By special guest blogger, Charlie Davis. This post originally ran on his blog.
In 2010, Limelight acquired Delve Networks, and with that acquisition came an OVP (now known as their LVP – Limelight Video Platform) whose content manager platform has been described as, “Apple in front, and Google under the hood.” As I mentioned in my earlier post when covering Streaming Media East, Limelight was certainly one of the sexier, more colorful exhibits because of its flashy platform. I wasted no time speaking with a Solutions Engineer and we got into talking about Delve, some of its 100+ customers, and how it has kept most of its personality since the $10 million acquisition last summer.
Such an acquisition is a natural fit for a Content Delivery Network such as Limelight, however they still continue to offer Akamai as an alternative CDN provider for their existing customers (couldn’t find out if new customers have Akamai as an option). They offer many of the standard OVP options like on-demand and live-streaming (though live-streaming is not available for all accounts and needs to be enabled by contacting Limelight), metadata management, customized players, and playlists (also called Channels). And, like many of their OVP competitors, Limelight offers a 30-day trial of their platform that will give you access to upload, publish, and analyze the results of your video content. The following is another OVP overview based on the vendor’s 30-day trial.
Getting Started: First and foremost, the interface runs entirely in Flash 10.x and cannot render without it. Unlike Ooyala, Limelight decided to take a more widely accepted route that can work in different browsers, including IE. Once loaded, its right to work on the media inventory – no dashboard, no news, summaries or analytics. For me, Ooyala has a step up by providing analytics summaries upon login, and something I think every OVP should consider or at least offer as a customization or entitlement tweak.
The Apple front-end reference is unmistakably so, as I think everyone can relate to what that means, and even picture in one’s head what the product might look like and do for him/her. The skin and layout of the application is clearly an iTunes clone, but an effective one since I felt more at home using this content manager than some of the others I have reviewed. That’s not to say this OVP was easier to use, but it felt like less of a hassle to learn during my first few minutes getting acclimated. Here’s a video demo of the content manager, though shame on Limelight’s marketing team for not providing a higher resolution video. The application is actually very sexy and the crappy resolution doesn’t do it justice.
Like iTunes, the 3-pane interface with different features based on Media, Channels, and Analytics:
- left: filters, genres, tags
- center: content list
- right: media properties, channel list
- left: channel list, channel groups
- center: content list
- right: channel properties, restrictions
- left: reports
- center + right: overview
The first thing that struck me about the interface is the overall simplicity, starting with the Media option. One of Limelight’s customers is pokemon.com who hosts full commercial-free versions of their original TV shows. The NFL also has an online streaming video site hosted by Limelight’s OVP, displaying footage of their network’s replays and commentary. In both cases, we’re likely talking about dozens of playlists and possibly hundreds of videos per client. Therefore, an iTunes layout with easy-to-access filters and search makes total sense for that kind of volume and management. Other OVPs like Brightcove and Ooyala have media management of course, through not as easy to sort and filter as Limelight in my opinion. Tagging is particularly helpful and easy to use – when you tag videos those tags show up at the bottom left-hand pane. The filters, by-the-way are so user friendly and designed to default to “All” if no option is selected. And, there is drag-and-drop for building playlists - a big win. Drag-and-drop with a preview of what you’re grabbing. I’m a big fan of drag-and-drop and wish more tools offered it. Again, with a large library, the preview can make it easier to determine which version of that video you really want to publish. Delve and Limelight really spent time on the details to make the user experience as friendly and efficient as possible. Clearly one of the benefits to the user and the developer when hosting in Flash.
Managing and Editing: Uploading and encoding video for on-demand content is snappy, and some of the fastest encoding wait-times I have yet seen. A 4MB test video file took about 15 seconds to render in the preview pane and <1.5 minutes to be removed from the “processing” filter on the left-hand pane. The result is video with bitrates of 160, 354, 504, and 746 Kbps. Without leaving the Media properties, you can rename the video’s label shown in the content pane, associate it with a genre, tag it, add a description, but most interestingly – set a schedule. This is a new feature I can’t say I have seen in other OVPs, but here you can select dates a times – very cool idea, and I will explain why once we get to channels and playlists.
