A quick perusal of the financial news will provide academics with sufficient information about the negative impact the ongoing economic crisis is having on public education. The painful reality of mass teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms resulting from administrators trying to leverage as much intellectual work out of academic as possible without actually compensating them for the effort and the disappearance of any viable number of tenure-track positions at four-year state colleges and universities should make an educators with a master degree or doctorate look to distance education as a way to either supplement their faculty salaries or completely replace salaries lost to layoffs. However, any effort to transition out of the physical classroom and into a sustainable online teaching schedule must begin with a clear-minded analysis of the current circumstances impacting academics attempting to continue earning a decent living from the delivery of instructional information at the post-secondary level.
A smart example of critical thinking about teaching as a career path is the growth of adjunct instructors every year. There can no longer be any question that the administrators of community colleges, state universities, four year state colleges and technical schools are now following the lead set by for-profit colleges in terms of adopting distance education as a primary vehicle for post-secondary degree programs. The cost of providing instruction to the rising number of new and returning college students in the physical classroom on the traditional campuses is almost too much to be met now, and it will absolutely be too much to be met in the very near future. The only alternative for these administrators is to move as many academic disciplines as possible to the Internet in the form of online college degree programs. While there are still many pedagogical issues to be resolved as more online college courses are developed and offered to post-secondary students, there is no longer any question that the future of teaching in general is now locating itself on the Internet.
A traditional adjunct faculty member teaching on a physical college or university campus is very limited today in terms of how much income can be made and how many actual college classes can be taught at any one time. This is primarily the result of the necessity of having to travel physically to the campus in order to reach the college students. If an adjunct college professor lives in the sparsely populated part of the country, there are only two or possibly three post-secondary academic institutions that actually have college classes that need teachers. Further, the adjunct instructor who must drive a personal vehicle between available teaching positions on physical campuses is forced to spend a good portion of the small amount being paid for the college teaching on the maintenance and repair of the motor vehicle. Now imagine not having to stand one solitary dime on a personal vehicle in order to arrive in the front of the college classroom. The online adjunct instructor is in such an enviable position because the online college classes can be taught on the Internet by using an inexpensive laptop computer.
The amount of money an adjunct instructor can earn teaching online full time in this fashion, using a computer as a method of arriving at the academic workplace instead of a motor vehicle that must be driven many miles each day, is considerable, and at the very least could be viewed as an extra paycheck from online college teaching. Since most individuals with earned graduate degrees, a Ph.D. or master degree, readily choose to teach college classes for a living, and there are many that consider the academic life a viable and desirable career path, they are severely limited due to budgetary constraints now being experienced by physical colleges and universities. It is a good idea to take a hard look at the online adjunct income that can be earned by teaching for accredited online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs. In fact, the reality of academic life today indicates that online adjunct jobs help remove academic and economic limitations for college teachers.
The online adjunct instructor who masters the computer skills required to digitally navigate in and out of a variety of accredited online college degree programs every day can easily acquire an online teaching schedule with as many as ten to twelve online college courses in it. This number of online classes will generate online adjunct income stream that will be the envy of the vast majority of traditional college adjunct faculty members. An online teaching schedule containing ten online college courses in it can easily produce an online adjunct income equal to or in excess of fifty thousand dollars a year provided the online college professor constantly improves the computer skills required by online degree programs.
Granted, these computer skills are not within the purview of every academic, but they can be learned to some degree that will permit the online faculty member to acquire at least five or six online faculty positions with the appropriate application of effort. It is not easy to teach online for accredited online bachelor degree programs, but the alternative is to remain in the physical college classroom and slog away for poverty wages. In no way is this acceptable for an individual who has made the massive effort required to earn a doctorate or masters degree. As time goes on, and more and more pressure is put on diminishing budgetary funds at traditional colleges and universities, these post-secondary academic institutions will deploy even more online college degree programs. Further, new and returning college students generally have no hesitation in enrolling in an online MBA degree program, the military degree program or one of the many online nursing masters programs. As a result, the college teacher who is tired of barely scraping by in the physical college classroom should start now to learn how to acquire online adjunct jobs in order to help remove academic limitations.
The best defense is often a good defense, and this truism is especially relevant for educators with earned graduate degrees. It is no longer a secret that public education budgets are in peril as the necessary funds required to finance faculty salaries and physical campuses are reduced practically every semester. This decline is a sustainable income from teaching in a traditional classroom should cause academics to take a hard llk at the growth of online college courses in multiplying online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs. The unavoidable reality of teaching for a living is that online college degree programs are the way to create enough sustainable income as an academic to replace a traditional faculty salary lost to budget cuts.
