Other People’s Platforms

June 17, 2016 Leave a comment


Mashable posted an article about an attempt by the Australian government to hold a live political debate via Facebook. Sadly for anyone interested in watching the debate, the quality of the livestream was terrible, largely due it seems to the low overall quality of connectivity in Australia (the article lists them as 48th in terms of global internet speeds).

There are some lessons to be learned from this exercise for the enterprise user. First, it’s important to consider the likely end user experience, and be extremely aware of the outside factors that can influence it. They cannot be controlled, but they must be accounted for. If you’re going to deliver a live event, are you prepared for the possibility that end users might have a terrible experience? What steps can you take, perhaps with your CDN provider, to provide extra capacity to ease the loads? Are you set up to field complaints properly, both by phone and social & email outlets?

Second, are you prepared to put yourself at the mercy of someone else’s infrastructure? Not everyone can or should build or buy livestreaming capacity, especially if it’s not something you intend to do very often. But are you prepared to risk a major (or even minor) live event on Facebook’s or YouTube’s live delivery options? These are wonderful platforms to be on, and your audiences are certainly there to be reached, but there are risks involved in depending on these tools as your sole delivery mechanism. You have to trust that in the midst of everything else these platforms are doing, your event will receive the attention it deserves.

Finally, think about the level of support you want to have when something goes bad. As the Mashable article indicates, even a Buzzfeed chat with President Obama went sour and they had to shift away to a YouTube feed. If a major media source and the President of the United States couldn’t get their problems sorted by the provider, how much better service will your organization get? Companies like Ustream and Livestream do this as a sole function (and I’m not shilling for either) for large-scale events; they can provide one-off services if these are only needed occasionally; and as part of an arrangement with them it’s reasonable to expect a high level of service in the event of a failure.

By all means leverage every tool at your disposal, and go where the audiences are. But be sure to understand the potential for problems is high, and in the end you get what you pay for.

Image courtesy of Mashable from the article Australia’s first online leadership debate marred by buffering complaints

Be Your Own Project Advocate

May 19, 2016 Leave a comment

ID-10081312If there’s one challenge for production/creative managers in the enterprise space, it’s the struggle to define, implement and operate a new technology system for their productions. Many communications leaders are specialists in the creation and development of high-value video and audio content. They are well versed in scriptwriting, lighting, shooting, pacing and the other key aspects of film production.

Where many of these managers get tripped up is in the proper implementation of the increasingly complex delivery systems available to share their creations online. Whether the system is homebuilt or vendor-driven, leaders suddenly find themselves in complicated discussions of bandwidth, streaming protocols, ideal bitrates, transcoding and every other detail of properly instituting systems for delivering video content. There’s a tendency on the creative side to defer these questions to the “experts” – let the IT guys work that stuff out, I just have to focus on providing the content.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but can do enormous damage to the project and possibly kill it altogether. It’s imperative for even the least technical manager to get both interested and informed about these details as if the project depends on the managers understanding and discussing them intelligently. There are a number of reasons for this, but it boils down to your advocacy is the only one that will focus completely on the project meeting its goals successfully.

The first driver of project success is focus – the team needs to define goals to meet the business needs, layout essential functionality and see that the project stays on track. Ostensibly the Project Manager assigned by the IT department for the project will handle those efforts. In reality, my experience has demonstrated that even the most well-intentioned and skilled PM is juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once. Yours may not be the most complicated or the most high-profile, and by definition it will settle down to the bottom of his list. The tech team doing the initial due diligence is likewise swamped, and broadly speaking are unlikely to be experts at first in the details of streaming video. Moreover, there’s often a distance placed between the project’s business owners and the guys in the trenches, and every layer in between guarantees details will be lost in translation. The high-level sponsors of projects are fire-and-forget – they stand up to support a project, but they usually don’t want to know anything until it’s all done (or they have to yell at someone). The vendors are focused on many things – they want you to use and love their products, but often they have limited staff trying to manage multiple clients and thus their goals are different. In the end, you’re the only one invested enough to keep pointing like a laser at getting a working product that you’ll be living with for the foreseeable future.

Another key concern for these projects is the distance between the promise and reality. Again, you’re the one that has to work with these tools daily. Everything always sounds good at the kickoff meetings, but too many of the stakeholders there don’t have to deal with the actual day-to-day function. Practically it makes no difference to a VP that it takes 14 steps to deliver each piece of video out to the audience – but your team is going to lose productivity in massive chunks if the design doesn’t take your processes into consideration. Something as critical as metrics can be a major stumbling block if it’s not considered early – can they deliver what you actually need to know and report out to the stakeholders?

