This is the first in a three-part blog series covering streaming video: part one - its value, part two - adaptive bitrate streaming, and part three - the HTTP live streaming/HLS standard. imgix will be adding video optimization in 2022 — if you foresee a need for this, contact us at email@example.com.
Imagine a photo of a tropical beach resort on a travel website. Enticing? How about a video — the gentle waves wash ashore as the camera pans and zooms to a vacationer sipping a Mai Tai. Isn’t it more inviting?
While images continue to be vital for online businesses and media, the prevalence and the appeal of videos are increasingly apparent:
- 90% of U.S. digital consumers use YouTube, the most visited site in the world.
- Americans spent over an hour and a half daily watching video on their devices in 2020.
- 96% of consumers have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.
If one picture is worth a thousand words, one video is worth an untold number of static images. And online consumers want the richest user experience possible.
Be careful taking your first steps in video streaming
Many websites start off by posting video content on a “free” hosting service such as YouTube. There are many benefits such as a broader reach, an easy user interface, and a broad range of analytics. For websites that want to stream videos without YouTube, the ins and outs of encoding, decoding, transcoding, and hosting technologies aren’t simple and it’s easy to jump at a popular solution. However, there is a clear downside to this approach. YouTube isn’t exactly free.
The point of a product video is to get someone to watch, learn, and make a purchase. Now imagine that a visitor watches a video about your product on YouTube and then, when it’s over, another video pops up — from your competitor. Or, the visitor sees an adjoining list of a dozen videos, some related to your product and others placed based on your visitor’s viewing habits. Your conversion rate just might be affected as your visitor wanders off to other content.
Branding is another issue. You probably have a watermark or logo embedded in your content. When your content plays on a free video player or a site like YouTube, your brand symbol competes with the host’s. This may not seem like a dealbreaker, but these distractions add up over thousands or tens of thousands of views and gnaw at your hard-earned brand equity.
It’s important to keep in mind that YouTube prospers by generating as many views as possible on a wide variety of content. Essentially, your video is just a stepping stone on a path to someone else’s content — and someone else’s and then someone else’s. Your goal is for someone to click on your video, stay on your web page, experience your branding, and to click “buy.” You won’t get that with a free service.
What it takes to deliver a great video experience
If you want to host streaming video content on your own site, many providers offer sophisticated video hosting solutions with different degrees of service, cost, and capacity. Yet there’s a lot to consider as you investigate different offerings. To help, here’s a primer on the four most important activities that are part of publishing your videos and what you should look for as you evaluate providers. Ideally, the provider minimizes the time you have to spend in making your video content available. Once you sign on, publishing optimized streaming videos should be a breeze.
- Uploading content — You should be able to set up uploads from any location, whether it’s your on-premises server or AWS S3 buckets, using nothing more complicated than a URL. The provider should support virtually any input format and compression codec (there are hundreds).
- Processing — Just-in-time encoding means that compression takes place as it’s streamed to the viewer. This can noticeably reduce how long it takes for someone to start actually watching a video. Audio should be automatically normalized so videos don’t start out jarringly loud or hard to hear. Lastly, adaptive bitrate streaming should guarantee that viewers are able to watch your content without interruptions at the highest resolution that network bandwidth and their devices will support.
- Streaming — The most effective content includes subtitles and closed captioning to reach international audiences. You should be able to add watermarks and logos, and the provider’s API should make generating thumbnails and screen captures simple.
- Analytics — Detailed metrics are essential to all aspects of your sales and marketing efforts. Views, unique viewers, and watch-duration stats are just the beginning. You’ll also want quality of experience (QoE) data in several categories to know how well your streams are performing.
To sum up, if you’re not strapped-in to the streaming video rocket, it’s time. The technologies have evolved to the point where it’s virtually as quick to watch a video as it is to look at a static image. And the richer the customer experience, the better for your bottom line. “Free” video hosting solutions, where your videos are simply stepping stones to other’s videos, don’t perform adequately. Competing content and compromised branding waste a lot of your work.
Our next blog post will get more technical and explain adaptive bitrate streaming and several other concepts you should understand such as encoding/decoding and transcoding. And again, if you’re thinking about how imgix can deliver a top streaming video service for your sales and marketing efforts, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.