When implementing video online, at any point in time, marketers face a decision: to host or post video? Short for: should we host video on our own servers (or use a propietary video platform) or post the content to video sharing sites? Although such a decision primarily depends on the chosen content strategy (generating views versus traffic), there are several factors to take into consideration.
Disclaimer - This article discusses my personal take on hosting versus posting video. I am a video marketing consultant with a tendency towards posting on video sharing sites and subsequently embedding of content on a brand site. Therefore, this not necessarily a truly objective comparison, nor the official viewpoint from ReelSEO. Read my arguments, but base your decision on your own strategic logic. I welcome your support or counter arguments, so please feel free to respond to this post below.
Video marketing defined
First up, a definition: online video marketing is all about promoting brands, products or services with video: conveying a message to a desired audience using moving pictures as a mechanism.
Sounds like a description of most any 30 second commercial, doesn't it?
The difference with traditional broadcasting, of course, is that online videos are not merely presented to an unsuspecting audience because they need to. True, you can deploy old-broadcasting-style tactics including required pre-rolls, mid-rolls, post-rolls, et cetera, to buy your way into getting the message across and drive traffic to a destination site using interactive features such as overlays or hotspots. Online video marketing, however, is primarily about creating branded content that is found, watched and shared because users want to. Your content should therefore be compelling in the first place.
Of course marketing is essentially more than product and promotion. The trade also involves the P's of Price and Place. As will be argued below price is both a function of the cost involved in hosting versus posting video (producer viewpoint), as well as price from the perspective of the end user - in what way can content be monetized? Place refers to the distribution of the content - getting it out to the end user on any device at anytime.
To host or post? That is the question
Some marketers struggle with the choice between hosting videos (on their own servers or, via a licensed video platform), and posting video on video sharing sites. Although some brands do both (see this example from Nike Skateboarding, both on YouTube and Nike.com), there are multiple factors to base such a decision on. Depending on the value you place on specific criteria, the outcome becomes clear. Below is a table that includes a set of features to consider, followed by an explanation and my personal view on it.
Before we dig in, however, I like to explain why I put so much focus on YouTube and rarely mention the other video communities. For me, this is simple: there is no comparison. Just look at recent numbers from Experian Hitwise below (thanks, Matt).
With the exception of Hulu, all of the above are video sharing sites, not propietary video platforms. With 84,26% of visits in the USA, YouTube dominates online video, beyond any doubt. Nonetheless, content syndication on multiple video sharing platforms may double your total video views, as indicated by research from TubeMogul. So, the real question is not YouTube versus your own site, but posted video versus hosted video. The table and discussion below, however, uses YouTube as an example.
Some proponents of hosted platforms, refer to the video sharing sites as UGC sites. Although most of the video sharing communities do have their roots in user generated content, they do not exclude professional content. In fact, we can expect more pros to join their ranks in the future. In the same article, Jan Ozer suggests that you should only consider posting if there is a match between your content and the target audience of the video sharing domain. This may be true for Vimeo or Blip, but not for YouTube, which is so mainstream that it addresses internet users of all ages and interests.
|Criterium||Hosted (platform)||Posted (YouTube)|
|1. Cost||Platform & hosting/delivery||Free|
|2. Concurrent users||Dependent on capacity||Virtually unlimited|
|3. Number of videos||Unlimited (depending on license)||Unlimited|
|4. Video length||Unlimited||10:59|
|5. Video size||Unlimited||Limited (2GB)|
|6. Video dimensions||Flexible||Pre-determined|
|7. Player interactivity||Flexible||Limited (annotations)|
|8. Player customization||Unlimited||Limited|
|11. Viewership statistics||Detailed||Limited (not on site)|
|12. Embeddability||Limited on some social networks||Everywhere|
|13. Effective video SEO||More Difficult||Natural|
|14. Advertising||Yes||No (user & brand channels)|
|15. Content protection/DRM||Full control||Limited control|
|16. Control over clips||Full control if streaming||Some control|
|17. Video management||Extensive when using an integrated MAM system||Limited, but distribution can be separated from storage and management|
|18. Brand image||Full control||Association with video sharing site|
|19. Overall reach||Depending on site popularity||Broad|
Many of the features marked "unlimited" in column #2 will depend on the platform or hosting method chosen.
