, which simply means that demand for all online video, regardless of format, should be higher than in the U.S.

Wowza’s got plenty of customers in the U.S., howver, including Macy’s Home Store, which uses Flash for employee video communications and vendor training, and Thompson Learning, which employed Flash in a speech pathology application for Carnegie Mellon University.

Wowza’s focus now is on live Flash streaming, says Stubenvoll, and the company is working on the beta of a live stream repeater similar to what Adobe does with their Origin and Edge configuration.

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