HTML5 compatibility with our Flash players

Interested in using an HTML5-capable player on mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, or Android devices? We’ve just unveiled this new script that works with Castfire Flash embeds to turn them into HTML5-friendly goodness.

Simply add this code to the header of your page, and you’re good to go:


	

Any questions? Hit up support@castfire.com and we’ll answer them for you, or leave a comment on this post.

Web video concepts: Where we’re headed

HTML5 is a bit of a buzzword these days. Most people think of it as simply replacing Flash as the way to view YouTube videos, but there’s actually something larger happening behind the scenes: Video is becoming a “first class citizen” on the web.

What does that mean? Well, there’s the obvious HTML5 benefit of being able to watch a video in a browser without a crash-prone plugin, but even more than that, there’s a huge potential for interacting with videos in ways we haven’t really been able to do before now.

We’ve still got a few years before it’s going to work effectively, and let mere mortals implement their crazy ideas, but just to get started, check out some of the tech demos that the big browser makers are putting on. Let’s start with Apple’s TRON demo, which works in Safari and Chrome. As you can see, users are able to intelligently scale a video, and even add a mask to it.

That’s fun and all, but pedestrian by HTML5 standards. Check out this demo from Mozilla, which works in Chrome and Firefox. It’s actually keying out the green in the browser. That means a real-time green screen in the browser. Pretty impressive stuff.

Lastly, there’s this demo, which uses Javascript to dynamically inject content into a square, which is created by two phones creating “hotspots.” Again, Firefox and Chrome only.

Right now, a lot of internet users can use HTML5, but creating cross-platform solutions isn’t exactly simple, so most content creators are waiting on the sidelines. Keep watching though, because things will continue to become more simple as time goes on.

Apps, Apps and More Apps

One of the greatest areas of technological growth over the last two years has been in the development of apps. The term ‘app’ is short for ‘application program’, the flip side being a systems program. Many vendors like Apple (iPhone, iPad), Google (Android) and now Microsoft (Windows Phone 7) chase developers to create apps in their environments so their devices will have better functionality…and they can in turn sell more devices.

Apple far and away has not only helped create this market, but continued to catapult it along. A recent estimate says there are over 50,000 app publishers and over 200,000 apps in the US App Store alone. Apps built on the Android platform are growing, as are Blackberry and Nokia (Symbian). Microsoft is well behind, but it is reportedly offering some developers revenue guarantees even if the new Windows Phone 7 fails. A completely new market for apps are also being built on the growing number of tablet computers that are or will soon be sold. Though the operating systems are the same (iOS and Android), the apps being developed for tablets can be very different than the apps on their phone counterparts, and are often much more media rich.

A huge ecosystem is building around supporting the App development industry. From app developers, to app exchanges, to app aggregators, and of course app stores; many different businesses are popping up to support the app industry. The growth we see continuing to flourish is in that of publishers of informational or entertainment content. Virtually every show or brand that has any kind of content where they need eyeballs will eventually need an app if they are to remain current– and they will need apps across devices. Granted, they may not think they need an app for every single phone or tablet, but any device that has sold millions, they will want to get there. Anything from news to sports to weather to fantasy football to full length shows are available from many of the apps that have been specifically built by the owners of that content. These apps are generally made available for free, and there is a huge competition amongst networks, brands and content owners to get the most downloads for their apps.

The decision of what apps to provide can be extremely difficult, however. For instance, a network like CBS may want to build apps for CBS Corporate, CBS News and CBS Sports separately. They may even want to provide apps for specific shows like Survivor or 60 Minutes– or for categories of shows. And then for each of these decisions, they must decide if they are making apps for all the devices out there. Costs to develop all these apps and publish content to the devices can really add up, and it is important that the content owners have a way to monetize all of their shows published to apps moving forward. The mobile ad industry is still in its infancy and will continue to grow and hopefully flourish over time. A platform like Castfire enables publishers to monetize and analyze consumption of audio and video across all platforms by integrating with any ad server; even if the ad server is set up to work within Flash. Therefore, publishers can continue to use their same ad system and same ad ops they use for the web and monetize their content no matter what apps they decide to develop and publish content. Another host of companies like Transpera are focusing on the mobile ad market and rich media ads, and provide other ways content producers can monetize their apps.

One thing is certain: apps are here to stay, and they will only grow in numbers in the foreseeable future as more and more smart phones and tablets hit the market. Those publishers that create the apps that are easy to find, fun to use, and can advertise there without being intrusive will be the ones that win over this ever growing consumer base that will demand more and more mobile content moving forward.