Navigation: You may use the built-in anchor-links to move back and forth between the table and my argumentation.
Indeed, cost can be a biggy. Unlike most broadcasting systems, online video costs tend to increase as you get more eyeballs. If you host videos on your own server (or get a license from a video platform), cost indeed is an issue. Not so on video sharing sites, other than the cost it takes to create and manage the content. Most video sharing sites are free (some impose limitations and charge for extra features). Whether this will continue indefinitely remains to be seen. On YouTube, user channels are free in terms of cost. Originally, the terms of service stipulated that you could not use the platform for blatant commercial purposes. These rules were never really strictly adhered to. Most likely because Google simply does not have the resources to weed out those that break them. Recently, however, Google updated its terms of service which allows for brands to upload original content, even if it is intended to promote a business (see TOS, section 4E). Still, brands should seriously consider upgrading to a brand channel. For now, this requires a one-time investment which marketers effectively get back in display advertising budget for additional promotion of the content. Therefore, you pay for promotion of the channel, not the additional design and functional benefits (see my previous article on YouTube brand channels). Compared to the ongoing licenses of video platforms and hosting fees, a brand channel on YouTube can be a very attractive alternative.
Concurrent usage depends on how you organize your hosting. If you host your video on your own server, the number of concurrent users is limited to the width of your pipe (or that of your host). True, certain video systems support dynamic bit-rates, but unless your bandwidth pipe is flexible or you deploy multi-casting techniques, traffic jams easily arise. Having the necessary flexibility is where Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) come into play. By bringing content to the edges of the network (pre-caching) or setting up a single unicast stream from the server (mainly useful for live streams), which is then replicated (multi-casted) at the edges, concurrent usage can expand and contract as needed. But all this comes at additional cost, of course. If you do not have live video, posting to video sharing sites and then embedding the content on your own site solves such issues in a whim and, above all, is a lot cheaper (for now: free). Being the current undisputed leader in online video, Google has servers, CDNs and what-not deployed all over the world. Above all, contrary to what most analysts believe, Google does not pay as much for hosting as the company benefits from peering agreements at unpredecented scale. Unless you're a company the size of Google, such advantages cannot be matched.
With the equivalent of 60,000 feature films a week (a figure that needs to be updated on a monthly basis), YouTube effectively acts as the world's dominant resource and repository for video. For now, there is no limit to how many videos you can post to YouTube. On your own platform, the number is determined by either your hosting provider (size of server space) or the license terms of your video platform.
Originally, back in 2005, YouTube had no limit to the length of the videos. In order to effectively weed out those that were uploading copyrighted content (feature films, TV series), the folks at YouTube imposed a limit of ten minutes back in 2006. Should this be a factor to consider, you should really, and I repeat, REALLY ask yourself why you have longer video items. If you do, ask yourself if you cannot break it up in seperate segments. Watch this example of one of my clients where I re-purposed videos, by breaking them up in logical segments and posting them as a series on YouTube (the source was a 25-minute DVD).
As time progresses, things change. The limit on YouTube used to be 100MB, then grew to 1GB as YouTube went widescreen in november 2008 and now it is 2GB. Much like the ballooing size of your Gmail account, it does not really matter anymore. It may be a factor to the uncompressed size of your video, before you upload. Thanks to the efficiency of the H.264 codec, you can upload more quickly to YouTube, using one of the pre-determined settings from most any video editing suite.
Although until recently video used to be confined to broadcasting standards (remember scan lines and pixel aspect ratios?), digital video can take any size or shape you want. Video dimensions can indeed be a crucial factor, as the pre-determined sizes of video sharing sites may not best match your website design. Sites that deliver a full screen branding experience (such as Barcardi) have video included as part of their full-featured flash site. Other sites use non-standard video dimensions for video. If this is not an issue, the standard sizes of posted videos may fit just fine (see also embeddability).
Most embedded players allow users basic interactivity, such as play/pause/rate/favorite/flag up to somewhat more advanced featured that YouTube annotations offer. Using Flash (and more recently Silverlight) as a development platform, you can indeed achieve stunning things with interactive video. However, with a little creativity you can also use the annotations feature on YouTube very effectively: see this example of Holland Casino.
