Many organizations have turned to on-demand video to train and educate increasingly global and remote workforces. However, a distributed audience with an array of devices poses a significant technical challenge. It’s not enough to just post a video to the web and hope for the best; if enterprises want to ensure their employees and partners leverage these tools, they must plan for optimal viewing experiences across all platforms and devices.
Poor video quality, skipped content or the inability to watch the video on mobile devices is not acceptable. Organizations invest a lot of time and money in these video tutorials, so the partners they choose to deliver that content must ensure fast, reliable and secure viewing to maximize training efficacy.
At CBT Nuggets, we experienced—and overcame—several challenges as expectations for video consumption evolved and end users became more mobile. A primary concern was a fluctuation in bit rates depending on the content being shared in the video. When we saw spikes due to high-resolution graphics, the user experience was affected. Also, as on-demand video training became more popular, our business benefited, but we found that our employees were spending an excessive amount of time encoding each video to ensure they were compatible with the latest platforms and devices.
To better address these growing technical challenges while keeping focus on our core business of producing IT training videos, we made the decision to partner with Akamai. Deploying its cloud-based media preparation, storage and delivery solutions gave us a newfound confidence in the quality and consistency of our streaming, knowing that its platform could absorb spikes driven by higher-bit-rate content and more viewers across more devices.
The transition to Akamai also solved our transcoding needs and freed our staff of the arduous task. When CBT Nuggets initiated the relationship with Akamai, we transcoded our entire library—tens of thousands of video files—and had it available online in less than three weeks. This speed helps us to go to market faster and ultimately gives us the potential to increase profits.
It is also important to plan for our customers’ ever-evolving needs. While the videos are encoded for the latest operating systems and devices, the video market is quickly changing. Viewers want access to videos on mobile devices as a matter of convenience, and if we’re going to deliver on those needs, we have to stay up-to-date with the latest platforms and versions. This alone can be a full-time job.
As part of our relationship with Akamai, their team keeps track of all of the latest encoding requirements for the mobile market. We simply push our video files to the Akamai network and they are immediately consumable on any device.
Naturally, a tremendous amount of work goes into the production process before any CBT Nuggets content is ever pushed to end users. We record screen-capture video and import high-quality audio tracks with TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio screen recording and video editing software. Camtasia source content is then ingested into a custom Node.js video management application that uses MongoDB to store all video metadata.
Once content is ingested, we use a custom encoder based on the FFmpeg multimedia framework to convert videos into MP4 mezzanine files. Those files are stretched and shrunk to create different viewing versions and then uploaded to Akamai’s NetStorage, where they’re transcoded for streaming formats. Before going live, the videos are moved to internal review inside the aforementioned video management application.
We’re streaming to desktop PCs in HTML5 and Flash, with video displayed using JW Player until we complete development of our own custom player. Mobile viewers can use native apps for Android and iOS that support HTTP progressive and HLS streaming, respectively.
There is no status quo in the state of video production and delivery. The industry and user expectations are moving too quickly to attempt to tackle every facet of workflow yourself—especially when you’re juggling complex subject matter in an industry like IT. We’ve embraced the pieces of the business that we know and love, and we’ve offloaded the more technical duties to an outside vendor so we can focus on growing our business.
Tyson Binder-Vitti is a software engineer at CBT Nuggets, a company that produces on-demand training on a range of IT topics, including virtualization, security and data centers.