Coincident TV, like Qoof, wants to make your video content more interactive. However, unlike Qoof who was aimed more at eRetailers, Coincident TV is aiming to bring more content into the video viewing experience and integrating other content as well. I did not get to use Qoof's software personally so I have no idea how easy or difficult it is to use, but from what I saw it was smooth and easy to use. Coincident TV was not the easiest program to learn to use and that's me being nice.
I dove into the software tentatively but was sort of lost in what it was and how it worked. So, I sat down with Alex from Coincident TV and got a run through of the service. Then took a spin in the editor to whip up a cool demo for you. It took quite some time (and some extra help from CTV) to even get something remotely usable to show you. What that means to me is that the software is not so user friendly. There's no built-in help in the editor itself and you have to go and read a massive tome (288-page user manual!) or watch lengthy video tutorials (up to 1.5 hours!) before you have a firm grasp on it (if you're industrious you can skim the PDFs that go with the videos to get the gist).
Now many of us are extremely busy and while this is something I think has a high potential for a lot of value add to your sites and getting your video content tied together, there is an extremely steep learning curve. A curve so steep that many of us would probably just drop it and not bother. I would have done so had I not been doing the research for this article. I eventually got so fed up I contacted them to get a Cliff Notes version of how to even get some basic links put on a video. My reward for sticking with it as long as I did? You'll find out at the end of the article (or if you're impatient skip there now).
My Coincident TV Testing Experience
This is an image from my first attempt. Notice the very basic list of links on the right side. That took me like 10 hours to get it to function properly.
After several hours of poring over the user manual and trial and error I finally managed something semi-useful. However, it's hard to judge the ROI on something like this as I don't see a way to really incorporate metrics of any sort besides click tracking at present. I know it can be done, I just didn't have the time to delve into it. Plus, it's not all that interesting to look at, is it?
CTV is more of a stand alone video player that allows you to create interactive overlays and menus right in the player that help to tie your content together. I could definitely see it being useful for content discovery provided you've got lots of time to build out the app and your users have lots of time to explore it when you do. Now I do know that it can basically use any valid URL so you could add in all manner of tracking information right into your links when you build them, etc. However, a major drawback I see is not being able to fully embed it in your own site. You would have to use an <iframe> to do that as the player resides on CTV's servers.
There are some very basic things missing for the software. Things like basic help files and being able to create a playlist in a quick and easy fashion. What you have to do, as far as I could tell, is make a CTV file for each and every video you want to include. Then at the end of one video you create a goto and point to the begin cue of the next video. It's all very cumbersome really. There's some drag and drop functionality but you can't share resources between .CTV files. Nor can you even reuse something you've already made (web links, menus, etc) without including a whole other file (or opening the files in a text editor and manually copying and pasting them). What it means is a massive reproduction of work, over and over again or leaving the program to do things I feel the software itself should do. All just to get a simple interactive overlay or a link to a website or video. Hopefully, they'll address this in upcoming versions.
There are massive amounts of cool things this software can do (that's what I've come to realize). In order to use it properly you would probably have to hire someone to work full time on making those cool things happen or simply stop all other work. Of course, there aren't piles of people sitting about that know how to use this software (yet) so finding someone to work full time for you will be impossible. You could probably hire someone and let them ramp up over time, but how long do you want to wait for the ROI? Finally, you might get Coincident TV to do it all for you, but at what I imagine would be a cost almost as steep as the learning curve on this software.
How Coincident TV Works
Now, as stated earlier, the main CTV Flash player remains on the Coincident.tv server and you have to create a crossdomain.xml file for your server to overcome the Adobe Flash security issues. This then allows them to utilize information on your server. Here's what one would look like:
<?xml version="1.0"?> <!DOCTYPE cross-domain-policy SYSTEM "http://www.macromedia.com/xml/dtds/ cross-domain-policy.dtd"> <cross-domain-policy> <allow-access-from domain="*.coincident.tv" /> <site-control permitted-cross-domain-policies="all"/> </cross-domain-policy>
Reading through their user manuals and best practices papers is like reading hefty tomes of arcana in long lost languages. So if you're not a scholar of immense patience or a public transit using commuter, you might never manage the time to get out of it what you need. I think my mind worked through most of the problem itself eventually as I suddenly had an epiphany and today (Wednesday 29 September 2010) I fired up the software after a long day of other things, and whipped together something really cool.
What I really found out about the software is that it just makes XML files. They are basically control files for the CTV player. Here's what one looks like for one of the other videos in my project that only has a begin and end cuepoint. You'll notice, it's just some altered version of XML.