Of course, there are many teachers at the secondary level and elementary level of the academy with a bachelor degree and they wonder if the expense and time required for earning a doctorate or master degree is worth it. The answer is yes because a graduate degree is necessary to teach at the post-secondary level of the academy. An educator with an earned graduate degree and a modest level of computer skill can learn how to develop multiple online adjunct income streams by locating an applying for online adjunct faculty employment with the thousands of colleges and universities that offer online college classes to their enrolled students.
The most effective approach to finding open online adjunct instructor positions with community colleges, for-profit colleges and four-year universities is to make an application to each and every one of them. Of course, since there are over five thousand post-secondary academic institutions that are in the process of increasing the number of online college degree programs they offer college and university students it can be overwhelming to the beginning online adjunct instructor. The usual daily submission of academic credentials and evidence of classroom experience to at least ten online bachelor degree programs will start to produce results more quickly than can be imagined in the beginning, so it is important for the new online instructor to stay focused during the submission process to colleges and universities.
The length of the individual online college courses is the key to earning more academic income from a computer than in a physical college or university classroom. Many online university classes last only five to eight weeks. This means that it is possible to teach twice as many online classes from a computer during a calendar year than it is to teach in a physical classroom. However, it is important to still apply to college and universities that offer the sixteen week online course because the even one or two longer online courses can add significant amounts of online adjunct income.
In any event, the primary advantage of teaching online is the amount of control over the online teaching schedule permitted the online adjunct college instructor with technical skills. The online adjunct can choose to teach the students in the online college courses from any place in the world provided access to the internet is available twenty four hours a day. Further, the academic interaction with the online college students can generally occur at any time of the day or night. The combination of personal mobility and professional freedom is an unbeatable combination for an online college professor.
Ultimately, the decision to teach online for as many online bachelor degree programs and online master degree programs is a wise one for academics with the desire to gain greater control over their academic income and teaching schedules.
This article is specifically aimed at video producers who are interested in getting the most out of their streaming video productions in terms of video and audio quality. It mainly involves the best working practices for ensuring that your streaming video wrestles well with that dastardly beast, the “compression monster”, which wants to turn all your pristine video to digital mush.
I came from a background in professional video and media production in Perth, Western Australia, shooting TV commercials, independent film, corporate video, and much much more. With the advent of the internet, I became excited about the possibility of using it as a way of delivering quality streaming video advertising for businesses both in Perth and around the world. So I founded my current business, ONLINE AURA, and went into developing video specifically tailored for streaming. The problem was, although I was familiar with the theory of video compression, the most I’d ever come up against this beast was at the level of VHS or DVD production, where it occasionally wrangled but never inflicted serious damage upon me. The reality of video streaming compression was a huge adjustment however, as I watched pin sharp images shredded into digital mud before my eyes, and heard glorious soaring music turned into a horrific sequence of farts and dying bumblebees.
Over the course of time, through experience of testing and producing many streaming videos for local clients, I learnt the best practices and techniques for shooting and editing streaming video. I won’t say I’ve tamed the compression monster, because he still lurks over my shoulder on every shoot, but I will say that I’ve learnt how to keep him under control and make it through the video compression process with just a few scratches here and there. So this articles includes a number of tips and guides to help you battle this beast in your next streaming video production.
1. Let there be Light – I’ll start with the most obvious and what can be considered as one of the most crucial aspects in producing quality video streaming. I know there’s a lot of things written about this recommending strongly-lit flat lighting (i.e – no shadows). The theory being that reducing contrast in your image means that it will compress more efficiently and you’ll end up with a higher quality streaming image. This isn’t quite right, as the human perception of “sharpness” relies on contrast differences, and even though a higher contrast image may in mathematical terms be less well compressed at a pixel by pixel level, it will create the illusion of being sharper to the viewer. Basically the rule for best quality is to provide a smooth ratio of contrast, and to favor large soft sources that don’t over light what you’re trying to shoot. Blasting light directly from your camera position over the entire scene is not going to produce favorable results in terms of streaming video quality. The best results come from soft directional sources, but there’s also room for backlighting and other creative approaches.
