Are you thinking about posting your videos online? There certainly are a lot of different choices, with dozens of providers ranging from the ubiquitous and free YouTube to content delivery networks that own their own pipes and charge starting at $500 a month for basic service. For a project that I have been researching for the past several weeks, I signed up with several of them and tried out the production process to get a better feel for what they offered, the quality of the resulting streaming video, and what they would charge. It is a pretty chaotic world out out there.
First, let’s look at the free players. Besides YouTube, there are:
- Metacafe.com, limits each video to <100MB
- Howcast.com also limits each video to <100 MB
- Google video
- VideoJug.com (which doesn’t take flash)
- Vimeo.com, which takes a wide range of formats but limits you to uploading 500 MB per week of total content
- Qik.com, which allows you to upload videos directly from your mobile phone
Some of these providers (like Blogger) require you to directly upload your video file, while others can link to YouTube and wrap their own content around the video stream.
Why bother with the free sites? Several reasons: First, you get their power of instant searchability, discoverability, and Internet indexing of your content. Second, they make it relatively easy to create and distribute your own “channel” to make branding of your oeuvre more powerful. But the quality isn’t the best, and you have to put up with their page formats, ad banners, and other effluvia around your creation. You also lose the ability to convert and monetize that clickstream.
A level up from the freebie sites are video streaming specialty providers. I looked at several that would sell me their service for less than $100 a month, including:
- Streamhoster.com, which for $25 a month and a free week trial might be the ticket for me. Plus, they have experience with Camtasia, the product that I would be using to create the videos
- Screencast.com, which goes for $70 per year 25 GB storage, 25 GB transfer. Screencast is the same people behind Camtasia, but they are more of a repository than a streaming provider.
- Videohost.com, which doesn’t require a long term contract and for $60 a month covers 500 MB of bandwidth, which isn’t much in the way of storage
- Streamingmediahosting.com basic plan goes for $175 a month, and they have a year contract but liberal cancellation clause. They also offer a multitude of flash players that you can use on your site.
At the top of the heap are the content delivery networks, used by professional broadcasters and people that are very fussy about their video quality. The entry point here is somewhere around $500 a month and quickly goes up from there. Typical sites include:
This is the level you will need once your videos go viral, or if you are developing your own TV shows and want your advertisers to appreciate the amount of money you are spending in getting your content to your audience. They have servers in multiple cities, and have all sorts of fancy service level agreements and guarantees.
If you are going to pay hard cash money for your video hosting, here are some questions you might want to ask each potential candidate.
- What is the minimum term of a contract, and can you cancel early without any penalty? Streamingmediahosting.com will give you up to 30 days to cancel, for whatever reason. Some of the other providers will give you a short trial period so you can evaluate their production and reporting processes.
- Do you really need multiple servers in multiple cities? If so, you are going to pay a lot for that redundancy. Instead, ask if they own their own data center, and have multiple upstream providers or use multi-homed servers for improved reliability. Better yet, find out when they had their last outage that impacted their video delivery.
- What are the support hours that you can get someone on the phone? Some providers, like videohost.com offer seven day a week service during the daytime hours that operators are standing by. Most promise email turnaround but as one sales person told me, we have our best support people on duty during the daytime, because that is when they want to work. So having a graveyard shift may not buy you much assurance.
- How do they report viewers and bandwidth usage charges to you? Typically, with a Web-based portal page that you can login and examine who has watched which video. You may be paying for reports that you don’t need, or conversely get too much information, so it is important to examine these reporting tools before you sign any long-term contract.
- How much bandwidth do you really need? It can be hard to estimate, because you don’t know your expected traffic, your target encoding rate, and the length of the videos. But if you can do the math, you can get a rough estimate of the bits that you will be paying for. But also understand what happens when you exceed the bandwidth that your monthly allotment entitles you to — with some providers, you can back date and bump up your contract so you won’t be hit with a big bill if your video gets popular.
- What video formats do they have experience with streaming? In my case, I will be using Camtasia, which has a choice of encoding rates and formats that you can output to. I liked the fact that streamhoster.com had lots of experience with the product, or so the sales person told me.
- How responsive to your initial inquiry is the firm? I had no reply from limelightnetworks.com, which is supposedly one of the leaders in the field. Most of the others called me back within 24 hours of my inquiry via either email or voice mail.
- If you are going to use Flash, is the provider part of Adobe’s Premier Partner program and gone through the certification? You can find out real quickly here on their Web site: http://www.adobe.com/products/flashmediaserver/fvss/
- How are you going to host your overall Web site? Some of the free blogging sites like WordPress are very finicky about what encoder and link and how the player is embedded in their pages. You need to think about how you are going to contain the media player on your pages, and whether you have to upload the video directly to the Web site or just embed a link to it elsewhere. I found LiveJournal.com, a free blogging service that is based in Moscow of all places, to have the easiest video posting production process of the free services, and you can embed videos that are hosted elsewhere. Google’s Blogger.com requires you to upload the video directly to their site, and then place storage limits on you.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try out a couple of free sites, go for a limited trial with the pay ones, and post a few test videos to see what the quality will be and how the reports will look.