Web Video Hosting
Many of us use our own websites and domains to host our demo reels and videos, and there are distinct advantages to that. You have complete control over how it is deployed, you typically can track downloads using your own analytics, and you can update via FTP on the fly to change your clip. But there are some downsides as well. If your clip gets linked on a popular website, your downloads could soar—as could your bandwidth usage. Your video goes viral, but your web hosting company could sock you with a huge bill for going over your allotted bandwidth. Also, if you want to embed your clip on other websites, you often have to create the HTML yourself from scratch. Finally, your clip can be something of an island. Alone on your own server, it has less of a chance of people discovering it as they might if your clip was on, say, YouTube.
Having your video hosted elsewhere can be appealing. Automatic encoding, automatic embedding code, more discoverable, no bandwidth worries, and often a lot less hassle. We'll go over some of the things to look for when choosing a video-hosting solution and touch on some of the companies providing the service these days, focusing on the ones that are geared toward creative producers and directors.
Before we dive in, one of the potential game-changers in the past few months has been the first rumblings of a possible future migration of video sites away from Adobe Flash or Apple QuickTime and toward HTML5. Back in the day, web video started off as streaming. You may recall RealVideo, Windows Media, and even QuickTime streaming technologies. As long as you could get a hold of a fast connection, you could watch full-motion video in glorious 320x240 (or often less). As bandwidth and technologies advanced, so did streaming. But the fact remained that you still needed to download a browser player or plug-in to see these videos.
What if the leading plug-in format supported video? With Flash, Macromedia (later purchased by Adobe) finally did just that. For a while, it seemed like things were set. With Flash now handling video, the reliance on Real, Windows Media and QuickTime streaming took a dive; after all, everyone already had Flash installed. With QuickTime, Apple shifted its focus toward downloadable video and video that was playable in a browser with higher-resolution clips, but you still needed to add the QuickTime plug-in. Flash did a great job of scaling video resolution to match your bandwidth, but not everyone loved Flash. Some users found it less than reliable and said it could be problematic on slower, older systems. Plus, it works best when it's updated regularly, which many users neglect to do. Fast forward to the emerging mobile market, and the Apple iPhone, arguably one of the most important video platforms going today, does not support Flash at all.
HTML technology has been advancing, and the latest version, 5, can play videos within the browser, sidestepping the need for plug-ins. Long story short: Make sure your web host is planning to support HTML5. YouTube and Vimeo just rolled out support for the new browser-based playback, and no doubt others will follow. Flash is still the king, with its supreme flexibility and options, and it's likely not going anywhere any time soon, but other options are springing up.
Issues related to privacy and mobile video are worth noting. Privacy features are in place for most of the video-hosting websites, meaning you have control over who can and cannot see your video. You might want to make the video private to forward it to a client. You may want the video to be password-protected. Perhaps you want to prevent others from embedding your clip on other websites. Even if you don't need the privacy options now, keep checking to see if the site is planning to make them available in the future. (Some sites turn on privacy features when you subscribe to a "pro" account.)
As for mobile, these days it is crucial to use a video-hosting site that can viewed on a handheld unit or phone. Some video hosts offer a mobile version, so you can access the page from a mobile device and watch the video just fine. In the coming year, we can expect to see every major video site offering some sort of mobile version.
YouTube is obviously the biggest fish, but you may not realize that the Google property continually churns out updates to the website behind the scenes. Staying No. 1 is obviously on its mind, so the YouTube feature set continues to grow. One element Google has developed is the Insight Statistics page. Available in your account settings, this analytic tool goes way beyond hits to show you where in the world your viewers are coming from, how they are viewing it (embedded, via links, mobile, etc.), demographics of viewers, and much more. YouTube also has been adding usability features for individual videos. You can now add annotations to any clip, create captions, and even swap out the audio. YouTube's privacy settings are easy to use, although private videos can be viewed by a maximum of 25 people.