In the end, no one should know the needs and the uses better than the direct owner of the systems. These concepts may  be foreign to you, but it behooves you to learn them and be able to discuss them intelligently. No one will show more concern for the success of your project than you will, and the more you can direct it, prod your partners and shape the final results the better it will turn out.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Periscope: Concerns for the Enterprise

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment


I sat down with some old friends yesterday to chat about all kinds of things in the streaming universe, and at one point we got into a discussion about Periscope, the livestreaming tool available through Twitter. It got me thinking about the revolutionary nature of these new tools and how they might impact the Enterprise.

Make no mistake here – allowing users to livestream with nothing more than a phone they’re carrying anyway is a major game changer. It’s by no means a replacement for a proper setup for anything serious, but the ability to deliver live content even at the relatively low-level of a phone is still an amazing opportunity for users of every kind. The question is, how does this new tool get adopted in large organizations, and what might be some of the concerns facing business owners and IT teams?

There’s no question Periscope, Meerkat and the few other options out there will find quick adoption among smaller companies, and small groups within larger organizations. Enterprise-level adoption, however, almost always demands a deep look into the impact of a new tool and the overall value to the organization. The first concern I think most companies will have is security – can the tool be brought in without increasing the risk of hackers using it to break into systems? With these apps, I believe it’s too early to tell how this might impact other systems which tells me it’ll be some time before widespread adoption.

The second concern is the development of a strategy and a set of use cases to help the organization fit livestreaming apps into their overall business. Why do you want on-the-fly live events? What are they meant to accomplish? Who do you want delivering these events? For large organizations, both internal and external communications can be tightly controlled, and the entire purpose of these apps is to spread the opportunities around to as many people as you can. Adding them to the company’s arsenal requires an ability to surrender control which can be a hard sell to company leadership. It also means developing policies & procedures for using the tools, and that can delay deployment while the necessary documents are created.

A third issue is impact of the technology on existing IT systems & resources. Is some sort of central administration needed? Who will provide user support? With budgets and personnel already stretched farther than advisable, smart IT leadership will ask these questions before committing to including these tools.

It’s hard to wait on interesting and powerful technology, but most large enterprise organizations take their time about adoption until it can be worked into their overall business strategies. Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic is one organization that has begun to experiment with Periscope. I find it notable because health care is one of the most highly regulated industries and providers can be very wary of how they share. I will say that I know some people at Mayo and they’ve been very forward-looking in their adoption of new communication tools, and it’s good to see them taking advantage of Periscope.

Overall I expect these tools will join other social outlets used by large organizations, but probably in a very controlled and limited way. It doesn’t mean employees aren’t already leveraging them, but I’d be surprised to see any major adoption in the near future.

Yahoo Livestreams the NFL

October 27, 2015 Leave a comment

NFL on Yahoo

So the NFL and Yahoo teamed up to stream last Sunday’s Bills-Jaguars game from London. As usual Dan Rayburn of Frost & Sullivan and StreamingMedia.com has done the best work of reviewing the entire exercise, including a review of the technical aspects here. I won’t cover all the ground he already did, other than pointing out this tweet:

This has been around for quite a while and the hype factor in so much reporting is just silly.

I do want to examine the business side of the exercise and put some thought into the long-term impact of the idea. Broadly speaking I don’t see a future for regular streams under the current universe of the NFL’s delivery model. There’s simply too much money involved in delivering the games via the traditional TV outlets. Many billions are involved between the League, the broadcasters and the advertisers, and this kind of major shift is at best a long, long way off. ($5 billion alone is the cost to the 4 networks currently signed to deliver the games through 2021).

So there won’t be any major restructuring going on, but over the remaining 5 years of the TV deal I would expect to see more experimenting with online delivery. I suspect the London game was selected as among other things, the arcane blackout rules & complications of NFL broadcasts could be avoided – no local market would be affected in terms of coverage. I do think the NFL was paying a LOT of attention – like anyone else they can see the shifts in the marketplace towards more online delivery. Cord-cutting is overhyped by a long shot, and live sports remains the last firm bastion of cable & satellite delivery – users like me who might otherwise give up on cable are keeping it to be able to watch their teams play.

The difficulty for a lot of fans is the ability to see a non-local team play; if they live in one place but support a team in another location, they’re hard pressed to get to see those games without additional cost via the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package. Live streaming is routinely available there for anyone willing to pay for it; the question becomes – is the NFL prepared to offer streamed games for ‘free’ (e.g. an advertiser-based rather than subscription model) more broadly? Again, there’s a lot of money involved and none of the parties to this will alter the arrangement unless better opportunity comes up via streaming.

Live sports in particular demands perfect performance during play or people will go crazy if they miss something important. I consider this past weekend an experiment; a relatively safe way to test the waters on totally online delivery. Yahoo hopefully learned something from it, which should be that live streaming is difficult to do correctly, especially with a lot of people watching a game. The NFL (and the other leagues watching closely) wanted to see how the event went for future thinking about contracts and game delivery. Fans wanted things for free online (ignoring data charges), and got a taste of a possible future. It won’t matter now, but check back in 5 years and we’ll have a better sense of how streaming impacts live sports delivery.

