Sign Up

What Is a VOD (Video on Demand) Platform?

James Konik

Written by:
August 26th, 2021
Uncertain if he's a coder who writes or a writer who codes, James tries to funnel as much of this existential tension as possible into both of his passions but finds it of more benefit to his writing than his software. When he occasionally hops out from behind his keyboard, you can find him jogging and cycling around suburban Japan.

Video is the go-to medium for content consumption, and that’s only accelerated with pandemic-induced lockdowns. Combine that with smart devices flooding the market alongside bandwidth increases, demand has never been higher. Video on demand (VOD) is revolutionizing consumer viewing behaviors and entertainment as a whole. With VOD, users can watch whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. Instead of reaching for the cable remote, consumers look to streaming services at a time suitable for them, and businesses need to adapt. There are many platforms providing VOD services to meet this demand. And while some focus on catering to viewers, others allow businesses or individuals to provide their own content. Choosing the right one for your content delivery is a tough choice.

In this article, you’ll learn what VOD platforms offer, plus what use cases and technical issues you need to consider before making your decision.

Who Needs a VOD Platform?

Many industries make use of video, but a few stand out. Entertainment is the obvious one, with the likes of YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ dominating the space. Beyond the big hitters, there are plenty of others delivering content on their own platforms. For example, Flimmit has over 4000 videos, encoded with help from Bitmovin.

Video is a great learning tool, and people are willing to pay for quality. Evergreen video content thrives and builds your library over time, but there’s equal opportunity to craft new, innovative experiences around fresh concepts and ideas. There are always untapped markets ready to be embraced, in addition to including video as part of a broader package of learning materials.

Fitness is also perfect for VOD, with audiences eager to learn how to perform exercises or join in with interactive workout sessions. As well as dedicated online services, brick and mortar fitness studios can also benefit from creating content online. VOD suits the subscription model well, with the offer of limited-time free content whetting appetites for the paid content you have available. 

VoD Platform using Bitmovin Player_showing two guys resting

Bitmovin player showing two guys resting during a parkour event.

Esports is another market perfectly suited to VOD content. It’s expected to become a billion dollar industry in 2021, and esports audiences typically trend younger. Due to this, a VOD format is perfectly suited to their expectations for content delivery. With VOD platforms experiencing huge growth, which is expected to continue for several years, there’s plenty of opportunity for newcomers.

Why Use a VOD Platform?

It’s possible to serve video yourself, but using an existing platform has several advantages. Delivering video on your own is a major technical undertaking. It isn’t hard to host a few videos for a limited audience, but doing it at scale is much more challenging.

Encoding video can also get significantly expensive. While it’s easy to get output, optimizing that output is much harder. You need to factor in the demands of sudden traffic spikes if a video becomes popular. Video needs to run well on as many devices as possible, while also minimizing bandwidth. Factor in functionality around security, speed, analytics, and offering features to your users, and serving video yourself is far from easy.

Platform providers have already developed solutions to these problems. Using them lets you concentrate on quality content production, rather than problem-solving and building technical infrastructure.

Considerations When Choosing a Platform

To pick the right platform, you need to consider your audience, the volume of content you have to provide, and the experience you want to deliver. The various platforms competing for your business differ in several important areas, so let’s break those down.

Cost

Keeping costs down is imperative if you want to make a profit. The cost to build a platform from scratch is estimated at $800,000-$1.5 million. A white-label product could cost $100,000 with further costs for bandwidth, storage, and maintenance.

How the platforms charge for usage is also important. Some are free but offer limited control over how your videos are presented. Premium services offer you more control but naturally eat into your costs. That said, running things yourself means you are responsible for setting things up and paying running costs—it’s about weighing the costs and benefits. 

Encoding takes time, and as codecs work at different speeds, the ones you use will directly affect your costs. Generally the faster the speed, the more costs you’ll pay. However, not all video needs to be encoded at the same quality. For videos with little action—documentaries for example—lower quality settings work without impacting the user experience. Bitmovin supports per title encoding which lets you set the appropriate quality on a per video basis, potentially slashing your encoding costs by 10%.

