At Rocket, we’ve worked on a lot of projects, across nearly every industry. As such, we have a lot of “strong opinions, loosely held” when it comes to off-the-shelf SaaS products (among other things). We’ve worked with enough good and bad software to know what’s reliable.
As a lot of you are thinking about your current tech stack or considering making changes or bringing on new solutions, we thought it would be useful to share our thoughts on our favorite products. So we're kicking off a new blog series called "Evaluating Your Tech Stack" (I know, super creative) to cover various product categories and aspects of kickstarting a new product or business, but doing so much faster by relying on great off-the-shelf offerings.
You’ll find an underlying theme in most of these recommendations: really good APIs. Whatever functionality a service might be lacking is usually fixable thanks to APIs, and this is what separates a good SaaS product from the rest. There is no “one size fits all” service/solution out there, but good APIs can generally get you pretty close.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that we don’t get kickbacks from any of these companies: these choices reflect real-world usage.
For our first post, we’re focusing on the world of online video platforms.
Online Video Platforms
Since this category could include anything from HQ Trivia on mobile to embedding a YouTube player on your site, we need to focus this topic a little. YouTube owns your content, so we’re going to primarily focus on video providers that will let you build whatever you’re dreaming up and maintain ownership of your content.
[Disclaimer: A lot of us at Rocket once worked at Brightcove, and from the very early days of the company. We still have many friends there, as well as many ex-Brightcovers who have moved on to Vimeo. Both companies are truly massive players in this space, and they’ve been around a long time, which is why we’re including them here. But we’ll be honest about their downsides too, don’t worry.]
Vimeo OTT (Previously Known as VHX)
Let’s start with Vimeo since that’s the shortest path to earning revenue.
Vimeo has been the artist’s alternative to YouTube for a very long time. But Vimeo is more than just a video portal. The company also offers their OTT product for those looking to create a business around buying and renting video. By connecting your Stripe details and bank account details, you can literally start a business in the time it takes to upload your movie. OTT comes with a webpage out of the box as well, so you can use that to start if need be.
Vimeo also has an API that allows you to control much of the customer’s experience programmatically. This means that you’re in no way locked to using the webpage they give you. They support subscription, purchase or rental models per product, and even an option for customers to pay-what-you-want (with a minimum price). Vimeo will also handle user management for you out of the box, though you can use the APIs if you have a different user management system.
And here’s the real kicker: you can launch branded apps across iOS, Xbox, Apple TV, Roku, etc. on the back of Vimeo, so if that’s in your future, this could be a great fit.
Lastly, if you want to sell/rent videos, Vimeo is a no-brainer. If you want to sell a subscription, note that you’ll be limited to one “subscription product” per OTT account. So if you’re looking to support multiple subscriptions for your site, you might need something like Cleeng as well to manage those subscriptions.
Brightcove can do everything under the sun, but usually through third-party integrations. That is a big landscape, and the integrations you’ll have to use will largely depend on what your business needs are. And since it’s not clear from the outset how many third party systems you’ll need, it’s hard to judge what the true cost will be.
But, there is definitely something to be said for going with the industry leader in the space. Brightcove has seen any and all manner of usage of its platform, and they offer several products and tools depending on your needs. And, because they’re so large, there are so many integrations that support Brightcove. For example, if you sell your own ad inventory and need to control advertising playback, look no further.
While Vimeo OTT might be a perfect fit for renting and selling videos, Brightcove doesn’t have a “perfect fit.” This isn’t a downside, however. If anything, having a flexible platform that isn’t too shoehorned is a great thing.
If there’s one big thing I can tout about Brightcove, it’s that they’ve nailed global delivery. If you need to get your content streaming across the globe (including China, which is notoriously difficult from a CDN perspective), Brightcove should be top of mind for you.
If you want to deliver video to multiple targets (mobile, web, Xbox, Apple TV, etc.) and you have developers on hand, Mux is a fantastic choice. It makes encoding on-the-fly a snap. If you’ve got a team of competent developers, they’ll love the Mux API. It makes the development experience a breeze.
You should seriously consider Mux if you have to deliver content to a wide variety of devices and platforms. That way, when the PS5 comes out, you’ve already got a solution in place.
Keep in mind that this is just handling the encoding of the video, not playback. You’ll still need to manage that yourself with a custom player, or you can even use something like Brightcove (and others) with your own encoded content.
Zencoder was purchased by Brightcove in July of 2012. I remember distinctly because it was one of the companies I was exploring at the time as a “potential next move.” What a great service. It’s the Brightcove-equivalent of Mux: deeper footprint in the market, more time in the market, and has seen more problems (that’s also a positive for Mux though, as they can start from scratch in a newer world having learned lessons in the past. Plus did I mention that Mux was started from Zencoder alums?).
Much like Mux above, you’ll need to figure out how to handle the playback of your video. If only there were some great open source package out there you could use to get going...
This is the perfect time to bring up Video.js. It’s an open source way to handle video on your own. Warning: developers required.
Video.js is the jQuery of video, it’s so straightforward. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Brightcove caught wind of Zencoder in the first place. Zencoder originally created Video.js, and now those folks are at Mux.
It’s the open source tool that works so well for everyone it makes them interested in the product that actually makes money. And the fact that it’s still around today says something. If you can control your pipeline for video from ingestion to storage, and you have developers on staff, Video.js is a really hard option to ignore. It just fits so well.
This is the 800 lb. Gorilla in the room. I mean…. It’s almost a verb at this point. I worked for a company that operated almost entirely on the YouTube platform, so I was closer to this scene than most for a time. I can say this with certainty: you don’t want YouTube to be in control of your business. We’ve seen this with content creators time and again getting banned or demonetized for seemingly unknown reasons tied to the mysterious “algorithm.”
YouTube has amazing reach, and that’s the only reason you should consider this approach. They control your ad delivery, your content strikes, if your account even can make money or can even operate. You are beholden to all that is YouTube, so if you’re considering this approach, I think you’ve already made up your mind!
Honorable Mention: Twitch
It would be hard to go through this list without mentioning Twitch. But Twitch serves a very specific audience. Twitch is almost entirely centered around video games, with a few exceptions: live coding, music production, and of course Dungeons & Dragons (most notably, Critical Role). If you’re running a channel on Twitch, you need to be well versed in all things OBS, the software that allows the streamers to stream what they do. You also need to be well versed on the hardware (so many things by Elgato) and the need to balance engaging with your live audience while playing video games, and ideally playing them well. Did I mention you’ll probably need to run a Discord server for your community too? It’s like Slack, but for gamers (and better than Slack IMO).
As you can see, it’s a very specific niche. If your primary focus is to engage with a live audience and grow that live audience, this should be your first look. Otherwise, in literally every other case, keep searching. Twitch is amazing at what they do, but it’s very specific, and just like the YouTube problem, you’re still dependent on a third party platform for marketing and reach.
Honorable Mention: Wistia
To be completely honest, I haven’t used Wistia in a couple of years. Since then it’s come a long way and adapted its business model to survive. At the time I used it, it was easy to implement, and though it didn’t have the wide reach of the selections above it served what we needed for a good price. However, it still required developers to make good use of it, and after even just a couple of years, I would strongly consider if that price savings is worth it for you.
We could talk forever about video platforms, but those are just a few recommendations that will hopefully help your team as you are evaluating new platforms, particularly as we’re all watching, recording and sharing more video content than ever right now.
For our next post in this series, we’ll share our recommendations for Content Management Systems (CMS).