Web Video 101: From Codecs to Syndication

By Staff Published on .

Broadband 101
Consumers are eating up broadband video—they watch their news, look for favorite entertainment, and seek distraction online, and want new, distinctive content constantly.
Does it seem like everyone’s talking about broadband video, but you’re still in the preliminary stages of getting your video online? Then it’s time to get educated and get a plan.
What are the technologies you need? What has to happen first? What are the best practices to get your video out there? That’s what this paper is all about.
The Basics
The elements you’ll need for the most successful broadband video launch may come from various sources and vendors, but they’ll have to be united in a way that lets you nail down the essentials of the broadband video process:
--Uploading – Getting your content into a management system
--Transcoding – Saving your video into different formats for different players or mediums (Web sites, mobile phones, etc.)
--Adding metadata – Data like author, title, etc., that helps users find your video, informs them of its content, and helps you manage it in a more granular way

--Controlling access – Ensuring that your videos are shown or shared in ways that are in line with your business goals

--Publishing – getting your media to the sites where you want it to be seen

--Presentation – ensuring that people seeing your media have a good experience so they keep coming back to your videos

Of course, there are myriad processes you can slip between these bullets—maybe you need to track down extra content to support your new video offerings. Or perhaps you require multiple levels of administrator permissions so you can manage the content and review processes within your production team. What we’ll cover in this paper are the basics, with references to some of these other considerations.
Is broadband video publishing daunting? It certainly can be, as it’s an area that’s evolving so quickly that you’d have to do daily research and subscribe to a dozen dedicated newsfeeds to keep up. But thePlatform takes the vagueness and vexation out of the equation.
We stay on top of the news and technologies, and hone our services to take advantage of new developments. So when you have a conversation with us, we can relay to you the industry changes that may have an impact on your business.
Why Go Online?
According to a 2007 viewer study, nearly 60% of adult consumers surveyed stated that they watch online video. More businesses are recognizing that broadband video can help them target audiences, generate real revenues, and gain creative control of the user experience. Broadband video supports your brand in a way that breathes vitality into and extends the life of your business. It adds flavor, perspective, and additional information to your existing pages, increasing audience engagement with your site.
Going online was an easy choice for broadcast television companies, who needed to follow their audiences into the web. They could see that releasing titles via controllable on-demand channels has an additional benefit as a foothold in the battle against piracy. But time has shown that online video benefits business models beyond just those of broadcast TV. Because of broadband’s open distribution paths and rapidly improving technologies, content providers, broadband portals, and video aggregators are finding online video initiatives much easier to launch. Broadband is opening up, and there’s room for any business that wants to extend its brand into video.
Where to Find the Content
Television networks and cable programmers have mined their stockpiles of content, knowing that supporting video and audio clips make newer offerings more interesting to their audience. If you haven’t yet surveyed your archives, it’s time to check out what your audience has been missing. Very often businesses have a lot of content laying around that could pull in a very large online viewership, either by itself, or when used as supporting material for related content. Content in your archives can increase viewer interest, whether it bolsters video you own or that you syndicate on your site. Look on your shelves and in your digital asset management system for overlooked or forgotten content. Chances are there is a demand for it.
To help you get started with the process, we’ve developed a list of major content sources from which you can harvest media that paves the way for broadband video business success. Take this content, get it into a digital library, and add value with commerce and advertising solutions that use IP based-communication and Web-based presentation. The audience is out there, and waiting for you to dig through your attic. Here are some ideas of what to haul down the stairs:
--Use your archives. Whether you’re a local TV station with a cache of lifestyle and health stories, or a nationally-known house rehab specialist with a tool trunk filled with hundreds of instructional gems like “Wainscoting for Beginners,” associating this material with your new content can turn your site into an online destination for viewers.
--Live broadcast captures. Reuse program content that originally aired live and drop it into clips of current stories of related content. If you’ve got unedited live broadcast files, review them for interesting material that may not have had as much relevance the first time around, but has become pertinent over time.
--Digital video in a digital asset management (DAM) system. What does your programming and production department have on hand? Does your organization have a purchasing agent or cataloging professional who manages audiovisual titles? Work with your staff to identify the keepers of this content. They might be able to offer an invaluable overview of assets you didn’t know you had.
--Tapes. Remember tapes? They’re those blocky things taking up shelf space in your storeroom, but they can be more useful supporting breaking news or giving context to related stories. A clip of the big wind that sank the bridge in ’79 alongside coverage of last night’s storm will grab the interest of a wider audience. If you’re outsourcing your tape conversion, request video portfolios from your digital conversion specialists to make sure you’re getting the highest quality for your investment.
--In addition, ask your audience. When you incorporate content generated by users, you create a two-way conversation that changes viewers’ experience from bystanders to that of participants.
Which Formats?
After you get your content into a system, it’s time to format it. The formats you need depend on where you’re sending your media, as different media have disparate technical requirements. You may need to create more compressed versions of your video for viewing within a browser or for faster download for viewers without broadband connections. Perhaps you want viewers to be able to watch video as it downloads. Or maybe support for both Windows and Mac players is important for your viewership.
In addition to selecting the appropriate formats for your own sites, you may also have to provide additional formats to those sites to which you are syndicating media. For example, if you’re syndicating to a mobile carrier, you need to provide files in formats that work on their devices.
Some considerations when selecting formats:
Who is your target audience?
What kind of video/audio quality is required?
What kind of file security is needed?
Are you posting live or on-demand media?

