I just went through a very stressful experience that I thought I’d share for the benefit of others that will surely run into the same issues. I made the mistake of signing up for Vimeo and started using the service for my business’ marketing needs, and then was made aware after the fact by a friend that the Vimeo service is strictly for non-commercial purposes and that I was running the risk of being shut-off at any moment by the vimeo team. (they do indicate this on the sign up page, but it was below the fold so to speak, and I did not see it while i was reading their materials–when i saw a for $fee$ “pro” package, i just assumed that was for someone like me, who was willing to pay a fee to host videos on the web–a wrong assumption in this case).
This excellent blog post speaks to the less than stellar notification in the vimeo sign up screen. I won’t get into the vimeo bashing debate which you can read about elsewhere (particularly in their own forums), where folks express displeasure at vimeo’s lack of a commercial terms service for customers like me–i’ll just say that i was *super* happy with vimeo, loved their service, and really wanted to stay with them and would have paid market prices to stick with them (that is, i saw tremendous value in their service and wanted to pay them for the service). What i do want to elaborate on is the painful process i then went through to find a alternative, which had a happy resolution when I switched all of my videos to Brightcove.
First, some context: I’m the founder of a SaaS software company called buuteeq, and like all SaaS software companies, we use video as a primary marketing communication medium to show how our product works and to create training and sales materials. When we launched in January of 2011 we had over 50 videos, and a month later that number ballooned to over 100 (separate videos for each language we market/support, so English & Spanish as separate videos so that both V.O (voice over) and on screen graphics/UI are correctly presented to viewers). As we add French, Mandarin Chinese, and other target markets, we will very quickly end up with 100s of videos to manage. Here are core features we need as part of a video hosting/delivery solution:
- Deliver to both PC and mobile browsers (so we need HTML5/iOS compatible video as well as Flash), with the associated multiple encoding bitrates/codecs that make for a good experience depending of available bandwidth. We want to produce one video at 720p resolution (1280*720), upload that master video to a service, and have all the variations encoded for us automatically and then presented correctly to our viewers as needed.
- Our customers are all over the world, so we want our videos delivered from a content delivery network (CDN) that places the videos closer to the customer so that they load faster. China is a big target market for us, so we want a service that is not blocked in china by the chinese firewall (so that eliminates social video sites like youtube and vimeo).
- We want great analytics info on the videos so we can see how they are being loaded, played, and shared. We track a lot of our marketing materials use with Google Analytics, but for the videos itself, you really need a dedicated analytics module that is tied to the servers that are delivering the videos, and not to the pages where they are being seen. Many of the SaaS services for hosting video even provide analytics within the video, so you can see what part of the video was watched (they can do this because the video is being streamed, not progressively downloaded, and therefore know what bits were actually on screen as opposed to only knowing that a bit was downloaded but perhaps never displayed).
- We update our videos often, since our videos are largely screen recordings of our own software product which is changing all the time–so we need a quick way to replace the videos with new versions, and don’t want to have to then update the HTML pages that invoke that video (imagine uploading a new version of a video called “QuickStart Overview” and having to then go and change the code on all of our html source to point to a new video–that would *suck* and be very error prone). Most of the services call this ability “replace video”, where a new video (and all encodings of that video) replace the old files on the server but use the exact same ID codes so that all HTML loading of that video instance uses the same code. This essentially gives us a great CMS (content management system) where we can replace/change videos on the server/service, and never have to muck with the code on HTML pages that load the video. Also, this gives us continuity on statistics for the video, so we can see how that video is being watched even as the version of the video changes.
- Those are the biggies, but some additional point features that are also important include: adding a still image at the head of each video that loads in the page and looks better than just some frame from within the video itself (like a title-card), specifying post-play behavior so that when a video ends we can specify what happens next, and having a good looking/simple/clean player skin that we can just deploy (we don’t want to do any flash programming to create our own).
Some features that were NOT important to us, that are important to other customers and are a big emphasis for many of these services, include:
- we do NOT care about advertising and monetization of our videos–our videos are exclusively about telling our story, through video, and in no way are we building revenue around the videos themselves.