Cropping the video is an option, with a nearly hidden button next to the preview at the top right-hand corner; click on the scissors, and it launches a breakout editing window. I do highly recommend you clip and edit your video before uploading to Limelight, as this clipping tool isn’t helpful for finding the perfect spot, or even a reasonable spot for that matter. The inability to dynamically scrub through frames of the video would be nice, but it is non-existent. I struggled with a 30 second video, fighting mostly with the locator to find the right place to start or stop the video, mainly because moving the locator caused the video to rebuffer and automatically play the video again – talk about push sand against the tide. With the video paused, an ideal editor would allow for the moving of the locator and display the frame while remaining paused. After a dozen or so attempts I finally felt comfortable clipping the video. My recommendation is to avoid clipping video in this space if at all possible and use a better editing tool – there are many of out there, especially if you’re a PC user. For Macs, there’s always iMovie already installed.
The video files in question had to be uploaded manually from my desktop. As a mobile user, I am disappointed to find there is no iOS app in the App Store to upload video to my Limelight OVP account. If anything, an entry in the App Support is great publicity to have people check out your platform – I actually stumbled across Ooyala last year because I was looking for an online video app. Anyway, with the editing completed and my polished clip now encoded, tagged, and labeled, I can now drag and drop the clip into a playlist. If you don’t have a playlist created, just drag and drop the clip(s) into the channel list pane and the window will automatically swing to the next vertical in the content manager – the Channels page.
Publishing Video: I love the concept of channels – especially if you can publish a channel and interchange videos within that list. Curation and organizing videos is fun – so what if I’m a geek. So, what is a channel according to Limelight? From their Help page:
A channel is a collection of media that share common channel settings. Channels can be used to:
- Create playlists
- Organize media
- Faciliate and control feeds or podcasts
- Sync media on an external site, such as YouTube
Creating a channel is just like creating a folder that contains your files on your computer – just click the + sign next to Channels and name it, then drag and drop your content into that playlist. Just make sure you have edited your video content before you send it to the channel, as this channel and everything in it will become live once you click publish. So, now I’m thinking about the player size and style, because once you have your player designed and properly fitted for your web site, the rest should fall into place, right? I’m hardly picky when it comes to player styles and colors, though I can only imagine the hurdles that Marketing teams have to jump through (or make their associated teams jump through) to meet important branding details. But from a general perspective with ease of use in mind, I personally felt quickly publishing my content for the first time took longer than it should. For one, because I’m terrible with figuring out the fixed height and width dimensions for media – always have been and always will be. If the width should be X then the height should be…screw it, I’ll cheat and use Photoshop. And two, because I struggled to find a way to use my new custom player I built in the player builder, so I could finally use the dimensions I needed. The whole end to end process took me about 30 minutes to sort out as a first time user. However, if you are a well organized planner and have the time to develop your templates beforehand, then you can reclaim those 30 minutes with subsequent publishings if you use the same templates.
When I am building a player, or just looking to embed a quick video from YouTube, I want predefined options to choose from while also having options for custom width and height made available. It takes me no time at all to choose a predefined WxH and grab my embed code with YouTube or Brightcove, to name two examples. In fact, YouTube has a lovely custom option, where the height auto-populates when you type in the width. Limelight provides a pair of sliders to choose custom width and height but without the pre-defined options, and sadly doesn’t auto-populate one slider when you change the other. Oh, and if you want to measure the width and height of just the video and not the video+playlist viewer, then you will need to disable the playlist under the player editor properties, scroll all the way down to Playlist and uncheck it. There is an option to enter “expert mode,” a style editor in text mode, and perform all of this manually, but that requires a search to locate the player dimensions and playlist editor among other styles.
So, now that I have my player built and designed, I would like to add it to my channel mainly because I have strict width requirements. So, I spent probably 20 minutes trying to figure out how I associate my new customer play with my channel. Nowhere in the channel properties (or Media properties, though player association shouldn’t be there) could I find any mention of the player to use. I finally said screw it and decided to generate my embed code and edit the properties manually – that’s when I found the option to choose my player. Just like the sliders, the placement of the player option is not only inconvenient but also adds steps to management. If I want to view what channels are using what players, wouldn’t that be part of the channel properties? You would think so, but sadly it is not.
