mDialog recently announced their ability to deliver both streaming video as well as advertising to the Apple platforms (iPad and iPhone specifically). So I sat down with them for a long chat about how they are doing that and to check it out for myself.
As I told Mark Lindsey from Social Radius, sometimes you have to see something to understand how cool it really is. mDialog's new services are one of those things as they can take your online video files and output multiple quality versions in order to utilize adaptive bitrate streaming. This means that it's always a true stream and never a progressive download. Greg Philpott, President and Founder of mDialog, pulled back the curtain and let me see some of the magic to illuminate the true coolness of their platform.
A High Level Overview
Since mDialog only uses true streams, that means people watching your videos on their iPads will only ever download as much as they watch. That could be a huge savings in bandwidth. Say someone is watching a 10 minute video through progressive download and stops watching after 5 minutes. It's entirely possible that they already downloaded 7 or even all 10 minutes of that video. Since they didn't watch it, it was a waste of bandwidth, which counts against you at your online video host/CMS/web host.
mDialog, since it only uses real streams, will save you that extra money. It takes your video, chops it up into 10-second chunks and then begins serving them. While the user is watching one 10-second chunk, the other is already downloading in the background. The streams are all mpeg2 transport streams and you can have the separate quality versions delivered to a CDN of your choosing through the service so they're ready to go, no matter where your viewers are.
It can also, due to a partnership with Inlet Technologies, handle real-time live streaming. The mDialog service is able to inject other video streams straight into a live streaming event so you can monetize both your video-on-demand as well as your live streaming events. More on that later.
The mDialog Video-As-A-Service
The mDialog video-as-a-service offers you not only a branded video management system that can be accessed through a sub-domain of your site, but also an ad management solution so that allows you to set exactly where you want ads to flow. You can put them anywhere in the length of the video as well as pre/post-roll. Ads can be interactive overlays as well as video ad injections. In the video pod ad management area of the service, by clicking on the timeline for the video, you can choose exactly when you want an ad or overlay to show up. The service will then, when your video is streaming, see the upcoming ad marker and start streaming the content in the background so that it's ready to go when the signal for the video is triggered. It doesn't stitch ads into the videos but, thanks to the signaling system, allows you to dynamically rotate video ads in the streams.
For ad management you can target your video library at a single video level as well as group videos into episodes and those into a show. By doing that it means you can run specific ads across a range of videos quickly and easily. You can even group shows into a network.
Ad Targeting and The Player
The player is quite cool as it confirms that playback began on an episode, an ad was injected and viewed and that the episode resumed playback. So you can see if people are dropping off because of too many ads or where they are dropping off. In regards to ad targeting you can geo-target down to a quarter mile radius anywhere on a Google Map, like say AT&T Park in San Francisco. You can also implement frequency capping as well as day parting in each video pod (placement). However, if you want one ad to run in multiple time slots (say breakfast, lunch and dinner times) you would need to create three different video pods for it as they can, at present, only have one time slot assigned to each. So in my example you would need three different ones which could all show the same ad. The really cool thing about their day-parting system is that it will use the timezone that the device is currently in. So if you schedule an ad for 7-11am it will roll through the timezones when accessed by devices in each.
As I mentioned before, one of the true benefits of the service goes beyond the dynamic ad insertion (which is really cool) and the robust targeting, it's how it will both make and save you money at the same time. The service uses only HTMl5 and HTTP adaptive bitrate streaming which cuts down on CDN cost overhead by being a true stream instead of downloading the whole file.
Since it's at true stream there are multiple levels of security and encryption that you can implement unlike a progressive download. mDialog has multiple licensing agreements that require the service to always be a real stream which means added security for that content. Finally, they have focused on the user experience and the player will automatically switch between 5-7 different quality versions of the video to maintain the stream without the need to rebuffer. That will not only give the user a better experience but also keep them engaged longer. Rebuffering of a stream can be an annoying thing and their service actively works to prevent that all the while still sliding in your ads when you want them.
How does it do that? Here's a typical deployment scenario - a broadcaster has 4-5 versions of a video (Small, Medium, Large, HD, whatever - each are different resolutions and bitrates) that the video ingest service grabs. It sorts through the videos and metadata, and then turns it all into a streamable format - from MP4 to mpeg2 transport stream, it does that by chopping the video into 10 second chunks for streaming. During playback of each 10 second chunk the service can determine what level of quality to send for the next 10 second chunk depending on the quality of the network connection. Each 10 second chunk can be encrypted, the entire stream can be encrypted and each episode can have a different encryption key. That can all be added in addition to iPad app level and player level security.
It's so good in fact that CTV in Canada, the Discovery Channel & Pearson Publishing are all using it for their content already.
The mDialog service, as stated previously, through a partnership with Inlet Technologies can also support live streaming. There are two ways to do ad insertion for live streams, you can either have a producer standing by to insert the ads in spaces where there is a natural break in the action, or you can, when streaming a broadcast event with set commercial breaks, simply put your own ads into those breaks. If you have a producer doing it, there is a console interface in the service where the producer sees the stream playing and can then dynamically inject ads when they feel it is appropriate.
For example, there is a live event you would like to stream. Inlet has some gear at master control for the broadcaster and it gets an SDI (serial digital interface, I believe) of the live feed. Their box then creates 4 discrete streams of varying quality in real-time for adaptive bitrate usage. The box also gets signals in the live stream from the broadcaster which are used for detecting where the linear commercial breaks will be. So mDialog will get a signal that a commercial break is coming up in say 30 seconds and will prepare the stream to have its own ads, that you specified, injected into the live stream. Those ads are then fully measurable via the mDialog interface.
Live streams can have both video ads as well as interactive overlays injected at any time as well as during those broadcaster scheduled breaks.
The really cool thing about the interactive overlay is that the viewers never leave the stream, but are instead presented options for interactive ways to get more info via email, etc. So the application and mDialog service would never force a viewer to leave a stream which is important to getting viewers to watch longer content.
That's a wrap!
Whew! Are you still there? Yes? Good here's a word from our sponsor... just kidding.
Overall, I am fascinated by the technology that mDialog has built and incorporated into their service. It really seems robust and offers a lot of benefits to content publishers who want to target and monetize iPad and iPhone video viewing. While they don't have demographic targeting at present, I'm sure that will come over time. The ability to target down to a quarter mile radius is pretty cool and could certainly go a long way when coupled with demographic targeting.
The fact that it can save you money on your CDN overhead and help you truly monetize that same traffic is a one-two combo of value right there. Also, since you control the ads shown as well as when and how long you have full control over how you are monetizing your content. That means you can see which ads are working and which aren't. You can get feedback from your audience on whether they feel you're showing too many ads or not and since they never leave the stream you could see higher levels of engagement with your content meaning much longer viewing durations and more opportunities to serve ads which would then go even further to increase your revenue.