Categories: Distribution Tags: ,

Enterprise Video Production: Talking Head vs Graphics

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been part of some discussions recently around the approach organizations take to online video. There’s been a push to move away from the talking head style and over to more motion graphics driven video. While I appreciate the value of motion graphics in video, the idea that the talking head as a video format is dead disturbs me a lot. Similarly there are times when despite the cleverness and “coolness” of a motion graphic it’s just not the best way to transmit information to the viewer.

There are times when a talking head is actually a very valuable form of video. When you’re trying to establish the bona fides of a subject, or allow a viewer to associate a face and a voice with a name, you really do want to get that person on camera. Obviously you can do a voice over on top of motion graphics and get some of the benefits, but you lose that critical opportunity to introduce your viewers directly to your subject. More importantly, there’s a strength in body language and facial expressions that can really make a difference in how viewers respond.

You also don’t have to turn out a pure talking head video – the staring into the camera approach of a nightly news desk is actually boring, and I understand the desire to get away from that. This is where some very basic creativity can change the dynamic of your talking head. Multiple camera angles can change the pace up; a stand-up presentation can add some dynamism as well. Developing a combination approach – some talking head, some motion graphics can break up the static shots of the individual speaking. There’s plenty of ways to improve the presentation without losing the chance to show your viewers the person behind the information.

Similarly, motion graphics videos should be thought out carefully – practically speaking the production is more labor intensive from start to finish. These videos need to be storyboarded, scripted and produced by specialists that may have other demands that could interfere with your production schedule. More importantly, many motion graphics videos I’ve seen have been glorified infographics made much busier by the addition of motion. There’s plenty of room for that sort of thing, but in today’s ADD video world I’ve often felt that very little useful information is imparted or retained by the use of very busy motion graphic videos. Motion videos in an enterprise setting should make sure the user walks away knowing something they didn’t know before, and ideally lead to additional business opportunities.

In the end, the choice of video should not be limited to any one type. Much like back-end technology, the key is to use the right tool for the right situation. Don’t toss out the idea of a talking head video if that will provide the best method of communicating your messages to your audience and lead to the best result. Use motion graphics in places where the users will learn the most from the video in that format. Taking an absolutist position of presentation means you box yourself into a corner without the flexibility you need to get your point across.

Streaming Media East Wrap-up

May 19, 2014 Leave a comment

StreamingMediaEast_LGI took the time to head over to Streaming Media East last week for the first time in a few years. I used to go regularly with a previous employer but circumstances hadn’t permitted over the last few shows. I thought it was time to get back over there to see what was latest & greatest in the world of online video.

The short summary is that I learned an awful lot, and it’s still kind of the wild west out there. While a lot is going on in terms of distribution options and content development, there just isn’t a single way of achieving success with a program. My preferred space of the enterprise was not as well represented as I’d like which is probably a combination of few proposals and not a ton of interest from the rest of the audience. The vendor floor was also much thinner than I expected based on previous experience – participants I remember seeing for years weren’t there and the space seemed emptier than I recall.

Key takeaways? Cloud cloud cloud; when some organizations are talking about large live events, they mean over 750,000 concurrent users; the technical infrastructure for ad serving is incredibly complicated. In the end I learned a lot, saw some old friends and made some new connections along the way – which is all anyone could really ask of of a conference. I only managed to get there for Tuesday, so I can’t say this is a full overview, but here’s my detailed wrapup:

Tuesday Keynote – Matthew Szatmary, Twitch

Call the keynote my big OMG moment – it’s only occasionally that I hear something that makes me stop and say “wow, I had no idea, but it makes a lot of sense.” Twitch, in addition to being next on Google’s list of acquisitions is among the largest delivery systems for live video anywhere, and all those people are watching other people play video games. One of my kids is a fan of those videos and I thought it was just her – turns out there are a LOT of people who enjoy being spectators to online gaming. Dan Rayburn shares some of the numbers here from Szatmary’s presentation and they’re astounding. Granted there are more people total watching the some of these events when TV is added to the mix, but online there’s no comparison. Frankly, 1 million broadcasters a month is the giant number to me – I haven’t heard of anyone that comes even close. He explained a lot of the behind the scenes needed to get this many broadcasts to work and it’s just one more facet of the streaming universe that has grown so enormously over the last 10-15 years.