You have to make allowances for the eventual compression, but that generally means keeping your image contrast within an acceptable ratio. Low light is obviously a problem, and night shooting can be difficult. Any grain is going to play havoc and awake the old compression monster, who will hungrily eat up every little vibrating pixel. You can use grain removing plug-ins, but they can have the effect of softening your image and will compress sometimes even worse. Crushing your black levels entirely can sometimes help, and de-saturating your image and adjusting midtones can also be useful. If you have to shoot in low-light on the street, try not too using the gain controls on your camera, and instead go for a low shutter (if your camera has it). Lower shutter speeds will generally compress better. For interview subjects in the studio, I generally use a soft key and a bit of a kicker or backlight, with just a little bit of frontal fill. For video compression I make sure the background is relatively static and defocused. Using green screen and replacing the background with a blurred still image or slowly moving blurred background works well, and keeping background colors muted helps compression.
2. Camera movement – Obviously a lot of fast camera movement is going to require higher rates of compression for streaming video. But different types of movement also have different effects. A smooth dolly shot will actually compress reasonably well but, interestingly enough, the same move-in or out using a zoom instead will not compress well, and generally zooms are to be avoided if possible. Hand-held images will tend to suffer greatly, unless they are stabilized later using a software plug-in such as Steadymove. Steadicam shots can work reasonably well if done well. Unfortunately most steadicam shots contain a bit of ‘float’ which, although barely perceptible to the average viewer, will not compress as well as a genuine dolly or track shot. Locked off shots will obviously compress best, though it is dependent on what’s in front of the camera!
3. Motion in front – Certain things compress well, while certain other things compress poorly. Water and waves look beautiful and crystalline on DVD, but in the streaming video world they fall to pieces. They carry took much randomly moving fine detail. The same with leaves blowing on a tree in the wind. If you’re shooting an interview or spot with someone in front of a tree with fine leaves on a windy day, you should consider moving them to take in a background with less motion. Obviously you want to have things moving in your camera frame to provide interest (that’s the whole point of having video over a slide show), but think about how much of the frame is moving. If you can isolate your moving subject with a longer lens and have the background blur out, that will compress better and also appear sharper to your viewer. Because of the small screen size, when shooting people move in a bit tighter. Close ups can be most effective.
4. VBR and the art of “compression accounting” – You should know that using Variable Bit Rate for your video will provide a significant quality boost for most videos over standard CBR (constant bit rate). But to maximize the quality of your streaming video you may need to take advantage of this variable bit rate capacity by doing what I refer to as compression accounting.
What’s that? Imagine I have a budget of $250 per day for a month to buy whatever goodies I want. In a strict CBR world I get $250 at the start of the first day, and, regardless of whether I spent the whole lot or not, it would go back to zero at the end. The second day I’d get $250 again and so on. So, in CBR world, I may as well spend all of my $250, because there’s no saving for the next day. If I see a $800 guitar in the window, I can’t buy it, because I’ll never have that much money, and I have to settle for a poorer quality $200 one instead. In VBR world however, there is saving. If I don’t spend my $250 on the first day, and instead spend $150, that means I can spend the $100 I saved some other time. In effect, I can restrict my spending in the present so I can buy that $800 guitar in the future with the money I saved. If you’ve uncovered the meaning in my torturous analogy, what this means is this – when shooting in VBR mode I’ve got an idea of how many data bits I’ve got to play with and I can spread them out accordingly. Knowing that I want to shoot something with a lot of camera movement, like a dynamic steadicam shot through a crowd of moving people, I know that I should balance that out with a couple of locked off shots with little or no movement. It’s the equivalent of spending $800 on that guitar (the steadicam shot), by scrimping on other days (i.e. shooting the lock-offs). When it comes to encoding, the encoder will look at the video on the first pass, note the amount of movement in each shot and work out an average level of compression for each shot given the total average it has to play with. The steadicam shot might take 800kbps while the lock-off shots only take 80-100kbps. So the trick is balancing out the number of complex and simple shots to take best advantage of VBR compression. With any luck you’ll have a good balance and end up with much better use of compression to give you a better quality streaming video.
5. Shoot progressive – Shooting for streaming video means that you’re producing for a computer screen, which is typically an LCD. The way computer process moving images is fundamentally different from your typical TV. I could write three thousand words about the technical differences, but basically the conclusion is that progressive scanned or de-interlaced video perfectly fits the way a computer monitor displays these images. Interlaced video (which contains fields) displays motion perfectly well on televisions, but will traditionally not encode motion well with streaming video, creating motion artifacts and occasional streaking effects. The best option is to shoot with a camera that delivers images in progressive scan mode. While there are high-end professional cameras, most consumer models won’t. However the prosumer models produced by Canon, namely the XL-1, XL-2 and XM2, all feature a ‘frame’ mode that make these cameras adapt well to streaming video. Failing that, videos should be de-interlaced either at the editing stage using software (e.g Premiere Pro, Avid), or at the encoding stage. Quality encoders such as Canopus procoder typically offer de-interlaced delivery.
