Online Video Platform YouReview – Ooyala Backlot

July 7, 2011 by VidCompare Leave a reply »

By special guest blogger, Charlie Davis. This post originally ran on his blog.

I figure since I have already reviewed Brightcove in my previous post (which is now officially lame compared to this post – I think I will rewrite it), the logical thing to do is keep going and begin a ground for comparison, starting with the next Online Video Platform on my list – Ooyala’s Backlot Enterprise version.  For starters, they have a cute (yes, I just used the word cute) and catchy 60 second introductory video on www.Ooyala.com that neatly wraps reasons to embrace online video and their services.  It reminds me a little of Google’s 2009 “Parisian Love” Superbowl commercial, and definitely gets me in the mood to do everything with video.  Anyway, getting past the brilliant pitch (sources for the predicted growth in video and mobile apparently come from eMarketer and Forrester Research) you can sign up for a free trial.  Like Brightcove, you can signup for a try-before-you-buy period (for how long is unclear at the sign-up page, but it is a 30 day trial) that will give you access to manage and publish video from your desktop and upload video from your mobile device. Unfortunately, like Brightcove, mobile viewing is not enabled as part of the trial.

Getting Started: First and foremost, Ooyala does not support the native Internet Explorer browser.  You either need to install the Google Chrome Frame update plug-in or…not use IE. The screenshot below says it all:



For those of you looking for an explanation, clicking on the “install…” button will give you some answers directly from Google. Chrome Frame for IE is basically a shot of HTML5 steroids for Microsoft’s IE6, 7, and 8.  My suggestion – if you have the permission to install the plugin, why not go for the full monty and install Chrome?  I highly recommend it and many videophiles will agree including Ooyala.  Anyway, off my soapbox.  When you install Chrome, and log into Backlot for the first time as a trial user, and I would imagine the same applies for a paying user, you get spanked with a very lengthy Terms of Service that must be accepted to proceed.  I read through most of it and sounds like what I would expect for a SaaS/Cloud offering: its your content, and you are responsible for what gets posted.  Fair enough, though I didn’t see that for Brightcove.  In fact, I would prefer Brightcove provided that info up front – perhaps the majority of users don’t want to be reminded of their rights, but I actually read what I’m signing up for before I accept.  Once you accept, you are presented with a very sensible and useful overview page/dashboard, which appears to be customizable, with a scorecard of top performing videos and some high level trend analysis metrics.  I think Ooyala has the right idea here – even an avid content producer may only upload a couple of videos a day, but watching the analytics numbers is pretty cool and addicting.

At the top of the Overview page, there is another big plus – a news module!  Personally, I love it when products bullet their updates in clear view because, like most power users of a product, when I want to check something I want it quickly.  Intelligent search isn’t quite there yet for many applications and if a feature is acting differently or even moved, I want that info pronto.  Ooyala has a simple, but very effective series of release notes that summarize the changes – very nice.  Also, if you happen to notice the dates on the updates, its clear the Ooyala team is on an Agile development track – again, very nice to know that they are lean and quick to deliver to the customer.  There is also a billing and usage meter.  I’m not sure what this would look like if I were a paying customer, since Ooyala starts at $500/month for its Standard “Platform Fee” which undoubtedly allows you to upload, store, and edit your content; delivery requires speaking to a Sales rep – that may be where the meter comes into play by measuring deliver and content usage.  For my trial, the progress bar illustrates the number of days remaining in the trial.

The media management layout of Ooyala is very similar to that of Brightcove, as I would expect.  Aside from Advertising, there are really three actions involved with online video whether its an OVP or UGC site like YouTube:  1) manage 2) publish 3) analyze.  Below is an apples-to-apples comparison between Backlot and Brightcove’s management workspace just to prove that point.

Ooyala media library workspace (yes, I am upside down, more on that in a bit):

Brightcove media library workspace:

The left-hand navigation is interesting – I actually feel like I can do more with Ooyala because those nav options are visible.  Brightcove may have more options for a paying user, or perhaps the left-hand nav is mostly open for customization.  Nevertheless, I feel more empowered from a single workspace in Backlot’s manage section.  Visiting those options reveals that a trial account does not allow for Live Streaming, YouTube, or Remote Asset modules to be enabled.  Sad, but understandably there to only whet your appetite.

Managing and Publishing Video: To get started with Backlot, I took the same steps as with Brightcove, using the same video clips stored on my iPhone from yesterday (observed above – the Charlie’s Teeth video).  I searched for and installed the Ooyala app which is almost identical in form and function to the Brightcove app – either record and upload, or browse and upload.  My experience with the Ooyala mobile app, on the other hand, was very different from Brightcove’s.  The Ooyala app crashed consistently when tapping on the screenshot of the video in the browser. Tapping on the blue arrow to upload the content did work, however there is no confirmation that the upload was a success.  A 40MB video took roughly 60 seconds to upload to Ooyala, where a side-by-side comparison with Brightcove’s app and the same video took 12 seconds.  I had to go back and check the Ooyala website to verify that the video was received.  While that extra step is inconvenient, it did make me notice Backlot has a queue so you can see what videos are being uploaded into the workspace in real time.  If you have multiple users this queue can prove handy to keep tabs on what is actively being worked on in parallel to your own activities.