YouTube has one of the best-designed websites for mobile devices. Just pull up YouTube on your iPhone's browser to see what I mean. There are options to pay to have your videos promoted, which appear on other pages much the same way Google AdSense works. Technically you can upload large files, up to 2GB, to the website. Clips are limited to 10 minutes, unless you email YouTube specifically to request permission to deploy longer clips. YouTube allows uploading and playback in HD (720p and 1080p) and has recently rolled out support for HTML5. The site is asking visitors to switch over from Flash to HTML5, so it looks like Google, which supports HTML5 via its Chrome browser, is serious about making this move. Considering the millions of videos on the site, your chance of discovery ramps up considerably if you adopt HTML5. YouTube currently does not offer a separate professional version of the site that requires payment, as all the features are pretty much available to everyone. YouTube is in the process of creating new sections of the site, such as the Screening Room, to feature up-and-coming creative talent in the industry.
Vimeo has been chasing YouTube's feature set for a while now, and it just recently added support for 1080p and HTML5. Like YouTube, Vimeo also has a slick mobile version. The biggest difference between this site and other video host sites is that Vimeo offers a separate hosting option called Vimeo Plus ($9.95 a month/$59.95 annually). The Plus package offers higher video quality, advanced tracking statistics, 5GB per week of upload space, unlimited HD uploading, advanced privacy options, no ads on your page, clip embedding in HD, and more. Why would you want to pay for Vimeo when you can upload and store videos on sites such as YouTube for free? Whenever you pay for something, you gain leverage in customer service. Companies need to keep their paying customers happy, after all.
Vimeo makes its Plus service appealing in several ways. First is the encoding. Most websites encode or convert a copy of your upload, but Vimeo does two-pass encoding for all Plus uploads. This means videos in your Plus account will look better. As for the encoding and converting, Plus clips go to the front of the encoding queue so your clip is ready as soon as possible. The newest trend in online video hosting is allowing viewers to download a copy of the original. YouTube rolled this out a few months back, and Vimeo has followed the trend. The original download is only available for a week, but with a Plus account, your original clip stays up for as long as you want it to.
Vimeo has one catch, and that concerns the embedding of HD clips. With a Plus account, you can embed any HD clip and have it shown (on other sites) 25,000 times. However, if you exceed that amount, you'll need to purchase an additional group of 10,000 plays for $24.95. Obviously this is to ensure that any high-def viral video does not hammer Vimeo's servers without some compensation for the company. It's a snag in an otherwise great package at $10 per month.
These two specialized sites focus on the creative producer. Each has an associated network of artists to intermingle and network with. That targeted aspect is certainly appealing because prospective clients are more likely to visit a dedicated demo-reel site to see a large sampling of professional videos than they are to sift through the vast offerings at YouTube or Vimeo.
Reel-Exchange (part of the millimeter network) caps uploads at 200MB each and encodes and converts on the fly with higher-quality two-pass encoding. You also have some flexibility in how you arrange your videos: The site offers a way to feature one main clip as your primary reel. You can also put your videos in different categories. Say you do editing, but you're also a producer as well as a visual effects artist. On your video page, you can make a link for each of your skills. Each link would take you to a dedicated section of videos that highlights that skill. In addition, the site is laid out with links to categories such as directors, cinematographers, editors, etc., so visitors can quickly jump to the type of work they want to see. The website is free for now, but there are plans for a future paid membership level that will offer additional features. The playback of clips is rather basic; there are no HD playback or full-screen options, for instance. The key draw is the fact that you can get into the mix with fellow creative professionals.
Creative Cow offers similar options and also focuses on showcasing the creative artist. Support for 1080p is coming soon, but for now the site allows upload and playback of 720p videos. Free hosting is included with no charge for anything, including views or bandwidth. Creative Cow promotes itself as offering a reliable large-scale network that can handle the deployment of HD clips. You can embed clips hosted at Creative Cow on other websites, and your videos can be up to 900 pixels wide. Clips are limited to 100MB each, but the site is geared toward short-form demo reels and clips. With proper encoding, the size limit should not be a problem.
The site has a diverse group of creative artists hosting videos already. The Reels site has been set up to work much like YouTube, with options on every video page for comments, buttons to rate the video, embedding and link code, more videos from the creator, and thumbnails of related videos. These features foster a "sticky" website experience. You'll be looking for something specific and you'll find yourself moving in several directions.
There are many other video hosting solutions on the Web, but again, these are ones geared toward video professionals. All of them are free to join, so why not try them all? Experiment with each site and decide later which works best for you.