December 8, 2009 – The complexities of serving the Web media publishing needs of everyone who wants to put video to use online have reached mind-boggling proportions, prompting major enhancements to established Web publishing platforms and a spate of innovations on the part of niche applications suppliers.
"Video is going to be as pervasive as text on the Web," says Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing at Brightcove, one of the leaders in Web publishing. "Everybody is becoming a Web video publisher these days, including independent publishers, small sites, enterprises and institutions as well as the big media outlets. We're making adjustments to serve the broader market as well as taking steps that address the needs of our high-end customers."
Those adjustments have led to rollout of major new release of the company's platform, Brightcove 4, with enhancements that include support for native iPhone video application development, expanded live streaming capabilities, advanced analytics and new resources for video distribution, monetization and custom video applications. Brightcove has also acted to make its video publishing platform accessible at all levels of the market by introducing new price points starting as low as $99 per month for a service that retains the core features of Brightcove 4.
"We're seeing increasing demand from customers with video projects that are limited in scope with smaller media libraries and smaller traffic requirements," Whatcott says. "Sometimes when companies bring out entry-level products, the offerings are so crippled they're not really useful. We're very fortunate to have enough features essential to larger players to be able to offer these as part of our professional level of service while providing an entry-level service that really addresses the requirements at the lower end of the market."
Beyond internal platform adjustments, efforts to meet the needs of all comers are driving Web publishing service suppliers to partner with an ever-expanding array of applications developers, which allows customers to tailor the publishing supplier's service to precisely fit a given business model. thePlatform, for example, recently announced it has integrated its Web publishing system with applications from another 20 companies, augmenting customers' options in areas such as asset management, protection, community creation, mobile, reporting and analytics, transcoding and content delivery, syndication and discovery.
"The entire broadband ecosystem is really a dynamic place with companies coming and going all the time, so we're always working with companies to see how their value propositions play out for our customer base," says Marty Roberts, vice president of marketing for thePlatform. "In this case, almost all the 20 new partners we've announced are in trial with or have an existing deployment with a customer."
The "meat-and-potatoes kind of integration" thePlatform applies to making such companies' applications work as extensions of its media publishing system occurs after extensive review and "sand box" testing within thePlatform Framework process, Roberts adds. "We're really focusing on companies whose value has been validated by customer adoption," he says. "Our role is to make online video publishing a seamless process for our customers and allow them to easily publish their content regardless of the technical requirements."
One application arena where demand is driving a lot of innovation and new partners to thePlatform Framework is advertising. "We're continuing to invest in next-generation advertising systems like EyeWonder and Auditude," Roberts says, noting the new contributors to ad apps also include Brightroll and YuMe.
The latter "have an important impact on advertising networks by allowing companies to tune in and out of various ad network options and to fine tune their use of ad networks based on what inventory they want to sell directly to advertisers and what inventory they want to give to ad networks," he adds. "If you can sell 50 percent of that inventory at a high rate it might make sense to do that yourself and let the ad networks sell the rest. Our customers are looking at all these options, whether it's Google Ad Sense or Brightroll or YuMe, and asking what's the optimum approach to maximizing ad revenues."
While most customers opt to bring just one ad network into the picture using one of these solutions to manage the placement flow between ad network and in-house ad server placements, the technology allows for even greater flexibility with use of multiple ad networks to optimize those placements. "Most publishers haven't gotten to that level of sophistication, but it's there," Roberts says.
Support for more advanced advertising modes is a priority of the new Brightcove 4 system as well. Whatcott says the new capabilities offer more control and efficiency in ad operations with access to new advertising networks and ad servers from Google, Yahoo, FreeWheel and the OpenX ad serving platform, as well as support for Video Ad Serving Template (VAST), the new industry standard enabling publishers to work with multiple ad servers and networks.
"We've always had support for multiple ad servers, but now we're adding more ad servers as well as the latest versions of brands we've integrated with in the past," Whatcott notes. For example, Open X, which provides an open-source-based ad server platform for free download to content publishers, extends the in-house ad server option to video distributors who traditionally haven't been able to afford their own ad servers. "OpenX also offers software as a service with the capabilities of an ad server that would cost a lot more to buy or use," he adds.
"Typically smaller sites go with ad networks and larger sites with ad servers," he says. "What we've seen lately is that more and more customers say they'd really like to have an ad server if they could afford it."
With the integration of its platform with various ad servers Brightcove provides support for accurate ad targeting, Watcott notes. "When we build ad server integration we have to make sure we're passing the right information to them about the video itself," he explains. "We tell them, 'I'm about to play a video about horses targeting 14 year old girls, and I'm delivering that video in the U.S. at 7 at night right at home work time.' Now the ad server can say, 'I have the perfect ad for that girl.'"
Ad server integration with Brightcove also allows the publisher to offer an ad package with awareness of the entire page environment. "For example, you might want to run a pre-roll ad with the video along with a companion banner on the page," Whatcott explains. "That 14-year-old-girl comes to the page and before she sees the horse video, the pre-roll runs an ad for shampoo, and next to that video player on the page appears a banner ad for the same shampoo that stays on the page the whole time she's watching the video. We have to work closely with the ad server systems to make such things possible."
"We've also completely overhauled the analytics capabilities in Brightcove," he continues, acknowledging that "in the past this has been a soft spot." Enhanced analytics provide in-depth insight into viewer engagement and the overall value of an organization's video content by highlighting the most effective and ineffective initiatives, he explains.
"For example, the functionality supporting engagement reports gives you the ability to monitor viewing on a particular video," he says. "As you watch you can see where there might be a drop-off rate in audience, which helps you to identify the most interesting content segments and where it might make the most sense to place ads or where you might want to reshoot segments to increase audience participation."
Another type of report allows content publishers to see what the geographic breakdown is for a particular video's audience. "You can also look at things like the number of new viewers you have and how many are attracted over a particular period as well as how many minutes they viewed," he says.
The innovations adding new functionalities to Web media publishing processes are seemingly endless. Even in long-established applications areas like asset management new capabilities promise radical improvements to the old ways of doing things.
One of the new entities integrated with thePlatform is Aspera, which makes it possible to transfer large files much faster than before. "If you look at very big video files like the source files we're getting today, you need to be able to routinely move those files out to the transcode farm or to the CDN with as little impact on your bandwidth resources as possible," Roberts says. "Aspera optimizes those transfers at a moment when we're dealing with TV shows and movies that have to be pushed around the network at very high levels of quality."
Another new ingredient to thePlatform menu comes from Platformic, a content management system that works with thePlatform's player and metadata. "They read off our feeds to obtain all the information about the content and the links to where our player resides," Roberts explains. "With access to that information you can easily add a highest-rated-video widget to a Web site that uses our player and our link to that video to enable your users to watch that video. It's a pretty fast, easy way to build out an entire Web site with video enhancements."
The granularity of all these new applications adds up to a new generation of support systems for a new era in video publishing where virtually any type of supplier can support any type of business model with minimal technical expertise. What comes next could be fairly disruptive to how the commercial video marketplace with its dominant big network suppliers has worked through the early years in broadband communications.