Session B101: Big Streaming: Technical Challenges of Large-Scale Live Events

Not my bread and butter here as I’ve never streamed to the kinds of large groups that MLB and WWE do, but it turned out to be a great session on the specific challenges of streaming to large groups of people. The “how large” issue was another “whoa” moment for me – they explained they mean over 750,000 live viewers and above. As the panelists pointed out, there’s a huge gap between many small events and the giant events baseball and wrestling are called on to deliver. It’s not a simple question of scale, but a whole other way of thinking about how you deliver your streams. Some of the keys here are thorough pre-planning, contingency planning and on-the-fly metrics reviews. The latter was an interesting point – you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with reporting or you won’t get what you need in timely fashion; you also don’t want every jot and tittle or you won’t be able to separate the important information from the junk. Social is also a big key – hints about which games are heating up can tip the production teams off about likely increasing demand for those games. One last thought that should be applied in all cases – when your viewers are paying for a premium product, they expect the best experience possible and you just have to deliver excellently.

Session A102: Content Management Strategies for Enterprise Content Platforms

Surprisingly, not my favorite session of the day. It was one of the few targeted specifically at the enterprise user and I think I was expecting a bit more than I got. The presenters were fine, but a lot of it seemed to focus on how they built their programs and not on the content management process itself. I admit I know more that some people on this subject, but to me the meat of this would be in the content decision making process and the internal/external production debate. Every organization goes through those kinds of exercises – what stays in house, what goes out and why? More discussion about the use of user-generated content would have been welcome as well.

Session B103: Choosing a Corporate YouTube System

A pretty good session overall, though it turned into more of a comparison of available systems and specific implementations of those systems than I think I was expecting. I’m interested here in the strategic thinking – do we allow user generated content or not? What restrictions do we put in place? How is it administered? What kind of security is needed? Again, more strategy here would have been welcome, but in retrospect I don’t think that was the intent of the session.

Session A105: Server-Side Ad Insertion: Reducing Video Player Complexity & Improving Reliability

Another wake-up call for me in this session. I know much less about the ad-delivery world than I should, and based on this session there is an enormous amount to learn. The technical aspects of this are quite complicated and I admit freely I was lost at more than one point during the discussion. For a lot of companies on both ends, however, this is life & death. For the content owners, revenue depends heavily on the ads; for the advertisers, the eyeballs are what they care about; and for the ad serving companies, there are a lot of moving pieces to ensure that both forms of content (ad and programming) are delivered smoothly and correctly. I don’t have a lot of interest in the ad delivery side of things, but it was a good session to go to as a reminder of the huge impact advertising has on the streaming ecosystem.

Image courtesy of StreamingMedia.com; used with permission

The Conversation About Enterprise Streaming Video

May 12, 2014 Leave a comment

social_imageThis is purely observational and not based on any formal study, but the nature of the conversation around online video appears to me tilted heavily towards the entertainment side of the equation. The discussions and tweets I see focus heavily on the consumer market – distribution deals for entertainment content, Netflix’s subscriber base, monetizing your original content, etc. I’m heading to Streaming Media East tomorrow, and much of the content at the online streaming conference is focused on these same subjects.

For those of us in the enterprise, the discussions have been more muted. Service providers like Kaltura, Brightcove, Wowza and others are filling the need by at least discussing their own products, but the conversation around video within the enterprise seems much lower key. I have some ideas as to why this is the case.

First, the entertainment and large-scale providers of content are in effect a well-defined industry. Even if Netflix is mostly an aggregator of others’ content and HBO is mostly a standalone distributor of their own, the two are largely playing in the same space. They contract for original content or purchase rights to films and sell their services on to consumers. There are analysts dedicated to these spaces and language for describing the ins & outs of the entertainment business. While the method for delivering the content has changed, the essentials of the business have not and there’s a pre-existing discussion that has added a streaming component to it. Their businesses are now heavily dependent on CDNs, bandwidth, buffering and all the other concerns of the streaming universe, hence the online conversations around those subjects reference them frequently.

Second, the financial implications of the entertainment side of the streaming video universe are enormous. YouTube channels alone are big business with broad impact on the industry’s bottom line. And again, the big players make their money off delivering their content to users in a connected world, so inevitably there will be a lot of talk around the moves they make and their effect on the streaming business.

In contrast, the average corporate or organizational video production effort is a lot lower key. Generally we don’t serve the primary function of our companies. We enhance marketing, communication and outreach efforts, but if your organization is making the bulk of its money off streaming you’re probably already in the mix of the larger conversations. In essence the management of enterprise video is a niche effort. We all know this instinctively, and for me personally I’m used to it – you can’t spend years managing a corporate archives without quickly learning your place within the organization.

There’s room for a lot more discussion on the use and techniques of video for the enterprise. I hope I’m helping to fill that niche by blogging and tweeting on video in the corporation. But I think there’s a lot more room for discussion on it, and I’d love to hear from others focused on the corporate space and how we can help our organizations make the most of online video.

PS – A few people you may want to check out on Twitter who are also active on the subject include:

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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