Most videos files have at least two types of file formats, the container and the codec: The video file container holds data like audio and video, which have been compressed using codecs. Codecs compress files so they take up less storage space on a computer and can more quickly be transmitted across the Internet.
Following are some common container formats for broadband video. Note that there may be exceptions— some formats will play on certain platforms only if a special plug-in is installed, or some videos will play on a device only if the correct codecs are in the container file.

Format Description Compatible platforms

3GPP, 3G2

Specifications for creating, delivering, and playing back
media over high-speed broadband mobile networks to
multimedia-enabled cell phones. Intended for mobile, but
playable on desk/laptops.

Mac
Windows
mobile

Flash Video (.flv)
Flash video is compact and supports both progressive and
streaming downloads.

Mac
Windows
mobile

MPEG-4
Used for streaming media video on the web, CDs, and broadcast television.

Mac
Windows
mobile

Windows Media Video (.wmv)

Used for several proprietary codecs developed by Microsoft.

Non-Windows computers require that an extra (free) component be installed. Some newer-format Windows Media video cannot play on non-Windows computers. Supports mobile, depending on the codec used.

Ingest and Store
Once you’ve got your files digitized, it’s time to get it into a system that will help you manage and publish them.
Uploading your media should be easy. If your media harvest was successful, you’ll have a lot of media to place on your video site or broadband channel, and you don’t want your producers spending their entire day uploading files one by one.
You’ll have the greatest amount of success and create the least amount of work for yourself if the system to which you upload your media includes the ability to group all the file data into a single “media object” containing all of the different media formats, bitrates, thumbails, and associated metadata for each piece of content. This makes it easier to manage all items in the group as a single entity, saving you time.
Ways to upload your media include:
--Ingest Wizards: Wizards are interfaces for uploading content, and should allow you to simply identify your appropriate video files, easily input optional or required metadata by target destination, and publish to your site or syndicate to other sites.
--XML posts and SOAP attachments: If your broadband publishing service is a hosted Web-based solution, you should be able to use XML, SOAP, or other programmatic processes. These are helpful in high-volume publishing scenarios or when you need to support a specific backend publishing workflow.
--FTP upload: If you are uploading large volumes of content at a time, file transfer protocol (FTP) upload may work well for you. It’s helpful if your broadband video management system uses a server object model, which allows you to upload files as a group.
The system you use to upload your media should allow you to set up multiple levels of administrator permissions. Do you want to give producers full control of all content management processes, storage server and delivery network definitions, and definition of licensing models? Establish a permissions scheme that helps you partition roles and support a workflow that maps to your specific business objectives.
If you syndicate your content, you also may want to make sub-accounts available to distribution partners. It all depends on your business model and how you’d like to control administrative access to your media.
Time to Transcode
So how do you get your files into these multiple formats? You’ll need to transcode, which is a method of converting files from one format to another. Transcoding can change:
--bitrate – the number of bits per second devoted to storing the final output file; the higher the bitrate, the greater resolution and quality
--frame rate – the number of frames or images displayed per second; used to synchronize audio with the video
--frame size – (also called aspect ratio) the displayed width divided by the displayed height; a proper frame size is essential to displaying video without distortion
Transcoding can also convert the file into a different compression standard to reduce the bandwidth necessary to transmit it.
Why transcode? Broadband video is distributed to viewers using different devices and connections. File transcoding is necessary to tailor content so that the device or Web site to which you are sending the content can play it. Your viewers might be watching your media on mobile phones, for example, which may have limited display capabilities or computing power and can’t handle high-quality video, frame rates, bitrates, or compression. So you have to provide a file that has been optimized to support these devices. Or maybe you need to distribute your video to viewers on multiple Web sites that all have different capacities and can only display specific bitrates.
Transcoding Planning
Before you transcode, you’ll need to know:
--the devices, players, or mediums to which you want to publish
--what format(s) your source files are in
This information will determine the encoding software services or vendors you’ll need to use. Encoding or device profiles determine the output format of the new output media file, including audio/video codecs, extensions, and bitrates.
Your broadband video management system should provide technologies or integrate with other tools that:
--encode video into multiple bitrates and streaming formats
--help you control what formats you’re making available
--give you control over who can see your media
--give you options regarding where your media is stored