Player customization can provide best results if you build it from scratch in flash. Propietary video platforms also allow for extensive customization of look & feel, controls et cetera. Although YouTube and other video sharing sites allow for some level of player customization (see picture), it is quite basic. For example, thePlatform's mpsConnect allows for more control than YouTube does.
Customization on YouTube is not as limited as many tend to think or want to believe, however. Through the YouTube API you can do somewhat further tweaking with the chromeless player. An often-heard argument is that brand owners want to prevend 'related items' from showing up in the embedded player on their own site. If your competitor has uploaded videos to YouTube as well, they may end up being played on your website. Today, this is a non-argument since it is easy to remove related videos: simply by appending &rel=0&showsearch=0 to the embed code, or deselecting the option Include related videos from the embed code customization menu. Also, you can also use the argument &autoplay=1 to automatically jump-start the video, or jump to specific segments within the video by appending the code #t=0m49s to the video URL (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-AxbthxSVw#t=0m49s) to start at 0 minutes and 49 seconds.
Video platforms such as Brightcove and thePlatform provide more extensive control over video playlists by allowing you to assign them to specific video players. YouTube's playlists are quite basic: create, edit or embed them. However, the value of working with playlists inside YouTube has more to do with video SEO than control of the order in which videos are played back. YouTube hands out prime real estate in the SERPs for playlists, so it is worthwhile to create and manage them.
Monetization of video content is mostly limited to advertising on YouTube. As I argued in my previous article, Google does not allow brand channel owners to buy ads against their own content. Therefore, if you plan to use video to enable people to purchase products or services on your site, or you run your own advertising network, you are probably better off developing something yourself. For media partners, Google offers solutions to monetize content, even if it concerns material uploaded by other users on the site.
Although YouTube offers some detailed statistics through the built-in feature Insight, most of it is aggregated and not detailed by site. Most video platforms (e.g. Brightcove, Quadia or thePlatform) or even third-party video tracking service providers such as TubeMogul (through In-Play) offer possibilities to track videos at a very detailed level. Using the JW Player from Longtail Video (which allows you to embed videos from YouTube) you can also include a plugin that will provide somewhat more detailed stats, such as how long people are watching. The answer of hosted or posted here really depends on the level of detail required. If aggregate views and other Insight data suffices posted video works; if you need more detail either adding an extra layer over the embedded YouTube player on your own site may work. If that still does not meet your statistic requirements a self-hosted solution is the best choice.
Given that this probably isn't proper English (yet), no other site in world is more universally embeddable than YouTube. If you want to actively post (seed) video on most any social network (or allow users to do so), chances are that the YouTube embed code will be accepted by default, whereas more exotic embed codes from propietary video platforms are refused by default. For example, Hyves, the leading social network in the Netherlands, by default refuses most gadget embed code. Brands are required to commit media investments to the site (much like Google's scheme for upgrading to brand channel status) in order to get their player accepted. This is not true for the YouTube embed code, which is accepted by default.
In fact, using YouTube as a video source embedded on your own site may be smart thing to do. Since views on embedded plays are added to the total, your own site may become a factor in propelling the video higher up the YouTube charts. This is what you may consider Single Source Video. Examples of brands employing this tactic can be found large and small. Keep in mind that adjustment of the embed code might be necessary to prevend related videos from being shown at the end of the video. In my humble opinion, one thing YouTube should consider is enabling their paying brand channel owners to showcase the videos from the 'More from [channel]'-box inside the embedded player.
Contrary to what you might expect, video search engine optimization is not about moving pictures at all — it's about descriptive text. The metadata used to describe the video (title, description, tags) determine how it is found online in search engines. Although ReelSEO offers tips on how to optimize video on your own site for search engines and Google now includes video in some search results (the infamous Universal Search), most of the time the results include videos from YouTube. Even results on the video tab inside Google (do you ever go there when you look for video?) are dominated by the most popular video platform in the world, with other video sharing sites such as Metacafe, Vimeo or Google Video coming in later. Rarely, proprietary video sources appear in the SERPs. Why? Because there is a community behind video sharing sites and this most likely not the case with your own site.
