Online video platforms (OVPs) are springing up all over the place. It's like the Dawn of Web 2.0 all over again and Buto.tv (prounounced boo-toe I think) is getting in on it as well (and have been for some time). However, they might be taking a slightly different approach than many of the others. I chronophaged (sort of like stole) some time from Will Grant, the Technology Director over there and got the low down. Plus, I did a bunch of hands on stuff so you can see exactly what it can (and can't) do.
Big Button, the mother company, started in 2001 as a video production company and then moved into VOD platforms. The service actually launched in 2008 and they are now doing some rapid expansion of services and brand awareness. Hence, how they found me I guess. I have a big mouth and people tend to hear.
With a new OVP being announced almost every week it's hard to keep up and get a firm grip on them all. I'm working on a massive matrix that lays them all out side-by-side but that will take some time. In the meanwhile, let's see what makes Buto different.
Differentiating the Buto.tv Product
In talking with Will, he stressed their philosophy of trying to make things simple. While balancing a full-featured offering, they're trying to also keep things quick and simple so that you don't get bogged down in hundreds of options. The menu and entire interface is rather spartan. You can see in the screen below that the main interface is a dashboard much like everyone is these days and you get a quick overview of how your videos are performing.
Another thing about the simplification is that there is one feature set for all users. The only changes are bandwidth between the various packages. No random users per account limit or anything like that.
The Proof is in the Numbers - Buto Analytics
Speaking of statistics, they give you a brief glimpse on the main dashboard and then expand in the Stats tab. You see they offer you:
- Total views
- Views per video
- Views per site
- In-player adverts
- Views per device
- Social networks
Interestingly, it counts your back-end video views (tsk, tsk), but does not charge you bandwidth (well done!). I would think it would remove you from the system altogether when viewing from the administration side. That will skew your results slightly. They should fix that (hint, hint...Will)
Other than that, they're pretty basic and what you would commonly find in many standard online video metrics. You can export your data into an XLS and import it into some other analytics package. There is also an XML-driven API that you can use to manipulate your data, for those more advanced statisticians.
Upload, Transcode, Embed
When a video is uploaded it's encoded and creates 2 bitrate versions (if I heard correctly) for the iPhone as well as multiple bitrate versions for Flash players. The service has a great feature that tells you how much of the video encoding process is done. So simple, but often missing from OVPs. Plus, when it's done, you get an email telling you which video it is that finished encoding and gives you a link, embed code and links to edit the video all right in the email. So simple, yet so brilliant.
The embed will check the platform that you are using and supports Flash, HTML5 and H.264. The player is Flash (ON2 VP6) with H.264 HTML5 fallback option. Moving to H.264 in the Flash player early 2011 they tell me.
Hotspots, Interaction, Advertisement
Hound was asking about clickable overlay players (see, I listen to readers) and I said I was working on something in regards to that. Well, now we're at the point where we can talk about exactly that. Through the backend interface, once you've got your video uploaded and encoded, you have two options for interaction with the video. Clickable hotspots and in-player adverts.
Now, you can only use one or the other per video which is a shame as I could see having both being very advantageous when used in conjunction. You also can't have closed captions running at the same time as hotspots. There's no way to attach text on screen for the hot spots which is how I found this out, by trying to use captions to key the users in on what the hotspots were for. Nope, that doesn't work, sadly. So then the hot spots just show up as floating circles that hover on or near (next paragraph) what you are trying to call attention to.
Alright, Check out the demo below.
Now, you'll notice that there are some hotspots. What? You didn't? Aha, that means you didn't have the mouse over the player. When you don't have the mouse there, they don't show up. Strange. So now stop the video, start it and watch with the mouse over the player. See them now? Good.
You probably noticed that I used my Unsteady-Cam (otherwise known as my arm and Nokia N97 mini) for this particular video. That makes it sort of jittery, and really difficult to pin a hotspot on things at times. Plus, there some rapid movement in the video at about 1:12 to the end. You'll see the hotspots trying to trail as fast as they can but the poor little things just don't always seem to manage it.
Maybe, Not Such Hot Spots
Now here's a quirky little thing. Click back to 1:34 or 1:35 and watch that car go by again, notice the hot spot, now do it again, and again. See the little differences? It's like the hot spots are almost dynamically loaded on each run through and they're never quite the same.
You might also notice that they are not perfect.
You create a group of hotspots and then apply that to the video. Each hotspot consists of a start and finish position. When the position changes during its onscreen time, you need to add another point of reference for the hotspot. This is so the the player tweens the hotspot from position A to position B. If the object doesn't move then you can just add one at the start and one at the end and you're done.
They're almost impossible to center and keep on an item in a high action shot. Plus there's no way to shorten the duration of a single hot spot and so when you have a fast moving object (as in the example video at 1:12 and 1:34 roughly) it will quickly outpace the hotspots (specifically the runner). Also, it's not very precise. You'll notice the spots sort of miss the targets at times. That's because you don't have a very precise editor. You can only determine X-axis, Y-axis and hotspot radius. There is no duration or movement vector etc. So it's left up to the system to interpret what you wanted. Since each hotspot has a beginning and end point you have to basically create multiple points of reference to make them animate. But points that you create in the player seem to always last a full second. In a second that runner is just about across the screen already. So what you would have to do is have 2 or three hotspots that overlap each other in time to get full coverage on a fast-moving object, but that seems like a lot of work for spot that will just pause the video and open a text ad. Not even open another window or browser tab, nor open a website. Click one of the hotspots and you'll see what I mean.