The Importance of Metadata
As your digital video archive grows, so does the need for metadata. You apply metadata to content so viewers can find and play your media, and so your producers can work with the files more easily. Metadata greatly simplifies the tasks of organizing, locating, and selecting content from a digital media file collection that may easily number in the thousands or more.
Your viewers will use metadata applied to search for, filter, and play the files they want. Common metadata elements with which your users will interact include author, title, and topic category.
In addition to using the same metadata your viewers use, your media producers will need metadata applied in order to flag videos, fine-tune access to certain content, and aggregate files. Common metadata elements with which your producers will interact include publication date, rights information, categories, geo-targeting data, and expiration date. Your business will likely have custom needs in terms of the number and types of metadata fields used to describe and manage content within your workflow and business model.
Applying the Metadata
You can apply metadata to your media in a number of ways. Your broadband video solution should give you the options that meet your needs.
Add the metadata when the file is uploaded. Set up categories and metadata fields in your management system and apply them to groups of files or individual files.
Use your DAM system. DAMs are libraries of files that can be searched, categorized, used, or distributed. Your DAM’s pre-established metadata and vocabulary can help you develop the metadata structure for your broadband video management system. Use the description, author, user role, and other labels already applied to the files in your DAM.
Controlling Who Sees Your Media
You can throw everything out there for free, but that defeats the goals of your business. Unless you’re running a free-for-all user-generated content site, you’ll want to apply business rules to your media.
Adding Policies
Apply policies to your content to control when content is available, who can access it, when it expires, and what delivery methods are allowed. To do this, you’ll need technologies that support common business scenarios and integrate with external eBusiness systems. Common broadband video controls include:
--Content restrictions. Scope content usage to respect your business requirements, such as restricting media so it can be accessed only on certain dates or in certain geographies. You may want to restrict the delivery methods that are allowed for your media, and place controls in your system to retain expired media for regulatory or compliance purposes.
--End-user restrictions. You may want to control user access via an integration with your existing “single sign-on” authentication application. Your system can then perform all the response tasks (prompting the user for ID and password if necessary), and either generate a license directly, or use a broadband video management system to pass the license information and grant access.
--Pricing policies. You’ll need to monetize your video. What kinds of transactions will you offer on your site? Your broadband video management system should be able to support the ones your business needs. You may have complex pricing schemes in which viewers pay a low introductory fee, and then are charged monthly thereafter. Other common pricing policies include free trial periods, pay-per-view, and pay-per-download.
--Advertising policies. Will your videos be supported with advertising? There are many ad presentation models to consider, such as ad frequency and patterns (before each video? every third clip?), and formats (pre-roll? overlays?). Make sure you have a tight integration with your advertising campaign management system to target and track your ads.
Protecting Content with DRM
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a powerful tool for owners of high-value content to secure the access and delivery of their assets.
DRM is an encryption technology that actually modifies the file in such a way that it is “locked” until a user is given a “key.” When an end user attempts to access an encrypted file, they receive a prompt for an ID and password. When validated, the end user gets a license and decryption key, and can then access and watch the decrypted media.
Digital rights can also be revoked—should an end user no longer be authorized to access the content, service providers can disable
content playback on PCs or devices. You should be able to tailor DRM to your meet your preferences and business objectives.
Publishing your content
Choosing a Content Delivery Network
A large library of video may require that you select a content delivery network (CDN) to host your files once you publish them. What should you look for in a CDN? The selection process isn’t one that can be addressed briefly.