YouTube does not monetize content from user channels - yet. Even though propietary video platforms use such an argument in their sales pitch, you don't have to be afraid that ads will start to appear if you upload stuff to YouTube. So starting up a user channel on YouTube and then embedding the content on your own site will not result in in-video ads being shown. One exception applies, however. If you use copyrighted material (music or movies) inside the content, YouTube's content management system (CMS) kicks in. Depending on the choice given to the copyright owner, either the item is made unavailable altogether, the embed feature is disabled ('Block') or ads are displayed ('Monetize'). Aside from this watermarking technology on copyrighted material, YouTube only monetizes partner content. In my previous post, I suggest that Google should enable advertisers to be able to exclusively buy ad positions against their own content.
DRM is dead. Users hate it as it typically stands for Digital Restrictions Management. From a video promotion perspective, there really is no reason why you should want to protect your video. Unless your business depends on monetization of copyrighted materials (i.e. you are Hulu), you want your message to be wherever your audience is. And even if you do depend on content monetization, there are ways to use YouTube for that very purpose. For example, the Dutch public broadcasters use YouTube effectively as a barker channel — every day, a few short form versions of broadcast programs are published on YouTube with a link in the video description to the full program on their own portal (omroep.nl).
Further to the previous point, an often heard argument is that posting videos on video sharing sites means that you cannot control them any longer. In many ways you can. Even if the clip is embedded on a million blogs, as a channel owner you control its appearance simply by changing the availability from public to private. As you also choose to allow embedding, rating and commenting. From a video marketing perspective these are typically not the smartest things to do, but if you want to, you can. YouTube even allows brand and partner channel owners to determine in which parts of the world the clips can be shown through a feature called GEO-blocking.
Indeed, downloading clips from YouTube is a piece of cake. This is a result of YouTube using a progressive download mechanism as opposed to a streaming media solution. Plug-ins inside the browser allow users to click and download the content. Much like the DJ-talk on the radio that effectively took away the motivation to hit record button of your tapedeck in the old days, you can use leaders, idents/bugs, lower thirds and payoffs to the same effect. And even if users download the content and re-upload it to YouTube under their own user channel, YouTube effectively offers partners to track and monetize content by automatically showing ads.
Brands that have extensive libraries of video content need to be able to store and manage those assets. This is where Media Asset Management (MAM) is needed. I am all in favour of such solutions as I too believe that depending on YouTube as your central repository is not sufficient. For one, you can hardly re-use assets from YouTube as the quality is too low for professional use. But whether or not you use a MAM system for archiving and retrieval purposes can be seperated fully from your content distribution strategy.
How fast brand images can change is reflected in recent research from Google which indicates that YouTube now is a cool brand to be associated with. Not so long ago, the video sharing site was strictly associated with user generated content and youth. Some advertisers still prefer not to have the YouTube watermark featured inside a video player, but this is quickly changing. T-Mobile in the United Kingdom, for example, chose to center its online campaign for the T-Mobile dance around YouTube, communicating www.t-mobile.co.uk/youtube in all assets. On that landing page, you can see videos from the T-Mobile campaign embedded on the site. More and more brands are setting up brand channels on YouTube.
Back in 2007 every brand wanted to set up its own WebTV channel. For the first time in history, brands could forego mass media and create channels of their own. Or so they thought. Perhaps inspired by the Wassup commercial that went truly viral, Anheuser-Busch thought the Bud brand franchise was strong enough to attract a loyal audience to a destination site. Following Superbowl 2007, Bud.tv was launched.
We have all witnessed what happened to the site with A-B losing a cool $35m-or-so in the process. Surprisingly, it took until February 2009 before the site was closed. A critical factor in the failure of this concept had to do with the age limitations imposed on the site - simply because the owner was a beer manufacturer. Another one was the lack of video sharing options. What was at Bud, stayed at Bud. My conclusion: brands cannot go it alone - they need media to generate the necessary traffic. My advice: think distributed.
Based on the above criteria, you can create a balanced scoring card. Add up the total and determine whether to self-host or post your video.
My take on this is that, unless your business is dependent on monetization of content (again, you are Hulu), chances are that the odds will be in favour of posting video. Nonetheless, doing both may be an option as well. That way, you can leverage the wide reach of video sharing sites, use them to drive traffic to your own site and then delight your customers with even more stunning stuff.