The Evolution of Online Videos
I thought I would take this moment to talk about some of the issues involved in publishing Web videos for corporate uses, putting aside all the tectonic shifts that are happening in the Web entertainment arena for another essay.
To put things in perspective, realize that it took only a few years for the Web to evolve from its first crude text-only efforts to a full graphical experience. Yet it has taken more than a decade to get videos inside the browser page. And while there are dozens of video streaming service providers, including Brightcove, Wistia, Fliqz and Kaltura, that offer ways of delivering corportate videos, none of them are as easy to use as they could be, and almost none of them offer one-stop solutions for publishers.
In the last year I have spent a lot of time with video publishing as a result of my five-minute screencast videos, where I write, review, narrate and produce everything about a particular product. The product's vendor sponsors each video that appears on my WebInformant.tv site along with 20 other places around the Internet.
Just take a look at the most popular Web content creation tool of the moment, Wordpress, as a good case in point. If you create your own blog and host it using Wordpress.com, you can purchase a "space upgrade" for $20 a year and start uploading video content. But if you decide that you want more control over your page design and host your blog on your own Web server, this space upgrade option isn't available and you have to dive into the nasty world of third-party video player plug-ins. Even though you are still using Wordpress software. It is these sorts of gotchas that can drive you crazy, or keep me fully employed explaining them.
All of these video services operate in some broad basic ways. After you prepare your video, you upload it to their server and then annotate it with any supporting text, keywords, and other information. You are then given a bunch of HTML code to embed the video player into your Web page. When you view the page, you see a player that you can click on and control the video playback, just as you would come to expect from YouTube et al. The special embed code contains tracking information that the service collects and then offers reports so you can see who watched what videos.
The service that I use at the moment is Wistia.com. Their most basic plan starts at less than $40 a month, and offers some very sophisticated tracking and embedding features. Their video player is very clean and crisp, and I haven't had too many reports about playback quality issues from my site. I recommend that you start with them and see if they meet your needs, and if not then you might want to ask the following questions:
First, do you need a branded player for your videos? Meaning that you have your logo somewhere on the first or end screen, or underneath the video image. For some people, this is important. Some services offer a single player, like Wistia, while others, such as Brightcove, give you more stylistic choices.
Second, do you need control over the ultimate size of the video image on your Web site? The various hosting services either offer this explicitly, or else (like the basic plan from Fliqz.com) leave it up to you to edit their embed codes that they provide for you to copy and paste into your Web page. If you have to manually edit the code, you want to maintain the aspect ration (horizontal to vertical) so your video displays correctly. (It helps if you produce your video for the ultimate intended size that it will appear on your Web site, too.)
Third, how big of an audience do you expect for your videos? Given that these are targeted at potential customers and not people looking for the latest skateboarding cats or guys gone wild, you should set expectations accordingly: several thousand views over a period of a few months is a good audience. Some of the services, like Wistia, charge by playbacks per month. Brightcove charges on the number of individual videos and on your bitstream consumption, which is harder to estimate. Kaltura offers a free Wordpress plug-in for hosting up to 10 GB of monthly video data.
Fourth, what kinds of reports and features are available from your service provider? With some services like Fliqz and Brightcove, their more expensive plans give you more video features and choices.
Finally, what else is or isn't included in the service? One of the things that I like about Wistia is the ability to share the video project with a number of collaborators, such as my clients, who can view the video directly, without my having to email them a huge attachment.