Video’s Route to the Mainstream: Open Standards

Adoption of online video is finally moving into the mainstream. Once constrained to companies for whom the production and distribution of video was their primary business, online video is now entering a stage of broad adoption by companies of all sizes who see video as a way to broaden their marketing reach, deepen interaction and increase engagement through the integration of video assets. This is, in turn, creating a need for open standards aimed at the Web development community, rather than the engineering community.

This change in the video landscape represents a significant shift in the economics of online video, with far-reaching implications for its use, adoption and deployment. Early adopters of online video were businesses who make a multimillion-dollar commitment, year after year, in the production, marketing and distribution of their video assets. These are, for the most part, enormous corporations with vast resources, both technically and financially, and for almost all of them, online video represents only a small percentage of their distribution and monetization strategy, with the majority of their revenue derived through either film or television. For these companies, the fundamental equation is: profit = ad revenue – (cost of production + cost of distribution).

The New Video Equation

While once these behemoths dominated the online video landscape, today a new breed of video publisher is emerging, one who will ultimately dictate the majority of all online video spend. These companies see video as a key part of their marketing arsenal, driving goals of new sales, new subscriptions and new registrations. Few of them are media companies, many are brick-and-mortar businesses, and for most, the Web site is only an aspect of the marketing mix, not the primary business. These companies are of all sizes; have limited, if any, technical resources; and often rely on external Web developers and design agencies for their interactive needs. For these businesses, the equation is: profit = sales – (cost of marketing + cost of manufacture/service).

With more and more of the responsibility for the selection, implementation, and deployment of video solutions resting in the hands of Web developers, it is time for the video industry to rethink its standards with this audience in mind. The most important of these, at least initially, are the standards related to the creation, customization and deployment of video players, with their associated tracking, display and community features.

Standards for Developers, Not Engineers

Existing Microsoft and Adobe features, as well as the Akamai Open Standards project, are primarily focused on software engineers, and adopt a heavy, monolithic and inflexible approach to player design. They assume a level of technical ability far beyond that of the typical Web developer, and in so doing, unnecessarily inhibit the growth and proliferation of ubiquitous video adoption.

What is needed, rather, is a lightweight, flexible approach to video standards, with standard libraries and objects that can be modified, manipulated and mapped to the design requirements of the Web designer. These players should be compatible with all major networks and content distribution networks (CDNs), software developer kits should be free and widely available, and security methods should be standardized across platforms. Once this is accomplished, Web developers will be able to quickly and easily design the end-user experience, while relying on platform providers for the heavy lifting. This is the key to unlocking broad, mid-market adoption of video solutions.

Unfortunately, most CDNs and video platform providers are concerned only with tier-one media companies who account for most of the traffic and spend in video today. The business of companies like Akamai, Limelight Networks and Brightcove is highly concentrated within this segment of the market, with few existing solutions for smaller enterprises. Ultimately, then, adoption of new standards will depend either on these providers coming down into the mid-market, which is happening in a limited way, or on the growth of a handful of major providers servicing the mid-market today.

Until then, broad video adoption, with its billions of dollars in associated annual spend, will remain an untapped market that only open standards can unlock.

Benjamin Wayne is CEO of Fliqz, a provider of video services for businesses.

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