EDITING and FINISHING
1. Classical cuts – The compression factor of streaming video means that a classical shooting style produces better results than MTV style camerawork. And the same thing applies to editing. Although editing still has to be pretty snappy to fit within the time format, there aren’t the fancy flash frames and transitions you would normally favor when shooting for TV or DVD delivery. One of the great sacrifices I actually felt in the early days of producing streaming video advertisements was when I had to lose the simple cross-dissolve. Cross-dissolves are one of the most commonly used transitions between shots and before I started to produce streaming video for the web I used them frequently. Unfortunately cross-dissolves don’t compress well, and if you watch streaming videos carefully you will notice during the dissolve from one shot to the next there are a lot of artifacts – a sure sign that the transition effect is gobbling up valuable compression dollars! A straight cut is simply the most efficient way to go, and if you take a look at almost all the streaming video examples featured on my website, you’ll see that every single transition is a straight cut. That might seem limiting, but after a while of doing videos like that, you’ll learn to use that method of editing, and strangely enough it’ll also help you construct sequences better. It may seem strange to some with high-end video editing software with literally hundreds of available transitions, but you’ll actually begin to appreciate the art of editing more when you’re able to create a rhythm and flow from straight cutting.
2. Grade your image for LCD and compression – Another difference between standard TVs and computer LCDs are the way they process colour. When grading for streaming video delivery you have quite a bit of latitude for “souping-up” the colour, as they will typically display more colour saturation that most televisions. Grading images is another key to making sure your final streaming video looks its best online. Beefing up contrast using levels filters or unsharp mask filters is another way of creating the perception of a sharper video image, and counteracts both the softening effect of LCD displays as well as the somewhat washed out effect produced by some encoders during the video compression process. Remember there are trade-offs to overdoing it with the colour though – it takes more compression to process those saturated colours. If you’re after maximium sharpness at low bit-rates, you should actually consider de-saturating the colour or going all the way and having it in B&W or monochrome.
3. Different aspects – One thing you may actually take advantage of creatively as a producer of streaming videos is that you can create streaming videos with virtually any aspect ratio you desire. From ultra-widescreen to vertical skyscraper formats, you’re not limited by the aspect ratio of your TV or camera. This has partly to do with the fact that, when you’re producing video streaming ads, your screen size or dimensions are smaller that your originally captured image. So all kinds of cropping effects can take place. This can be useful also when producing videos that are part of banners, alongside other graphics. If your editing software supports different aspect ratios, experiment with this, or if it doesn’t, you can always crop later in an encoding program. You may even choose to edit in a compositing program like Adobe After Effects, which permits you any screen size and aspect ratio you desire.
4. Different speeds – One thing that can compress well is slow motion. The difference between successive frames is usually small and so it compresses reasonably well. I use a special frame-blender to produce very smooth slow motion video effects and reduce the choppiness of video slow motion. Another thing I end up doing sometimes in regard to motion is using quick short ramps (fast motion) within shots. This can eat up data, as you end of with a lot of difference between successive frames, but it does give videos plenty of energy, and if the ramp is quick the damage can be minimal. Adding a keyframed blur within the ramp can work to minimize this if you’re doing a whip-pan move as well.
4. Audio – Audio quality is just as important as video. If you skimp on audio, it’ll bring down the whole level of your production. If you’re employing voice-over, make sure your talent speaks clearly and try and EQ them tight, which sometimes means backing off bass frequencies and creating a punchy middle. Music is also very important. For those who have to use generic or stock music, try and favor simple arrangements and back off the cheese factor. Arrangements with short punchy sounds, like percussive instruments, compress better than long dense sounds, like a string orchestra. It all depends on how you encode this of course. In the early days, in order to maximize the video bit rate, I’d use very low audio rates. Using windows media encoding, I’d use their “voice codec” at 20kbps mono. If your mix of voice and music is sharp and punchy, it’d hold up reasonably well, as long as the music didn’t feature a lot of dense sustained notes. As more people have gotten faster connections, I’ve upped the bit rate and now tend to use 32kbps stereo (albeit at a lower sample rate) or sometimes higher. A good mono sound is preferable to a stereo sound that’s breaking up due to compression, so be careful. The one great thing about using Windows media, as opposed to Flash, is that you can produce good quality audio at very low bit-rates, because the windows audio codec is remarkably good and far superior to mp3. If you have to encode in Flash, try and see what codec is being used for your audio. The best mp3 codec widely in use is the LAME codec.
