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Choosing an Online Video Platform

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Let’s assume that you’re a small to mid-size nonmedia company seeking to use video to acquire or retain customers, train your employees, and, perhaps, communicate with investors, and you’re considering inexpensive alternatives for distributing the video. You have three basic approaches.

First, you can encode the video files yourself, create the necessary player and all the links, and upload the files to your own website. As long as viewing numbers stay fairly modest, this approach should work from a technology standpoint, though it may not be the optimal approach for accomplishing the goals that you have for your videos.

The second alternative is to host your videos on a free, user-generated content (UGC) website such as Vimeo or YouTube or even on a social networking site such as Facebook. These UGC sites relieve you of the encoding and player-creation chores and assume the task of hosting and distributing the video for you. You can still embed the video on your own website, but by offering your video on a UGC site, you also expand the number of potential viewers, which can help from a marketing perspective. However, there are some negatives to consider, as well as some benefits that are only possible via the third alternative.

That alternative is to use a fee-based service to host and distribute your videos for you. Multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) online video platform vendors offer hosting, encoding, customizable players, and detailed statistics to help you maximize the effectiveness of your video. They help distribute your video to other sites to acquire more viewers and provide interactivity that lets viewers click the video to advance to the next step in the sales cycle, as well as other features. Even a few short months ago, these types of features would have cost hundreds of dollars per month. Today, however, depending upon the amount of video you distribute, you can sign on for less than $20 a month, with one service offering unlimited video views for less than $50 a month.

This article will review the costs and the benefits of all three alternatives. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, any business seeking to truly leverage the value of its video should at least be familiar with the benefits of the second and third alternatives. Many businesses will find that an amalgam of these two is the best option of all.

We've also created a list of the UGC and SaaS online video platforms on the market today. For purposes of definition and delineation: An online video platform is a free or fee-based self-service platform that offers hosting, encoding, customizable & embeddable players, and metrics for organizations that wish to upload and distribute their own video content. While the features and functionality vary from platform to platform, once an end user has signed up, he is able to control the uploading of video and then distribute it anywhere online, not just on the video platform's own website or via a proprietary channel. Click here to download the Online Video Platforms PDF. (If you are an online video platform that wishes to be included on this list, please contact Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen.)

Hosting Your Own
Let’s start with hosting your own distribution site. Here, the primary benefits are cost and control. You control the quality of the videos and who sees them. And since you’re posting the videos to your own website, adding more videos won’t cost you a thing. Or will it?

Let’s examine that "free" concept. Most small companies don’t have video production capabilities in-house, but if you’re using a third-party videographer, it’s relatively simple to encode your video into a streaming format—just another export option from the software video editor. However, you probably don’t have the expertise to choose a codec (H.264, VP6, or VC-1), select a player (Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, or Silverlight), or specify general encoding parameters such as resolution, data rate, or frame rate, not to mention advanced parameters such as variable bitrate encoding, B-frame interface, and CABAC versus CAVLC.

Depending upon your choice of technologies, you may have to create a player (Flash or Silverlight), which will likely require programming resources, and you’ll have to create the HTML links to embed the video into your webpage. None of this stuff is rocket science, but it will either take time, money, or both to acquire this knowledge and expertise. And all of these tasks will be fully assumed by any of the companies available in the second and third categories. So unless you’re a streaming guru or you play one on TV, hosting your own videos isn’t free.

In addition, consider what you’re giving up by hosting your own videos. At a very high level, UGC sites deliver two benefits: content delivery and community. UGC sites are in charge of making sure that your video gets delivered to your target viewers at sufficient bitrates that ensure high-quality viewing, and they are almost certainly better equipped to handle that than your web-hosting provider or your own self-hosted site. Beyond that, UGC sites, if chosen correctly, can deliver community or, if you prefer, viewers, which is critical if your videos are designed to market your products and services.

The Advantages of UGC Sites
UGC sites deliver additional viewers in several ways. First, sites such as YouTube have morphed into ad hoc Yellow Pages for viewers searching for any number of things. If you’re unconvinced, I have an excellent example. If you had a potential medical malpractice claim in New York, where would you go to find a lawyer? A phone book? The bar association? That’s where I would look. But if you search for "medical malpractice New York" on YouTube, you’ll find a video from an attorney that was uploaded in July 2008. The video had been viewed 61,693 times when I wrote this article—obviously, it will have been viewed many more times by the time you read this (see Figure 1).Figure 1
Figure 1. Think that YouTube is a waste of time? With 61,693 views in a matter of 7 months, attorney Robert Sullivan might disagree.

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