As part of our Video Strategy recommendations to clients, not only do we determine what platform (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, etc) our client’s video content will be most effectively seen by their audience, we also have to determine the best place to store their video assets online. I thought I would try to offer some opinions on a few of the top options out there, and discuss the pros and cons of each. Here is a quick online video hosting comparison.
So. Many. Options.
This list is a high-level overview, as there are a plethora of available options out there for a company looking to host their video off-site…and by that I mean not self-hosted on the same server as their website. There are benefits and drawbacks to that option, as well, but this article is going to touch on the top externally hosted services provided by Vimeo, Brightcove, Sprout, and Wistia.
Let’s start with Vimeo, as it’s the service we use most often use here at Transport for our own content and portfolio. One of the reasons that we use Vimeo is that there is a certain level of creative cachet by hosting your content there. Over the past couple years, Vimeo has become the “creative’s choice” for posting personal art videos, behind the scenes footage, and generally most designers use it to showcase their video work. It’s searchable, you can customize the player to suit your needs, and if you wanted to, you could monetize your videos through a pro account by turning on the “tip” feature to allow viewers to give you money for work they appreciate. It’s become a kind of artists-helping-artists site, with no ads to get in the way. If you are smart with keywords and tags, your content can get featured and found by groups within Vimeo. And, even though we don’t use it, there is a feature on Vimeo that allows you to color grade your content after it’s been uploaded. Pretty great, right?
Well there are a couple things that aren’t spectacular about Vimeo. First, there is generally less traffic on Vimeo, so there is less likelihood of audience discovery (unless you are diligent about those tags). And if you are looking for analytics, although Vimeo does provide some, they are not nearly as robust as other options. We love the video quality that Vimeo has over it’s competitors, but there are still some strange gamma shifting issues that we battle occasionally. Should it be used for a large company? Probably not. Startups looking to get quality content online in an easily embeddable service? It’s a great, affordable option.
Which leads nicely into the next few options, all designed for larger companies that have a lot of video content that needs hosting: Brightcove, Sprout, and Wistia. These services are set up to handle the demands of companies that have a ton of content online, and whose consumers/viewers are pulling down video content from potentially hundreds of simultaneous streams.
Brightcove is the industrial workhorse of the bunch. They serve Fortune 10 companies that have hundreds and hundreds of videos that need to be hosted and served globally. They have the fastest content servers of the bunch. Their content delivery system (CDN) is fast and global, so it’s a great option to get content to the masses in a hurry.
While their international CDN is built like a tank, their standard player UI looks like one, too. It’s overly complicated and not well designed. They do, however, have one of the more robust options to customize the player and include branding elements, which is a solid plus in the “pros” column for Brightcove. Publishers also have the option to create curated playlists alongside or with video content.
However, it’s not a searchable system like YouTube and Vimeo and there aren’t any options for post-playback calls to action and email collection. Well, I say there aren’t, but you can actually write a fair amount of elaborate code to do that, but I want it as a standard option to turn on without hiring a developer.
SproutVideo is a unique option. It has a lot of the same features as Brightcove, but it’s not really designed to handle the mega-load of videos that Brightcove can. You can customize the colors to match your branding, but that’s about it.
The main benefit of Sprout, in my opinion, is they have designed their system as the one that serves marketers and brand managers. The analytics are impressive, and they can take it to a granular, individual-user level. Heatmaps on each video determine where the viewer dropped off, where they rewound to watch again, and where they are from. Engagement metrics seem to be the main rallying point around fans of Sprout with easily added calls to action and email collection, and their ability to generate Video SEO via video sitemaps ranks up there with the big player known as YouTube. But, and this can be an important stumbling block for a business looking to put their video online, there aren’t any monetization options with Sprout. All the sponsorship and pre-roll has to be managed by the client (or their agency) and included in the video that is posted…which could lead to a less than happy customer looking to skip past an ad.
And finally, we have Wistia. Wistia has a few of the same drawbacks that Sprout has, mainly the same lack of monetization scenario where it has to be managed by the client or agency. The other main drawback is that it can, if you reach a certain level of video content online, become quite expensive on a monthly basis. But I feel that the added benefits of the service provided by Wistia more than compensate for the cost.
Let me explain: like Sprout, you can customize the player and it has detailed analytics. Heatmaps, engagement metrics, calls to action and email collection? You bet. Where it starts to set itself apart is in three areas: email, social, and versioning.
Wistia, if set up correctly, can take the email data it’s collecting, and flow it directly into an email marketing system like Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact. Additionally, if sending video hosted by Wistia through your email marketing system, it can collect the same heatmap and viewing metrics of the customers that watch the video inside their email app. For social integration, Wistia have partnered with Twitter to play hosted content directly inside any Twitter platform, be it desktop or mobile. Yes, you can do the same thing with your content via Twitter playercards, but Wistia deals with all that behind the scenes for you. And lastly, which is one of my favorite features, Wistia provides the option of uploading a variation/updated video to the same file on their service. So, for example, say you have posted a cool product video for your new whatsit, you’ve watched the metrics grow and evolve and suddenly realize that you need to make a quick update to correct some info in the video but don’t want to lose all the metrics and viewing stats. Unlike other services, where a new video upload would zero out the analysis on the video, or require a new data collection starting point, Wistia allows you to continue to gather metrics on the file.
Hey, what about YouTube?
So maybe you’re wondering why I haven’t promoted YouTube as an option to this point. Don’t get me wrong, I think YouTube is great. And there are a lot of reasons to post your content on there. But for us at Transport, and more importantly our clients, YouTube isn’t usually the right answer. It should be treated as it’s own special case. Content should be created just for YouTube, and left there while it’s relevant, then culled when it’s out of date.
Here’s why: even though YouTube is now the second largest search engine and you would think that more people are there looking for content, hosting videos there can diminish the control and messaging a brand is looking for by the very concept that YouTube is based on…it’s an entertainment platform. There are billions of videos on YouTube now, and most of them aren’t great. Even less are product videos and service content. It’s a mess, really. Posting and leaving out of date content can dilute the brand image that you’ve worked really hard to establish.
Also, if you are hosting your videos on YouTube and then embedding them on your site, when people search for them in Google, for example, the returned result is a link to the YouTube page, not your site. By design. YouTube is taking you there to show you ads that it is making money on. Then, even though you may have a link to your site in the description, the clutter of options and related content almost guarantee getting lost in the rabbit hole of random videos. If you are going to create content and host it on YouTube, be aware that all the effort you have put in to your site to engage customers and convert them to sales doesn’t work when they are on another site entirely, even if they’re watching your video.
YouTube can be effective. However, most brands are not using it in an effective way. Content should not be added to YouTube because you “think” it’s going to get views. YouTube IS NOT A HOSTING PLATFORM. It’s an entertainment platform. If you’re going to use YouTube, use it the way it was meant to be used. We’d love to talk to you about how this can and should be done in person, as it’s a subject that goes beyond the scope of this post.
Wrapping it up
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what level of video hosting you may need, with a little insight into the various benefits provided by a select few services. Again, there are a lot more than just the above, and they all have different levels of options and reporting. It can be hard to navigate all the choices, so if you are looking for creative video strategy and an answer to the question “Where do I put all this stuff?!”, feel free to contact us here at Transport. We’d be happy to walk you through it.