These days the pickins are abundant in the online video platform space, with over 60 pure-play, on-demand online video platform providers (OVPs) offering businesses top-to-bottom video solutions including content ingestion of any format, encoding to multiple formats, storage, content management, monetization, analytics, and playback in customized video players that match and perpetuate your brand via viral features such as email, embed code, permalinks, and posting to your favorite social site.
With the wealth of services and technologies platform providers offer today, it's often a no brainer to "buy" these services as opposed to "build" them in-house. Supporting ever-changing feature requirements, an abundance of codecs every time a new one is released, a custom content management system, a slick video player… it's just too taxing on your development team when you have more important, higher priority projects that need attention. Today integrating with an OVP is drop-dead easy with little to no engineering effort required and very little cost associated, some of which are free (with lower usage offerings of course). So the only question is deciding what's the best OVP for your business and how do you find them?
Here's a short, and practical guide for finding the best video solution for your needs:
Identify your use case: Publishing, Marketing, Productivity
Are you looking to affordably store a backlog of video content and use it on your web site for general consumption (publishing)? Do you need to increase site stickiness, further expose your brand, and drive new revenue streams and leads (marketing)? Or do you need a training solution for internal use only, with log-in rights, multiple accounts, and security (productivity)? These are only a few use cases for online video but the point is to know what purpose your video serves before you begin to search for the right OVP. Whether you discover it's one use, a combination of two uses or all three, identifying that is the first place to start. It will help narrow your search immediately.
Make a list of your top 5 must-have features
Based on your use case, you already know what you need from your hosting solution, so make a list. Is it total customization including a branded player and permalinks on your domain, syndication to the search engines and YouTube, deep analytics like user engagement and geo-location so you know exactly where your videos are being shared and viewed, and viewership behavior like drop-off rates and when they rewind or pause a video? Whatever your list entails, you're lucky, there's at least one OVP that can meet those needs.
Narrow your search to 3 providers
Once you've done your research and compared a handful of providers by looking at their sites, reading customer and expert reviews, and perhaps talking to a few sales reps, choose a few providers that offer everything that matches your use case/s and your top 5 feature list. If you can do this then there's no need to further your search, just move forward to the next step.
Kick the tires
Most, if not all platform providers currently offer free solutions or at least free trials, even if it's not promoted on their site (just ask). They may not be as robust as the paid solution or include all the features you need, but you will at least be able to upload, manage, and playback a few videos. The goal of this is to get a glimpse of the logged-in interface to see if the UI is simple and easy to use. You don't want to choose a provider without seeing their logged-in state. You will be spending a lot of time within this user interface so you'd better be sure it's intuitive and that you're comfortable using it.
Here are some questions to think about when test driving a platform:
Is the navigation clear? Can you get where you need to go or find what you're looking for within one or two clicks? Are all features obviously exposed and readily accessible? If not, move on.
Get a month to month contract.
As previously mentioned, the OVP space is crowded with providers fighting hard for your business. Trust me, they are willing to bend over backwards for you so ask the tough questions, grill them on features, tell them how much you have to spend and that you cannot commit to a long term contract (if indeed you can't, but some providers offer discounts on longer contracts so be sure to inquire). And while you're at it, ask them what their migration policy is just in case things don't work out with them and you need to move all of your content to another provider. You want to ensure that you maintain the rights to your content and that the provider will make a smooth transition for you should you choose to switch.
Online video can do wonders for your business, opening up your world to a whole new dimension in lead generation, brand exposure, and search engine optimization. At the end of the day, this is a strategic purchase decision, one that supports your business and is probably not core to your product offering so take your time, do your homework, and chose the perfect provider for your needs. They're out there and finding them isn't as hard as you might think.
About our Guest Author:
Kris Drey has worked within online video for the past 3 years as an executive in the online video platform space. Over the years he's watched the OVP sector become increasingly crowded and complex as new providers came into the mix offering competitive top-to-bottom, white-label video platform solutions. As a result, Kris realized the need for a service such as VidCompare.com that would bring clarity and guidance to business decision makers looking for video services. Kris tapped into his 6 years of building and managing unbiased comparison engines at CNET Networks to create a data-driven, fair, and deeply informative interactive directory of Online Video Platform providers helping first-time buyers of video find the right solution for their needs. You can read his thoughts on the OVP space at the VidCompare blog.