- we are NOT a media company, so a lot of the capabilities related to “building television channels online”, or “taking our important IP/content and protecting it while also allowing it to be distributed” are irrelevant to us.
- we are NOT looking to create social buzz around our videos–sure, we’d love for people to be fans of the videos and comment and tag and share them, but let’s not kid ourselves, our videos are product demos and training materials that will only be relevant to our target customers–so while sharing the video itself is important, having a bunch of random consumers seeing and talking about our videos is not in the cards and therefore not a priority from the service. If we do a marketing video that we hope will go viral, Youtube beckons.
So, with those requirements (and those lack of requirements), i went about looking for an alternative. Here’s a brief summary of each service I looked at, and why it wasn’t an option for me. I found many of the services on a website that the vimeo help forum recommended using to identify an alternative to their own service, http://www.vidcompare.com/. I looked at 20 or so, signed up and tested about 10, and here are my notes on the more interesting options:
First, the 2 most popular communities that come to mind immediately:
- Vimeo: way cooler than youtube, and better looking! All the features I want, particularly great looking video quality and player skin, awesome minimalist/efficient interface on their website, good enough analytics, and did I say already, I loved their service and wanted to stay on it!! Bad: blocked in china, only progressive download so no streaming (leads to great quality but slow start times), and fatally, not interested in me as a customer (they actually prohibit my use case in their TOS and would have likely shut me off at some point with little warning, as they have many others who have a bone to pick with them on their own blog posts). Hope they someday open up a “commercial use service”, but until that day, they are just not an option. And vimeo, thanks for not having shut me off–i loved you while i was with you!
- Youtube: no replace video feature, minimal analytics, no way to turn off their ugly corp logo on the video, and the possibility of them adding adds over/under/around my video at anytime without me being able to pay them for the right to not have ads.
There are many video services that are NOT intended for companies like mine (instead, they are focussed on serving “media” scenarios where the videos themselves are the monetizable content): These companies i shied away from because they (a) tended to not have the features I needed, (b) definitely did not speak to my scenario as a customer and with that I would be facing an eventual problem along the lines of the already mentioned situation with vimeo. These include all the companies with the word “tv” in their title, or “your own channel”, and a strong emphasis on monetization opportunities above all else (eg: “we’ll help you make money on your videos and build an audience”). A sampling of these type of companies: blip.tv, streamingvideoprovider, eyeview digital,
And then there are the numerous video services that *are* intended for companies like mine (commercial, marketing and training oriented content):
- ooyala: this was a close 2nd to my choice of brightcove. all the features i needed save 1–no support for wordpress.com (so we would have had to move our blog to a new service, or run our own wordpress instance). They are much pricier than Brightcove (they start at $500 and up, as opposed to $99), only offer 2 encode streams (Brightcove gives more), and are not actively targeting my exact use case/customer segment. The sales guys at ooyala were nice, but when i asked them to tell me why i should go with them over brightcove they really had no idea how to answer, and instead spoke in very broad terms about being “cutting edge” and “lots of really big media companies are choosing them”, as opposed to being able to speak to what really mattered to me. This was what really scared me off–because after my issue of having to leave Vimeo because they weren’t interested in my customer scenario/segment, the last thing I wanted to do is end up with a service that doesn’t really care about me as a target customer. With ooyala, i got the very clear signal that i was just below what they really care about in terms of price, and how my videos would be used. Charging more, offering me fewer features, and on top of it telling me how great they were without being able to be specific about the difference between them and their main competitor that i was signaling i was considering–not confidence inspiring).
Wow, I wrote this blog entry like 45 days ago and just got really busy elsewhere (alas, we launched our business and have customers to attend to!), and I just came back across this unpublished blog entry and figured I should at least publish it and hopefully someday finish it. These are the other systems I evaluated in detail:
And then there is the service I switched to and now recommend to others: Brigthcove. Here are the key highlights of their offering that make it the best choice for me: (drum-roll please… I never got around to writing this part, but intend to complete this blog entry at some point soon!! Suffice to say, we are live with Brightcove, happy with their service and support, and working with them on some feature tweaks and requests that hopefully will make the service completely perfect for us!)