5. Delivery Formats – When I started, there were really 3 major formats for streaming that I felt were an option: Windows media, Realplayer and Quicktime. A lot of testing went into it, and basically it came down between Windows media and Realplayer. At the time I felt Realplayer offered slightly better quality and better colour saturation, though because of the widespread use of windows media player (thanks to the monopolizing of Gates’ Microsoft), Windows media was my preferred delivery format. For me, Real and Quicktime have basically fallen off the radar in terms of streaming video. Now it’s down to two options – Windows media and Flash 8. Flash was never really efficient enough before to offer a true alternative to the others, but with the widespread acceptance of the Flash format for video and the improvement of Flash video with the new On2 codec, it is a real option. The ease in which it is able to integrate into webpages, as well as Flash-created files, makes it very tempting. It still doesn’t offer the overall efficiency of Windows, which at a compression level for video and audio still wins out. You’ll have to choose yourself what’s best for your streaming video delivery format.
Also, when I started, I was doing exclusively real streaming, that is, intelligent multi-bitrate streaming using a Windows streaming server. I released however that, if I wanted to produce very high quality content at reasonable bit rates, then streaming wasn’t quite going to do it for me. That’s why progressive download, with its 2-pass VBR, basically won me over as a way of delivering short (typically 2minutes or less) video advertisements online. I’ll use intelligent streaming for other things which require low bit-rates, such as audio and still sequences, but that’s about all.
I hope this has given you a few ideas about best working practices for producing streaming videos, whether they be for online advertising, video blogs or whatever. Video streaming carries with it a particular set of work practices that set it apart from the production demands of other media, like DVD. Having an idea of those factors before you go into a streaming video production will hold you in good stead, and help you to produce a much better end result.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to catch up with you sometime down the track with more articles. You can visit my website at www.onlineaura.com.au [http://www.onlineaura.com.au] or email me with questions.
What is progressive download? How is video streamed live over the internet? All these questions and more are answered in this article.
Corporate websites are now embedding helpful ‘how to’ and ‘introductory’ video files in their website pages, and are becoming increasingly aware that their visitors are far more likely to watch a 3 minute video than to read pages of text.
With video streaming over the internet now being taken for granted, we have to ask; How does it work?
Firstly, we have to break video streaming down into its 3 most commonly used forms.
1) On demand video streaming
2) Progressive download
3) Live video streaming
On demand video streaming This is where a video content is streamed over the internet when a website visitor demands it. An example of this is when you click a play button for a video you want to watch and the video plays. This is very similar to the ‘Progressive download’ that we have mentioned except for one main difference. When a video is streamed it is using streaming server technology. Steaming servers are a great way to make sure the video is delivered as it should be. Streaming video with the various streaming server technologies also allows us to do more than just stream our video. We can actually have ‘user interaction’ with our streaming server allowing us to take a video watcher to a shop to buy something they have seen and ‘clicked on’ in the video they are watching for example.
Progressive download: This is where your video player downloads the whole video into your computers memory while the video is playing.
Live video streaming: Live video streaming requires a capture device, like a video camera, encoding software that transcodes or converts the video signal from the camera into a web compliant video format and a streaming server.
The video camera will pass on the video information to the encoder, which will send the transcoded video up to the streaming server (usually over the internet) using One of the various streaming protocols. The streaming server will then broadcast the encoded video over the internet to your viewers who will see your video live, generally with a short delay, commonly about 7 to 20 seconds of what is happening in real time.
What is MPEG4? MPEG4 has been designed to allow video playpack on a wide variety of platforms. It can be used on computers, HD TV, PDA’s and mobile phones.
Although there are many different video formats on the internet, the basis for all streaming, whether live, on demand or progressive download, all work using similar coding schemes derived from work done for MPEG2, the prior format to MPEG4.
MPEG4 is made up of ‘data channels’ used to send the video stream and the audio stream. The number of data channels is not explicit. Generally we have a video transport channel that is used to stream the video data, we have up to 8 channels for audio, usually MP3 or AAC (Advance Audio Codec), we have a channel for subtitles and we have a data channel that allows information to be passed to and from the streaming server.
