Flash video player: an up-and-coming distribution alternative
Amazon.com is working with American Express to sponsor a contest for online film producers. Amazon will use Macromedia Flash video as the exclusive online video format for filmmakers to deliver submissions to site visitors.
High definition is inextricably entwined with several fundamental technological changes local stations, station groups and networks face today.
At the same time stations are being required to convert transmission to digital and re-engineer their studios for HD, they are being bombarded with decisions about other, new distribution opportunities, ranging from cell phones and mobile devices to the Web, that cloud the horizon and reshape their business model.
High Definition Technology Update recently learned that online retail giant Amazon.com is working with American Express to sponsor a contest for online film producers. Amazon chose Macromedia Flash video as the exclusive online video format for filmmakers to deliver submissions to site visitors. The decision prompted a call to Macromedia’s Chris Hock, director of product management, to find out what role, if any, Flash video might have for stations seeking HD Web distribution.
HDTU: When I think of Flash, I think of Web animation like the Jib Jab “This Land Is Your Land” parody.
Chris Hock: You are right on. The impression of Flash traditionally has focused on vector animation. The Jib Jab parody is an example. However, recently we recognized the need for publishers to have better options for creating great video experiences on the Web. Since then, we have focused on building powerful products and services to enable our customers to create seamless and immersive video experiences.
HDTU: So when it comes to televisions and stations – whether it’s SD or HD - Flash is a tool that allows them to publish video content on their Web site?
CH: Yes. Not a lot of people know about Flash video in the broadcast world since it is relatively new. We have built a whole suite of tools for customers to ingest and encode into Flash video format, author interactive video experiences for the Web, and stream Flash video. In addition, we’ve built partnerships with content delivery networks so customers have an option for reliable, scalable and global delivery without the need to manage server infrastructure. The result is a solution that will enable stations to repurpose their content as well as develop new content, such as news stories, and deliver them over their or their partner’s Web sites.
HDTU: Why should a station repurpose its content using Flash video when there are a number of other Web video players, such as Windows Media, QuickTime and Real Player?
CH: The challenge that stations face is that there are no enforceable standards for video delivery on the Web today. The result? When you watch video on the Web today, you click a button, and nine out of 10 times you don’t get video to play. You get asked, “Do you want QuickTime or Real Player or Windows Media? Do you want small video files, or do you have broadband?” You can select downloads for your connection - 56k, 200k or 500k.
I know what my download speed is, but do my parents? No way. And the options for these players – they don’t know about those.
Imagine you go home and turn on TV, and instead of seeing “Survivor” you get a help screen. You would take the TV back. If video is ever going to be a success on the Web it needs to be terribly easier.
Flash solves this problem by providing a ubiquitous player. The Flash Player is installed on more than 98 percent of all connected desktops to which stations deliver video content and can rest assured that their Web viewers will have the same experience regardless of their platform or browser.
HDTU: So it’s easier for end users to use. What about stations that want to make sure people visiting their Web site will have a hassle-free viewing experience?
CH: When it just works for the end users, this means less customer support issues for the stations. It also reduces the development and QA costs for the stations since they don’t have to worry about multiple encoding and development efforts to reach multiple platforms on the Web. Flash can let content providers create it once and be able to deliver the content across platforms with the same great experience.
It also provides publishers with full creative control, and it delivers the ability to offer interactive video.
HDTU: Amazon just announced the use of Flash as the video engine for a short film competition. How does that fit in terms of applications for Flash that might assist broadcasters with Web distribution of content?
CH: I think it’s important for stations and broadcasters to understand that consumption of video differs slightly on the Web. If you look at typical usage of video on TV, it’s geared towards a lean back experience. You turn it on and can veg out for hours.
With video on the Web however, users expect more of a lean forward experience. They want shorter clips and to be able to interact with their video. Flash offers a way to add interactivity.
Adding interactivity is a great lesson we can learn from Amazon’s deployment of video. With the initial launch of Amazon Theater last December (prior to the latest contest), they offered five original films with unique interactivity. Inside the films, when the credits rolled, there were the names of the actors and actresses, but there also was the blouse that was worn or the cell phone that was used. Viewers could hover over the credit, click their mouse and be taken to the right page to buy the blouse. In other words, there were hot spots in the video. Flash enables this level of interactivity.
In another case, a customer offered viewers the chance to select various camera angles from different cameras. That’s a great application for sports coverage.
Flash supports both on-demand video, and it supports real-time video, live capture and display. It’s one of the best-kept secrets of display. Not only is there a high-quality decoder, but a high-quality encoder is also built into the ubiquitous Flash Player.
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