Nevertheless, I found what I was looking for and I’m ready to move on with my life So here is my result – my first Limelight OVP channel, with one video very seriously discussing my intentions on this post, followed by a second separate video in the playlist poking fun at my sunburn while out in Central Park this past weekend. My shaky hands strongly suggests my next post involve a tripod. The output is H.264 encoded video streamed through the Flash player. Interestingly, I am seeing problems viewing the video in Chrome, where the Flash player will not even load. Ooyala’s Flash player doesn’t exhibit the same problems. I have tried web site and blog embed code and both exhibit the same issue. If anyone else sees the same problem please contribute your findings to the comments section – thanks.
Analytics: Once you have uploaded and published enough content, it takes about 10-15 minutes for your first batch of data to be viewable. You have options to view
- Overview – a dashboard and general overview of your content’s user traffic
- Audio – analytics specific to your published audio
- Video - analytics specific to your published video
- Channels – analytics that cover your published channels of media content
- Engagement – how your viewers have interacted with specific media
- Delve Ad Server – activity specific to ads you have incorporated into your media (not covered here)
Starting with the overview screen, you can see how many channels and media instances have been published, as well as the total plays, and total play time. Media most played is ranked and channels most played is broken down into a pie chart. Finally there are two panes, one for most shared media instances and top traffic sources (i.e. referrers). The view is extremely simple to absorb and offers links to drill into each pane’s details, which really takes you to the other links below the overview section. The image below illustrates the video analytics for the channel published in this blog.
The report is blank at first, but choosing each media type under the details section in the main body produces a time chart and pie chart breakdown of your traffic. Filters in the left-hand pane can help you drill isolate your results, such as number of plays, avg time played, unique plays, etc. Personally, I feel like these filters are a bit confusing and could be incorporated into the chart itself for a more engaging and dynamic experience. Once you have the right display of data you can choose to export the results to a .CSV file; I recommend Limelight look into exporting to .PDF as well – the dashboard is very good looking and the ability to executive summaries would be helpful.
Visitor analytics are missing, sadly. Unless there is a limitation in the 30-day trial, map overlay, browser versions, and no data on new and unique viewers. Brightcove, Ooyala, and several other OVPs offer this data in their basic packages. So while you can tell how your media is doing once published, you can’t gather data specific to your audience and target locations.
Guides: While tooling around in LVP’s Help section, I stumbled their online support docs:
- Upload Guide: For LVP users wishing to upload video and metadata via FTP or API
- Player Builder Guide: For basic and advanced approach to customizing properties of the LVP player using the player builder.
- Live Streaming Guide: An extensive live-streaming guide that covers the basic requirements to get started and track the results.
- Limelight Ad Server Guide: A guide for Limelight’s Ad server.
- 3rd Party Ads Guide: An integration guide for use with 3rd party advertising vendors.
- Facebook Sharing Guide: very brief infographic and description of sharing content and tagging through Facebook.
Conclusion: Limelight’s OVP is certainly one of the sexiest OVPs and content managers around. There is so much to love about the interface, drag and drop, design, style, and colorful reports. If you are an amateur or advanced video enthousiast and can spend the time getting to know all the nooks and cranies of this platform, then this should be a contender for your short list of OVPs. It is fast, accessible from multiple browser and versions, and it is easy to import and organize media into channels/playlists. It is a bit difficult at first with the publishing routine, but can be set up with templates for more streamlined use later. There is no mobile app for content upload, and I need to do more digging on why I cannot render the published video above on iOS devices - that’s very surprising, so stay tuned. The time to publish the results in traffic reports seems to be about the same across other OVP analytics. Analytics are very basic and do not focus on data specific to visitors. If analytics is a big driver for your business, then I recommend speaking with a LVP sales rep to determine if the 30-day trial is missing those features.
Charlie is an experienced technologist in the multimedia space for over ten years, and currently works for one of the top financial information companies in New York City as Director of Support for its Corporate Communications business. His passion for online video and social applications prompted Charlie to narrow his career focus specifically to Online Video Platforms. To dig deep into the business of OVPs and understand the market landscape, Charlie began writing detailed user reviews publicly on his web site to bring unbiased feedback and help readers find the right platform to fit their needs.