If you're writing a requirements document, functional
specification or project plan for any new product or service you'll
probably be thinking about scope, risks, manpower, technical
resources, availability of equipment and third-party engagement. At
the same time you'll be looking for quick wins like re-using
content and longer-term gains like perhaps streamlining internal
work processes. Clearly, there's a balance to be struck; how much
can you achieve in time and on budget?
But what are the specific issues you face when building a video
service? I've worked on four big video projects over the past seven
years - at NBC Universal, Virgin Media, ITN and Trinity Mirror -
and here are some of the things I've had to consider from a
logistical and technical (rather than aesthetic) perspective.
#1. The Platform
Sounds obvious I know but different platforms present you with
radically different challenges and opportunities. Tablets, for
example, have different screen sizes to websites, smartphones or
connected TVs; writing code for Android is not the same as writing
code for iOS; integrating social sign-in with Facebook or Twitter
may need different workflows.
Questions to ask include:
Finally, check out
our free best practice guides. Written by industry
experts, these articles explain how to build video services on
tablets, smartphones, web, connected TV and games consoles.
#2. The Content
Some more questions to ask:
- What content are you displaying in your new video
- Is it long-form, short-form or both?
- Is there a finite amount or is it constantly refreshed?
- Where is it stored?
- What rights do you have? Are they time or location
- Is it tagged or categorised in any way? (See also the
'Metadata' section below)
- How will you get it from Place A (where it lives now - perhaps
internal databases or DAMs - digital asset management systems) to
Place B (where it populates your video service)?
- Are you charging for it? (See also the 'Taking Payments'
#3. Legacy Issues
Unless you're working for a brand new company which has had the
chance to efficiently plan its work processes, internal IT
structures and back-office systems in advance you'll likely be
dealing with legacy issues. Content may be stored in different
locations; metadata for that content will live in other databases;
customer information will be housed somewhere else again and the
way in which video assets are digitised and encoded may be
completely new to you. Your job, however, may be to get a handle on
all of these disparate caches and find a way of unifying them to
produce a beautiful, seamless end-product.
Sounds daunting but you can do it! Here's what to look out
- Look again at the questions in the 'Content' section above and
try to find some answers perhaps by setting up meetings with the
different heads of departments;
- How difficult will it be to extract data from the different
silos and attach it to the content?
- Can you use tools like XML to make life easier?
- Do you have the time / budget to bring specialists (internal or
external) on-board? (See also the section on 'Third-party
Metadata refers to things like video descriptions, titles,
genre, episode guides, running times, air dates and cast and crew
information. Each of these pieces of information can be attached to
a video and presented on the front-end of your service. Metadata is
also used for content discovery and recommendation: if I watch
'Doctor Who' on Netflix for example, I'm shown other sci-fi related
TV shows. Metadata is cool.
So how are you going to use it? Where is it stored? Is it
already linked to your video assets or will that need to be done
separately? How does the rest of the market use metadata?
#5. Taking Payments
My first ever VOD-related project was at the Racing Post (part
of Trinity Mirror) in 2005. Once our service was live, end-users
would be able to watch live and catch-up horseracing on the
internet. As you can imagine, the workflow was pretty complex
involving communications between multiple databases, CRM systems,
authentication checks, DRM mechanisms and payment service
providers. And that was for just one device - the web!
Whether you plan to charge using subscriptions, individual
transactions, micropayments (with an in-house or external wallet)
or vouchers / coupons / other trade-offs there's no getting away
from the fact that taking payments is challenging. That is unless
you decide to use…
#6. Third-party Suppliers
Depending on your timeline, the scarcity of in-house resources
and, of course, the size of your budget, you may be able to employ
third-parties to help bring your new video service to life. The
main things to consider here are scope, service level agreements
and billing. In other words, what are they going to do for you,
when will they do it and how much does it cost.
The good news is that even in this still relatively-new
industry, there are lots of organisations who do excellent work and
can make your life much, much easier.
It's a little shameless but entirely worthwhile I think to
mention that VOD Professional is proud to be sponsored by some
expert companies who can give you a hand - or indeed, many
digital and Xstream for example provide end-to-end
solutions including content ingest and encoding, customised video
players, payment services, social integration and final
presentation of your video services to consumers on a range of
devices. Adobe gives you tools to use in-house,
BeBanjo brings a range of back-office
functions to aid your operation, the Nice
Agency creates beautiful user interfaces and
Jobserve finds you staff. Talking of
#7. Human Resources
What personnel will you need to get your video service off the
ground? Amongst others they may include the following:
- Lawyers to look into content rights
- Specialist programmers to write code for different platforms
- Specialist designers - again for different platforms
- IA (Information Architecture) / UI (User Interface) / UX (User
Experience) analysts to plan the concept and plot user journeys and
- Financial controllers to manage the budget
- IT contacts to help you create and link databases, explain and
work your DAM (digital asset management system) and CMS
- IT Support staff to install equipment on servers and local
- Project managers
- Researchers if you're custom-creating content
- People who write and add metadata to video assets (at ITN we
called them "Shotlisters")
Whether you're a head of department, a marketer, a project
manager or an external consultant managing stakeholders is one of
the biggest parts of the job. You'll know that this can get
political: different departments are subtly (if not overtly)
fighting their corners, trying to ensure the maximum gain with the
least disruption to their everyday work. And even where everyone is
pulling in the same direction people will want to know that their
requirements - and any limitations in budget and manpower - are
clearly understood and effectively communicated.
Apologies again if this all sounds a bit obvious but gather
their thoughts, take note of their wish-lists and, if possible, try
not to over-promise anything. Instead, write your brief, functional
spec or project plan objectively and without pressure. You've
coolly, level-headedly examined all of their needs and allowed for
it in the finances and technology roadmap. You've checked out the
competition (using our Screenshot Library of
course!), can recommend a plan of action and have accounted, where
possible, for contingencies. Tell the truth: people will respect
you for it.
#9. Good Product vs. Great Product
I've recently studied over 150 video user interfaces across
and found that there are 25 common functions that appear in most of
them - features like 'Most Popular', customised video
players, predictive search and content recommendation. You can use
this knowledge to benchmark your own service - maybe as a minimum
standard to achieve.
At the same time there are functions that turn up only
infrequently perhaps because they're new and innovative, there are
specific issues preventing wider adoption or simply because the
technologies haven't been implemented by the majority yet. These
things are usually the polish - the capabilities that make your
video service stand out from the crowd. Check out our guide and get
#10. Last but definitely not least - Your
Red Bee Media recently conducted a range of user surveys which
found that, for the first time, viewer's expectations are
outstripping the industry's ability to satisfy them. Quoting
directly from their 'Tomorrow Calling' research (page 15 onwards
in the report which you can download
- 42% of survey respondents said "You look for a programme in an
on demand service but it's been taken down already"
- 38% "You look for a programme, but can't find it in any legal
on demand service"
- 31% "You'd prefer to use legal sites but they will make you
pay, for the programmes and films which would be easily available
for free on other sites"
- 27% "The choice of on demand is much better online, but the
quality on the screen isn't as good"
Hopefully, you'll know your audience better than anyone else
and, taking into account stakeholder desires, budget, legacy and
platform constraints, you'll be able to exceed their expectations.
Learn from existing services; prioritise your functionality, limit
or negate the risks and launch a brilliant new video service that
your audience will appreciate.