An OVP is a software-driven, subscription-based service such as Brightcove, Ooyala, or Sorenson 360 that provides you with more advanced and multifaceted management and publication features for your video content than free, more social network-oriented sites such as Vimeo and ExposureRoom. OVPs consist of four basic elements, plus a few added on for good measure; it's worth going through these elements in detail because when you start looking at the advantages of OVPs, you'll inevitably cross paths with that other ubiquitous acronym of the streaming world, CDN (content delivery network), and wonder how the two differ.
Technology. Most OVPs are housed in data centers, often with redundancy across multiple data centers, just like a CDN. High availability is key to the robustness of delivery, as are fairly wide pipes: Most upper-end CDNs and OVPs have 10GigE (Gigabit Ethernet) connections at their data centers, complete with peering arrangements with multiple data transport companies, resulting in limited "hops" from the data center to the end user.
Self-provisioning. Often, the OVP will have a self-provisioning feature, allowing a video producer to set up an account and post content online in less than 30 minutes. Older CDNs, or larger ones, often require a significantly lengthy sign-up process and credit check, where OVPs and smaller CDNs offer instant sign-up via a credit card. Another key element of this is the commitment length: Some require a year or longer commitment while others offer a month-to-month service option.
24/7 availability. What I mean here by 24/7 availability is the ability to do round-the-clock streaming of a live feed. This is important for videographers who might have particular events that last over the course of several days or weeks. When looking for an OVP that offers 24/7 streaming availability, be sure to check for those who not only know how to set up a 24/7 video stream but also those who are adept at maintaining the stream for days or weeks on end.
Customized video players. While most CDNs will offer a single Flash or Silverlight player, a few will require the CDN subscriber to roll their own player and serve it up separately from the file delivery that the CDN excels in. An OVP, by contrast, often provides customizable players that can be skinned (or overlaid with various custom graphics) and controlled via on-screen, pop-up, or hidden controls.
Given these differences and the service benefits provided by OVPs, there are those who regard OVPs as grown-up CDNs, and others who see them as CDN-wannabes that haven't reached full potential. The "OVP as CDN aspirant" view is fairly straightforward, as CDNs were started with the idea of delivering large files. Many CDNs deliver software updates and a variety of other nonvideo files, so they view delivery of on-demand, progressive-download videos as just another type of file delivery.
While the majority of "streamed" files are actually on-demand, progressive-download videos, a fair number of CDNs are also moving toward delivering HTTP streaming. True streaming video files, whether via a standard HTTP server or a specialized streaming server, are sent a small portion at a time, consumed on the viewer's computer, and then abandoned directly after viewing.
Because these CDNs deliver true streaming files, they also have the capability to deliver live streaming, in which a video is delayed slightly-typically 6-8 seconds-and then sent out in the same way as an on-demand streaming file (small chunks are sent, viewed, and abandoned).
In the case of HTTP, which not only delays delivery slightly but also simultaneously compresses the same 2- to 10-second chunks in a variety of bitrates and resolutions, live streaming is just beginning to make progress with Apple, Microsoft, and-soon-Adobe offering live HTTP streaming.
It's an easy stretch, then, for a CDN to become an OVP since it has all the elements. So what about the view of an OVP as the natural maturation of a CDN? This is the more accurate view, as OVPs tend to offer the same features as a CDN plus some additional key features. Not only do OVPs offer on-demand, progressive download and live streaming, they also often offer automated encoding and transcoding, to allow the live or on-demand files to be viewed on desktops, laptops, mobile phones, and TV set-top boxes.
A few also offer automated playlist creation, which allows you to build a TV channel of sorts that plays content back to back. Some OVPs allow these playlist channels to be played back in a 24/7 setup that plays regardless of the number of viewers, while other OVPs even allow the playlists to cut between live and on-demand content, in much the same way that a television news show has live and prerecorded elements.
A final feature that some OVPs offer is a prebuilt advertising server, to monetize ad-driven content.
The one thing that sets mature CDNs apart is their ability to handle high-profile streaming experiences. But the onslaught of OVPs, which focus exclusively on video delivery and customized playback, means that they are increasingly adding to their repertoire of high-profile, online video delivery.
With all this in mind, why use OVPs? CDNs often don't have critical video expertise, technology, and solutions. CDNs alone cannot directly address the video professional's entire workflow, from video production all the way to distribution, which is what OVPs do best.
Tim Siglin (writer at braintrustdigital.com) is chairman of Braintrust Digital, a digital media production company, and co-founder of consulting firm Transitions, Inc. He consults on digital media “go to market” strategies and also blogs on metadata issues at www.workflowed.com.