<MediaProgram xsi:noNamespaceSchemaLocation="CPL_v0.8_schema.xml" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"> <progLevelMetadata videoSource="flv" xProgLevelDir="false" xVersionCPL="0.8.0" loggingService="" videoWidth="640" videoHeight="360"/> <cuePoints> <cuePt name="begin" cueType="regular" zeroLen="false" time="0"/> <cuePt name="end" cueType="programEnd" zeroLen="true" time="77.96000000000001"/> </cuePoints> </MediaProgram>
Here is a clip from my personal demo .CTV file
<annotations> <annotation name="annotation0" clickBehavior="decoration" y="180"> <story picLoc="semi-trans-screen.png"/> </annotation> <annotation name="annotation1" clickBehavior="goto" x="13" y="230" showIcon="true"> <targetList> <target cuePointRef="moria-nudmalek.ctv#begin"/> </targetList> <story balloonText=" Nud Melek" picLoc="Moria-1-button.png"/> </annotation> </annotations> <webPoints> <cuePt name="LOTRO.com" cueType="webPoint" interestURL="http://www.lotro.com/" zeroLen="false" webViewLayout="webvid"> <targetList> <target cuePointRef="begin"/> </targetList> </cuePt> </webPoints>
This is basically what the software does. It does it in such a fashion that you only need to type a quarter of the information. For example in the annotations above you can see X and Y coordinates there. Things can be dragged and dropped, but you might have to manually type them in to get them all perfectly lined up. Something the UI team at CTV really need to work on, some sort of X,Y coordinate display would be nice while in the editor or perhaps rulers a la Photoshop. Also, in the drop down menus there is copy and paste but I am not quite sure what that is for. It only copies text from a single field, why can't it copy and paste entire web points, cues or annotations? You can drag them around the screen but you can't copy them. In order to do so you would need to make a new one, then copy/paste all the individual text bits or manually edit the CTV file in a text editor then reload it which is most likely faster (and defeats the purpose of the GUI really).
Coincident TV Has Massive Potential, But Needs Work
It does have massive, and I mean massive potential, but the interface is lacking (in my opinion). I think I picked up C++ faster than this. The massive potential lies in the software's ability to pull in all manner of web-based video, images and text and display it all right in the player without ever leaving the video or experience. It can probably tie into all sorts of great web services (Brightcove, Akamai HD, YouTube) and what nots, but it needs a lot of time investment to uncover the true potential.
They tell me that it's both Flash and HTM5 compatible, can work on both computer and mobile screens and that the technology will help adjust the experience so that it is viewed as best as it can be via multiple video versions which it then chooses from depending on the display (I wasn't anywhere near attempting this in my demo). Of course, your target audience will determine what you use for content. Obviously, if you're going to use HTML5 you'll need to have compatible video formats, etc. If you're using Flash you could even embed SWFs into the program for display.
Your user experience can be mainly aimed at social networking, monetization (click and link tracking can be included as could affiliate links I suppose), increasing brand awareness or raising engagement. I chose to do a sort of cool aggregation of info and videos for the game Lord of the Rings Online. Everyone loves Hobbits right?
Yesterday (Tuesday 28 September), I was pretty angry about the whole thing as I had pretty much nothing to show for my efforts. But something happened overnight and I managed to crank out an all new demo the next day.
This is some really cool software that suffers from poor user interface and usability design issues. At times it made me feel stupid and that's never good for any type of product.
What I was eventually told after lodging the above complaints with them, which makes me wonder why they didn't bother to tell me much earlier,was that they typically train everyone who uses an Editor before they start building Coincident TV projects. During training, they address many of the issues that are arising during my time with the editor. Well, I think WTF is in order here.
Finally they had this to add:
...this product is still in Beta and has not had an official release for consumer use. Feedback is taken from software testing and is going into the first release software, which will be an improved offering. The current tool is meant for B2B sales. The teams at these companies are trained per project and offered Coincident support during set up..
Aha! So you need official training from Coincident TV to use the software properly. Well, I guess I'm not so stupid after all since I managed it in the end.
Here's some feedback for CTV, hire a user interface designer and redesign the way the software utilizes user-created things like web links, annotations, etc so that they are re-usable in any .CTV project instead of having to be created by hand in every project. I could probably do many of the things I do in the software faster by just doing a copy/paste of my .CTV file (to reuse webpoints and annotations) and even create new ones. I would suggest a resource file that collects web points, annotations, etc, that a simple menu click pulls into your current project. Perhaps some sort of Master Control Program file (TRON anyone?!)
Overall, I've got very mixed feelings about CTV's offering. It's hard to use and requires a lot of time and focus. On the other hand, it is still in beta and hopefully they're working on or will take into account some of the things I've mentioned here. Really, I do have a sense of pride in even the most basic demo that I was able to make so that says something I suppose. However, this isn't about pride, it's about business.
My Coincident TV Demo
So here we are, the end of the article. Oh wait, I didn't show you the fruit of my labor did I? Well, here you go. The demo I made is wider than ReelSEO's main area, so you've got to click the images which link to the demo. I shrunk them down so you could see something here:
Each and every element is lovingly handcrafted and placed at the exact pixels I wanted. Each of the three titles and the seven images had to be input by hand, then positioned by typing in X,Y coordinates. You can click on them and drag/drop them but for perfection, you may still need to type them up (due to no X,Y display). This is part of the software's poor user interface along with being unable to copy entities. I very much dislike the inability to modify things like the background color on the annotations and the text color (both very basic items) or even the border color for clickable links in the experience.
This image displays one of the most powerful things the software can do. It keeps the users in the experience yet allows you to pull in full web sites and pages.
One thing it does that I didn't even scratch the surface of:
Using the MXML markup language from Adobe Systems, you can create data entry forms for overlay cue points that are used in conjunction with insertPt cue points to programmatically control the branching flow of a CTV program. Maybe next time.