When you make changes to a group you have to then go unload and reload the group onto the video as it does not automatically update in the preview player which I'm guessing means it also doesn't do so in the production player.
Here's another video (of part of the GDN gaming area) where I tried to maintain a steadier hand for longer hot spots so you can check them out. I also made a CC set so you can see what happens when you choose them (upper right corner) over the hot spots.
I did notice that if you click on CC then click them off you sort of get both the closed captions and the hot spots but if you then click a hot spot the ad it opens and the CC overlap. None of the overlay technologies work on the iPhone as of yet. Mostly due to limitations on the device and HTML5.
Buto.tv From a Video SEO Standpoint
Everything you upload to Buto can be put into a video sitemap and that will be automatically sent to Google. You can go into settings and there's one button that builds a video sitemap and submits to Google and it does it daily. This can also be opted out of via that same button.
On each video you can attach the following information:
- Tags (mostly for their own API, also used in Google Sitemaps)
- Category (for search indexing in Google)
- Closed Captions
- Publication Date
- Family Friendly
I spoke with Greg Sanderson at Buto.tv about what they include and how they generate the sitemaps. He had this to say:
We follow the format Google specify that you should use for this kind of sitemap, as they described and so since they don't ask for things like file size and resolution, these aren't included. Also some of their suggested attributes don't apply because of the way Buto works, for example 'rating', since we don't have a public channel. We use the key ones that people might search on and so these should determine whether the video matches a particular search query: title, description, duration, publication date, tags, category and whether the video is 'family friendly'.
Nothing like going right to the source for the info and how to do things.
There are a couple other small features that I couldn't really fit in anywhere else so I gathered them here for you in an effort to be as thorough as possible:
- Age restriction - (12, 15, 16, 18, 21)
- Share URL Override
- IP restriction (to prevent videos from being embedded one would imagine)
- Comments (I'm guessing these are via YouTube or the player itself)
The Take Away
Like Will said, Buto is "trying to balance ergonomics and usability with feature-richness and flexibility." To me it seems like some functionality is suffering from this simplistic approach. It certain does bring some things to the table but it also seems to have lost some on the cutting room floor. They're mainly aiming at E-Commerce and E-Retailers, SMB to Enterprise, government bodies, health services and places like that. Aside from enterprise, these are generally places that don't have an army of technically-savvy people (except maybe the government) to manage all of this and Buto could definitely speed up some workflow items in regards to more interactive online video.
They do offer some good video tutorials and are working on holding seminars every few weeks to get users accustomed to the system and to help them get the most out of it. They have a very active support area and this is one of their differentiation points. Their ticket system has a 1-hour response/solution turn around time and I have to admit, having sent them several emails via the system it certainly is fairly speedy.
Buto uses BitGravity - "it performed better than competitors in trials and we're delighted with the video delivery speed," said Will - global CDN and I am forced to say I was impressed with both upload speed as well as playing/buffering. The player could load and as soon as I could click the button (some 2-5 seconds) to play, the video was more than ready to roll. Of course, they're UK-based and I'm not all that far relatively speaking but it really was impressive as I said.
The real drawbacks I see are the limited use and scope of the interactive elements. They are an either/or situation. You can either show text ads that run in the bottom of the player or you can have hot spots, which open those same style of ads. There's no clicking out to an external site (except in the ads, which can't even have an image or another video attached to them). Also, anything you make in regards to one video (hot spots, adverts) cannot be applied to another video. So there's a lot of duplication of effort. You can duplicate a hot spot group, but it's retained only for the video you're working with. Plus only one can hot spot group can be attached to a video. I'd like to see a way to duplicate adverts and hot spot groups across videos and maybe even duplicate videos themselves for things like A/B testing.
The back-end is also wonderful at obfuscating things. You have to sometimes click 'backwards' through the breadcrumb path to get to something you need that should be at your fingertips already, like editing the hot spot group when you're applying it to a video, etc.
Honestly I don't understand why you can't duplicate an advert and apply it across multiple videos. It makes sense to me if you have a site or service you're trying to promote with the videos. I apply the same sort of intro/outro on many GDN videos and this would have certainly been nice at Buto.
Sure, I'm being sort of nitpicky, but that's my job. To give you my thoughts on the features that are there or not.
I do see value in the product but it seems like it could use some minor expansion in its implementation and execution. Some things seem like they need a little work while others are simply brilliant. I guess this is one you might have to decide for yourself.
Buto Platform Pricing and Packages
All packages have:
- Unlimited videos
- Unlimited users
- Full feature set
- 1-hour support
At 99 British pounds that's about $160 US and you get 75Gb/month, 199GBP or $321 gets you 160GB/month and they have a custom data bucket option. Tax is not included in the prices to you might have to tack on a bit more depending on where you are in the world.
There's a 30-day free trial that you can sign up for and there's no credit card required. It's fully automated as well. You sign up, wait a bit then get an email that tells you the account is ready and it even has a demo video in it. How nice of them.
If you were to compare their pricing to say Amazon S3 which offers you very little aside from cloud storage and streaming, that's about $20 and doesn't offer a player or anything. Bits on the Run from Longtail would be, minimum (because you also have to pay for storage), 78 Euro or about $110 for 75GB to match the Buto price you would also get 13GB of storage at BotR. Brightcove offers a $199 for 200 videos and 100GB a month but only offers two users on one account.
So stacking them up Buto doesn't seem a bad deal really.