Ultimately, striking the right balance between what you spend and what you get in return is key to managing video costs. Determine what functionality and features matter most to your business, and figure out how to deliver them for the best price possible.

Security

Security is especially important if you have premium or subscription-based content that users need to pay for. Unprotected content can easily be copied and distributed for free on pirate sites, which will detract users from paying for your product in the first place. There are several things you can do to prevent piracy. End-to-end encryption, digital rights management, and restrictions on the devices that can encode and play your content all have a role to play.

Existing platforms have put time into their security, and do what they can to minimize content theft. It isn’t perfect, as security won’t stop determined thieves, but it will make things tougher for them and increase the chances of customers buying from you legitimately.

Speed

Quality is ever-increasing to meet consumer expectations, so speed is essential for your product to keep up. For example, YouTube and Netflix need 5 Mbps of bandwidth for higher quality streams. That’s rarely a problem for users in the U.S., with average internet speeds of over 42 Mbps.

Platform providers need the infrastructure to deliver that kind of bandwidth to multiple users at once. The bigger they get, the more they need. Bitmovin is fast enough to handle livestreaming, and also allows you to convert the stream into VOD format afterwards. There’s the ability to trim the start and end of the video, plus take snippets out while the event is still going for highlights. Speed is critical to delivering a quality experience and the more users you have, the more it will cost to deliver it. Make sure your infrastructure can cope.

Analytics

Figuring out what your audience likes is essential to a modern video experience, and that’s where analytics comes in.  Viewing figures are a bare minimum to understand what’s popular. But to compete you’ll probably need data about when people leave your videos, the search terms they use to find them, along with demographics and preferences to better cater to your audience. If you’re interested in video, YouTube’s analytics will probably be familiar to you, but services like Wistia, Vimeo, and Vidyard all offer solid alternatives.

Bitmovin’s analytics gives you a wide selection of information, presented so you can tell what’s working and what’s not at a glance. It also includes useful extras like fraud detection to help spot problems. Bitmovin tells you how many hours have been watched and tracks stats like unique and concurrent viewers. As well as bigger picture data like this, you can get insights delivered on a per-user level, enabling you to hone in on issues.

Informed decisions will help you improve your services and target users effectively. Don’t underestimate analytics.

Customization

To get your brand noticed, your videos need to stand out from the crowd. The introductory text, formatting of headings, subtitles, plus the overall design all have a big impact. If you can tailor those features to your audience, they’ll have a better experience with your service.

Some platforms offer white-label services so you can present your videos using your own branding. The degree of customization they offer varies. Muvi is popular with educational services, Livestream is a good choice for professional broadcasters, and Wowza is strong for customization and self-hosting. Subtitles and accessibility features are also important. Some platforms can generate automatic subtitles. Video players should also have support for screen readers and transcripts.

There are also various video codecs that differ in quality, efficiency, and how well they work on different platforms. Most platforms support a limited selection of what’s available. Codecs are constantly progressing, so there’s usually something better on the horizon. Taking advantage of the latest ones can give you a potential edge over the competition, as long as enough of your audience can use it. Customization is a key way to differentiate your product, so take full advantage of whatever your chosen platform offers.

User Interaction

If you want to drive user interaction, existing platforms have plenty of features to do that. From comments to bookmarking and sharing on social media, these platforms make it easy for you to engage with your users. As well as sharing your own videos, you can also allow your customers to upload their own work. There are all sorts of reasons for doing this. Perhaps you want to run competitions, allow discussion, or just create a platform yourself.

Educational platforms can offer quizzes or guidance to users to help them study. You can also provide them with further services according to their specific needs. Making your videos interactive can increase their appeal and their utility. If you can think of a new way to do it, that’s even better.

Conclusion

The video revolution is not over, and there are sure to be great platforms and new ideas making headlines in the coming years. There’s no reason yours can’t be among them. When serving VOD, the platform you use has all kinds of implications. You need to consider all the pros and cons before making the right choice for your business.

Bitmovin has a range of VOD services that can help you deliver content to your customers effectively. Its variety of features allows you to create content tailored to your specific audience, without the stress of setting everything up yourself. Built-in analytics also help you make technical decisions to deliver the optimal user experience. Get in touch and see what it can do for you.