One of the enduring myths involving CDNs is that paid service providers are for suckers. Free options in online media distribution markets are making compelling, though in most respects short sighted arguments for using their services. Many free providers advanced their list of features to attract more of the business market away from paid service. YouTube, for example, is releasing in June an additional white label option to its API that will allow businesses to rebrand the YouTube service for videos hosted with them. This on top of YouTube’s excellent user interfaces, fast response time for content hosted with them, and low low price of nearly nothing. Some believe the recent addition of better statistic tracking and analytics could signal the end of paid video delivery networks. Here’s why it won’t.
Understand their business model: Personal opinion of present day startups aside for a moment, for-profit companies do have business models. If a business model can tell a customer anything at all about a company, it should reveal how it intends to use your patronage to make money. This can be devilishly difficult to weasel out of some online companies; enough so as some pragmatists may suspect nothing more than a game of three card monty with a VC’s capital investment. Most online companies, however, are quickly categorized. YouTube’s focus is clearly centered on the end consumer. Their technology is dialed into the online video market for short, poor quality video content created mostly by the user community. It is a testament to their success in their core market that B2B customers would consider YouTube for their videos. The two are a complete mismatch of markets. Business to Business needs to deliver high quality, long running, small dispersal video campaigns to discerning clientèle. YouTube will never have your needs in mind for their systems.
Own your content: Your content is your own. Giving control of that content to a free CDN provider is a bit like handing over promotional work for your hot new concept car to a demolition derby organizer. Sure, they will get the word out for you for free, but you may not like how they end up using your property. We again look at YouTube as a test case. YouTube is extending their API to corporations because it makes business sense in their model. They want all videos available on their home page for people to search. Those eyeballs drive ad dollars into the pockets of Google, YouTube’s parent company. Any video you host though their service will also be viewable through their site. Google searches will find the page rank for viewing your content on YouTube’s site unsurprisingly higher than on your own site, driving traffic away from your front door for your own goods and services. This can also open up your copyrighted material to both harmless and malicious uses by pranksters and competitors. Imagine your largest competitor had their latest promotional video up on YouTube with an open, anonymous comments board right below it. Would you leave a comment? Would your competitor in the reverse situation? Paid service CDN’s give you more control over how your content is used and viewed.
Streaming vs HTTP Progressive Downloads (Technical): There is a technical distinction between what YouTube offers for video and what Network TV companies offer on their web sites. The former, called progressive download, saves video on your harddrive in a FLV file with a recorded format called H.263. This form of video is easily stored, replayed and redistributed. The latter, called streaming video, does not save anything on your harddrive and is viewable only while you are on the site. As you can see, there is a very good business justification for TV Networks to not use progressive download as their distribution method. In their world the content is better controlled when it is streamed. Streaming video has a large following in the B2B arenas, especially when used in webinars and online presentations. Paid service CDN’s handle streaming video as one of their cornerstone services.
YouTube can be the perfect solution for your company. When you need short, low-res 320×280 video hosted nearly instantly and globally, they are the best in the business. It is when your needs fall beyond this narrow band that it is time to consider some professional, paid help. I will delve deeper into CDNs by profiling a couple in upcoming posts. CacheFly and LimeLight Networks.