DVR puts the squeeze on ratings, smart folks: Take notice

While perusing online video industry rag NewTeeVee, I stumbled across a report that DVR usage eats away at TV ratings by 15%-20%. I know in my household, it’s more like 95% of our household ratings. With that growth in DVRs comes a shift in the way people consume content, and specifically they’ve altered the mainstream media diet of consumers dramatically. Now, some viewers don’t look at the TV as a place to see what’s on, but rather what’s good to watch.

It’s easy to take this new behavior pattern and infer that the day of on-demand is just around the corner. I think a lot of smart folks will take that approach, and there’s some sound logic behind it. Now that consumers are willing to “bookmark” shows and watch them on their schedules, that has to mean internet-enabled TVs will lead a monumental shift away from primetime, right?

It could be the case, but rather than walk down the road that’s likely to get overcrowded and overhyped in the next six months, let me recommend starting with the road less traveled. Think about why people like TV.

Why do I like TV? Curated content, brainless interface. When I show up to my TV, I don’t actively need to search for a topic, find an actor, look by keyword, but instead I can simply show up expecting to be entertained… and guess what? I’m entertained. I simply swap between 3-4 cable networks and I can (usually) find something that catches my fancy. That’s the way it’s been for 50 years. People expect TV to entertain them without asking much from the user.

There are some smart folks taking a look at the passive entertainment experience online. For instance, take a peek at Google Reader Play. It’s a product that takes a bunch of sites online, and tries to serve you up content based on the ones you’re most likely to enjoy. Another fav worth checking out is Upl8.tv. When you show up to the site, it’s simply an old-skool rendered TV with a YouTube embedded player. Rather than leaning into the product, and selecting some category, or searching, instead the site throws a selection of hand curated YouTube videos at you, one after another. The beauty is in the simplicity: Just smash the spacebar when you get bored.

Those are two good examples where someone has ventured outside the lines, but I think content producers can take some adventurous risks without spending a ton of cash. Find a smart web developer, come up with some ways of presenting content that doesn’t look like YouTube, create it in some spare time, and find some users who will give you a shot. Worst case scenario? They don’t like it and you learned something about what people don’t like.

The reward is figuring out a non-traditional experience that users will love, and then being able to share your content in a way that connects with people. It’s not going to be easy, but the only downside is time. Try to carve some out to create a future, and your future self will thank you.

Apple’s HTTP Adaptive Protocol

In June of 2009, Apple introduced a new video format that provides adaptive bitrate over http.  If those words don’t sound like they should go together – or in that order – don’t worry. It’s actually not as complex as it sounds and is a really cool technology.

Adaptive bitrate allows the quality of the video to adjust depending on your internet connection speed. The faster the connection, the better quality the video will be. While it has been executed in a number of ways on the desktop, this is the first implementation for mobile devices. Additionally, the implementation uses a standard http connection – a very basic building block of the internet. This protocol is very easy to scale and requires no additional software.

While the adaptive bitrate does have advantages, there are three specific disadvantages for publishers:

  1. It requires quite a bit of transcoding, as you need to transcode a minimum of 5 times per episode. If you chose to do separate profiles for iPad and iPhone, there are 12 or more transcodes required.
  2. The only tool Apple provided for transcoding is a command line tool for OSX.
  3. The spec is quite unfriendly to advertising!

Castfire utilizes a custom transcoding engine and queue that distributes the work across many different processors and servers. We are able to quickly divide the workload across available machines to process as quickly as possible. The queue enables each client and output profile to maintain a different priority to ensure that the most important episodes and profiles are completed as quickly as possible. Since Castfire acts as the origin server for your CDN, there is no need to be transferring all of the files between servers or to your desktop – it is completely automated.

Rather than tinker with the encoder from Apple, we built our own encoder for our LAMP infrastructure. We have now transcoded over 1600 hours of http adaptive video — almost 2 years worth — using our custom encoding solution. We are extremely happy with the quality and the performance of it.

Lastly, we have utilized our existing infrastructure, that enables ad insertion from any VAST enabled ad server, to allow publishers to monetize ads in the http adaptive format. Clients like CBS Mobile and the Washington Redskins are using this today to monetize videos across all of the iOS devices.

If you would like to view the http adaptive profiles from some Castfire customers, check out: