It's not news — if you produce video content, there's a bigger potential audience than there's ever been before, and you already have competition, no matter what your industry.
It's also a different audience for a new age. Your viewers don't care how much data storage or which video codecs you have — they probably don't even know what video codecs they have themselves.
All they want is to watch what you have whatever screen they're looking at, or whatever their network connectivity at the time or the rights management you've had to strike a deal on. If they press play on your site or app and nothing happens, a thousand of your competitors are only a mouse click or finger swipe away.
If you don't want a very steep and expensive learning curve on the technicalities and storage you'll need, a whole industry of cloud-based platform providers exists to get your content to your audience — and the audience you hope to win.
The fragmented world
Video used to mean having a network broadcaster transmit an analogue signal to a machine in the family room. Today, there are as many viewing conditions as there are users, and it's not just the proliferation of devices — everything from 100-inch digital TVs to 5-inch mobile phone screens — it's the software that runs them. Just when the industry was comfortable using the Flash video plugin, the biggest entry into a new product class, the iPad, arrived with no support for it.
If your viewers are logged into a service that provides information about them, it will also have a bearing on the content they want, as will their geographic location, if it's visible. If they're watching in a desktop web browser they'll be in a different place from a viewer watching on a dedicated app — from both usability and psychology points of view.
And you have to program your content with all the codecs, streaming rates, and playback quality for every possible variation among them.
Putting it all together is cumbersome, which is what cloud video platform providers are for. Doing all the processing associated with matching the user to the content in the cloud lets the appropriate servers communicate much faster and deliver video in the best way possible on the fly.
Mark Blair, Australia and New Zealand vice president of cloud video provider Brightcove, explains how every time a new device gains traction in the market, his engineers have to work with a new application programming interface (API) to make sure customers' content is visible on it.
"It keeps us busy but it's also part of our value," Blair says. "It's like Betamax versus VHS over again, but instead of two formats, there are 20."
The field is only going to get bigger. When over six billion hours of video are watched on YouTube every month, online video is already making the combined output of analogue era broadcasting a mere footnote.
YouTube is also a good primer into the way cloud video works. When you log in to a control panel or dashboard, there's a workflow to capture the content from your local system, or elsewhere online, and upload it to the cloud video service.
No matter what the original file format, YouTube/Google's cavernous data centres process it with the appropriate codecs and plug-ins so it can be viewed through the YouTube website, no matter what the browser, or the myriad apps that exist for iOS and Android handheld devices, TVs, a hundred mobile phone brands. and countless others.
Even big media broadcasters like TV stations are turning to third party providers.
"Because you can build the app or experience at your end, their system becomes more of a plugin to it," says Craig Penfold, CTO of Yahoo7, adding that 46 percent of the company's online video is viewed through dedicated apps rather than a desktop-based browser.
Online video is about more than just getting content into your users hands, wherever they are — it's about knowing who, where, and when they watch, and all the marketing opportunities such information can offer. That makes the technologies behind the video just as important as the user experience at the player itself.
Some of Brightcove's broadcast TV customers license content from US studios, which Blair says can have strict security measures like digital rights management (DRM). Because manufacturers build different kinds of DRM support into their devices, that's a whole other groups of APIs.
With the right content in front of the right viewer, the next step might be monetising your content by serving highly targetted promotional material. Targetting is possible thanks to detailed viewer metrics that are way more accurate than old-time TV stations ever had, when advertising rates were set based on tiny samplings of very inconclusive and subjective reports of who watched what the previous day.
Today, the systems that drive online video will tell you everything from who watched, and where they were, down to the split second they skipped ahead or stopped watching, and where they went next.
Broadcasting for ROI
One way to profit from your content is to make it so compelling people will pay you to watch it. The biggest new media players like Netflix and Hulu are doing just that. Many began as online portals to existing content much like video stores, but they've been so successful many are now producing their own shows like Netflix's acclaimed House of Cards.
If you're already a content provider or broadcaster, you're no longer restricted by the limited government-issued spectrum.
"Those barriers have gone away for a typical broadcaster with one or two channels," says Blair.
Craig Penfold calls video a growth area, and reports that Yahoo7 served 8.1 millions streams in February 2014 alone, with the company being in a position to source or produce as much content as it can because of the high volume of advertising support it can capitalise on.
A second way to profit is closing the loop between marketing and the transaction. The failed promise of WebTV from the late 90s — purchasing and advertising links right in the content — might finally come to fruition thanks to the browsers and apps at the viewer end to allow it.
According to Blair, US online fashion and beauty retailer joyus.com has seen a fourfold increase in the size of their sales by visitors who watch video on the site.
The third method is with traditional advertising, but in the cloud the machinery connecting the best advertising content to the viewer is anything but traditional. Advertising can be a short message that plays in the middle of the content, a graphical overlay or banner with links, or any number of other technologies.
The same metrics and tracking about the viewer that report back to the platform provider can then enable advertising in an even more targeted manner. If two viewers are watching your content on either side of the country, they might get different ads suited to their location.
Online advertising can be separate altogether from your cloud content provider, and if so, it means yet another layer of computation and even more APIs and technologies to program for.
In some cases neither the content and advertising servers have information about the viewer, whereas you (as the customer controlling the app or browser experience) might have because of exposure to metrics like browser cookie data. Your plug-in or player can then report data on the user to the ad server, which can select and serve the most appropriate ad content.
It all has to be done in real-time, with as little lag or buffering as possible, often with no single party in complete control of the workflow. That all means even if you have experience in content production and broadcasting, getting it to users seamlessly is a whole other ball game.
As Andrew Jervis, IT business relationship manager, Tourism Australia, a company with a long history in TV and media, and a cloud video platform user, says: "There's one implementation and it's device independent. We just deliver the most suitable and highest quality experience and how it gets to the end user is all taken care of for us."