I plan to send a note (or maybe this blog entry to the Product Managers at Ooyala regarding this part – uploading the iPhone videos was a success, however the results were unexpected – I ended up upside-down.  When I took the videos with the iPhone I was holding the phone upright, and performed no editing or manipulation, so I imagine any iPhone user can reproduce this issue.  Just record a video with the camera upright and then upload the video in your camera roll using the Ooyala app.  The processed video in the Backlot Media library shows as sideways:

Only when I held the iPhone at a 90 degree angle (as if I were watching a widescreen movie) did the result meet my expectations.  I’m curious to know how this is happening, because the iPhone displays the video properly when played.  Is there some adjustment Brightcove and the iPhone have to do to display the result properly?  Hmm…

Editing and Publishing Video:  Once the video is uploaded you have the option of clicking on the “edit video” button at the bottom when selecting it in the manager.  Technically, this option doesn’t edit the video you have just uploaded.  It is more like editing the presentation by inserting a preview image, like a digital album cover, that is displayed before the first frame of the actual video.  You also have syndication and ad options to insert content.  Again, this is similar to Brightcove, though I think Brightcove does a better job at streamlining the options in their interface, and not taking up so much real estate on the screen in the process.

On that note, for those users who are looking to customize his/her player, Ooyala has a very intuitive customization panel that has a similar approach to Brightcove’s video editing options I mention above.  A tabbed property panel walks you through the options to build and preview a customized player – very neat and orderly.  Brightcove took a different perspective and presents the user with a studio workspace that looks more like Photoshop.  Personally, I prefer the tabbed panel approach so it streamlines my work as I go from left to right; the Photoshop studio is very sleek and orderly, however I feel like I could miss some styles available if I don’t remember to explore my options and expand all of the topics.

Analytics:  In 2010, Ooyala began using Cassandra, the open-sourced database management system originally developed by Facebook, so that it could offer more granular traffic data to clients and offer it faster.  Clients can view more than 500 new reports on their hosted videos and  drill down into that data.  You can report on viewers’ devices (desktops/laptops, mobile devices, etc.), DMA - Designated Marketing Area (yes, I had to look this one up too), user engagement (how many views, watched for how long, etc.), and more.  Unfortunately, the coolest option in the analytics report section is not available for trial users – geo-based analytics!  Come on, Ooyala – Brightcove gives me a peek for free :(  This image below is the best I could find:

Call this is cheap-shot, but since I can’t see Ooyala’s geo analytics, Brightcove wins by default.

Additional Features:  After thoroughly reading the news section and whitepapers Ooyala had available, here are some additional features they have made available within the last year:

Comscore Integration:  selected analytics gathered from the Ooyala Player can be seen directly in the comScore platform.

Jaycut Integration: allows users to edit and splice video content together and then directly publish it through Backlot.

Roku Integration: users can publish content on TV by creating a branded Roku Channel

Facebook Integration: users can publish video directly into Facebook.

API Library: Supports remote assets, YouTube management, custom channels, and live stream management.

Mobile: on-demand and live support for iOS devices including iPhone and iPad; unclear if they support either on-demand or live streaming (I think its just the former) for Android devices.  If someone could enlighten me, that would be helpful.

Summary: Ooyala has a basket full of goodies, there is no denying.  It is a fun platform, with less of a corporate, business feel to it.  Encoding video quality appears to be solid, and publishing is simple.  Analytics are plenty and update frequently.  Again, as a trial user it was hard to review some more exciting features, but their trial is very well done.  Sadly, mobile viewing is not an option in trial mode.  Video’s seen through my iPhone and iPad results in this:

Personally, I feel like Backlot is a little rough around the edges compared to Brightcove, especially when it comes to the little things like the mobile uploads, the encoded mobile video, and the layout consistency.  The layouts across different pages aren’t as consistent as I would expect, and the editing studio takes up a lot of space for so few available options, even if limited by the trial version.  The biggest issue I see is the lack of support for IE.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for Internet Explorer, but that move is very ballsy if you want to build a large customer base.  Brightcove has no such limitation as I can see – it loads and functions in IE 7 just fine without the Chrome Frame plug-in.  Despite all that, they must be doing something right because they recently added Bloomberg’s online and mobile distribution to their bag of clients, including Techcrunch, Telegraph Media Group, Vans, TimeOut NY, and Glam Media.  They also secured $42 million in funding to keep them chugging along, but for how long is anyone’s guess.  And finally, it’s that scalability and performance that also makes these platforms successful.  I am interested to know just what Ooyala and Brightcove’s platform can handle under load, though it looks like Bloomberg was satisfied with the answer to that question, and the New York Times, powered by Brightcove, seemed satisfied on their end.  To get some numbers, I’ll pose the question on Quora to see what kind of an answer I get…  All being said, I really like Ooyala.  They are pushing the envelope and moving fast to broaden their reach.  I look forward to seeing what else they have in store as they continue to update their platform once a month with cool and dynamic 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.

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