You need to consider a lot of factors in judging the best value: quality of service, the number of sites to which you are allowed to upload, and what reports and alerts are offered. CDNs can be costly, but there are ways to reduce the amount you invest:
--Apply policies that govern how traffic is allocated between internal resources and outside CDNs, or direct traffic to multiple CDNs to ensure that contractual caps are never surpassed.
--Move older files out of high-cost CDN storage to your own in-house storage as the audience moves on to newer content.
--Negotiate advantageous contracts that work best for your business.
Your broadband video management system should integrate with the CDNs you work with, and the system vendors need the skills to help you optimize how your traffic is distributed, taking into account factors such as your in-house resources.
Syndication
Syndication is a great way to pull in more viewers and sell your media. If other sites are running your content, you’ll need to create usage plans to nail down the policies for sharing media with those distribution partners.
Each partner may have different requirements—file formats, submission rules, etc.—so you’ll need to make sure your video management system can handle the technical requirements.
Media Feeds
A media feed is the equivalent of a programming guide for your content. It can contain as much of your metadata as you wish, and may even include your thumbnail images. The feed is formatted so that other systems and web sites can read the information and act on it.
This may include a video search engine indexing your content or a partner site that includes links to your content. Your media player can also subscribe to your feed to ensure your latest content is automatically available for viewing. Feeds are a great way to give viewers visibility into the depth and breadth of the content you have available.
Viewer Experience
Viewers have very simple, straightforward desires: they want to effortlessly play videos online, they want high quality, and they want to control their own viewing experience. You need to deliver these things to make them stay on your site, and to bring them back again and again.
Make it Easy for Them
You’ve had the experience of clicking a link to watch a video and seeing a separate window pop up. You have to manually close the new window, and sometimes you’re kicked out of the page you were on. If that annoys you, you can be sure it annoys your viewers as well. A way around this is to embed a media player in your site.
Using an embedded player makes it easier for viewers to play your videos, because they don’t have to have a particular player application installed on their system to view the file.
Using Flash is an easy way to embed video in your site. Flash is supported on all platforms and in all browsers, and Flash players can be customized to reflect your company’s branding. Because Flash has such a widespread install base, there are many developers who can help you create great user interfaces that work on many devices. Giving viewers a better experience keeps them coming back to your site and your media.
Get the Look
To the viewer, presentation is everything. Yes, they want to view video in high-resolution without the starts and stops, but in addition, the controls you give them and the look of the video player affect their impression of how slick your product is.
Using an embedded player not only makes it easy for viewers to play the file, but it also gives you more control over what viewers see around the video as it plays. Offer more context by providing related information or video clips, or insert advertising within your clips. And it’s very important that the player tools you use provide a way to customize its look so it reflects the style of the site and your company brand.
You can get a unique look for your player in a number of ways:
--Add your corporate color scheme and logo.
--If you have multiple online properties, vary the look of the player for those sites while retaining the overall branding.
--If you’re syndicating your content and your player, customize its look for affiliate sites.
--To create interfaces for multiple devices—such as mobile phones—work with a media design consultancy to create specific playback interfaces.
Summary
Turn your broadcast content into a dynamic content library that is attractive to viewers and helps build your brand and revenue. Broadband video has room for small production companies, national broadcasters, and video sites. And whether you are distributing content on traditional cable platforms, to the Internet, or to handheld or mobile devices, thePlatform is the solution that can help you out.

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