The reason video can be streamed successfully over the web is the delivery method. Video, especially in films, is delivered frame by frame. This is carried over from traditional filming methods where each frame contains the full picture presented to the viewer. These frames are played back one after the other so quickly that, to the human eye, creates the effect of continuous movement.
Compressed MPEG4 video is made up of ‘I-Frames’ and ‘P-Frames. I-Frames are effectively frames that contain all the information needed to display a frame, where a P-Frame is an update of an I-Frame. So what the decoder does is show an I-frame and then show a series of P-Frames that update changes in movement etc. Because of this, the video size is massively reduced. This explains why, when watching a video over the internet you sometimes see blank squares in the picture. This is because the P-Frames were not received in time and the decoder cannot update those areas in the video.
What is a Codec A Codec is a way of coding and decoding information. So all the various video formats on the internet work in a similar way, using an encoder to reduce video and audio data whilst preserving as much quality as possible. This video is then transmitted over the internet and when it reaches the clients player it gets decoded into, or as near to, its original format.
The Codec for video that is gaining popularity is H264. The reason being it works equally well for TV or mobiles.
This newish technology, which provides a continuous stream of data, is awesome for many reasons. From the consumer’s perspective, it implies saving time since one does not have to download a file first, and then consume it. Also, members of the public do not have to manage vast quantities of data and space on their computer’s hard drive or external disks anymore, since there is no data to download and save as such. From the content producers’ perspective, streaming also offers great opportunities: with internet videos and webcasts of live events, there is no file to download, therefore it is hard for most users to save content and distribute it illegally.
Streaming is a relatively recent development, because broadband connection had to run fast enough to show the data in real time. If there is an interruption due to congestion on the internet, for example, the audio or video will drop out or the screen will go blank. To minimise the problem, computers store a “buffer” of data that has already been received. If there is a drop-out, the buffer goes down for a while but the video is not interrupted. Streaming has become very common thanks to the popularity of internet radio stations and various audio and video on-demand services, including Spotify, Soundcloud, Last.fm, YouTube and the BBC’s iPlayer. While streaming initially made its mark in the music sector, with music streaming revenues generating $3.3 billion at the end of 2014, streaming is currently making phenomenal headway in the video distribution and consumption space.
The video streaming market today: beyond distribution and into content creation
Video streaming: the technical bit
Video streaming technology has come a long way: the most influential group, of course, are the streaming technology providers themselves, who choose which technologies and services to integrate into their platforms. These include Apple, which provides QuickTime as well as the HTML5-based technology to reach iOS devices; Adobe with Flash; and Microsoft with Windows Media and Silverlight. In the early days of streaming, the most relevant playback platforms were Windows and Macintosh computers.
While Apple and Microsoft still hold tremendous leverage, computer platforms tend to be more open than mobile devices, while the latter comprise the fastest growing segment of streaming media viewers. Because Apple owns both a very popular platform (iDevices) and operating system (iOS), it retains absolute power to control standards adopted by Apple devices. Other mobile influencers tend to be split between hardware vendors – like LG, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia and HTC – and mobile operating system providers like Google (Android) and Microsoft (Windows Phone).
Streaming media delivery providers such as online video platforms (“OVPs”) (which are productized-services that enable users to upload, convert, store and play back video content on the internet, often via a structured, scalable solution that can be monetized) and such as user-generated-content sites (“UGC sites”), also influence streaming technology adoption. For example, though Microsoft introduced Silverlight in 2007, it wasn’t supported by any OVP until 2010, stunting its adoption. In contrast, OVPs like Brightcove and Kaltura, and UGC sites such as YouTube and Vimeo were among the first to support the iPad and HTML5, accelerating their adoption.
While there are dozens of providers in both markets, the key OVPs include Brightcove, Kaltura, Ooyala, Sorenson Media, Powerstream and ClickstreamTV, while the most notable UGC sites are YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Viddler and Metacafe. On the video live-streaming front as well, technology has made significant strides. Specialised OVPs such as Ustream and Livestream offer instant broadcasting of user-generated live videos with a live chat window running alongside the video player, giving users an opportunity to not only watch events as they unfold but comment on them, too.
YouTube made a video live streaming service available to its users too. And now, the icing on the cake: video streaming distributors and providers. The description of this whole ecosystem of video streaming would, indeed, not be complete without mentioning the providers of on-demand internet streaming media also called streaming video on-demand services (“SVoD services”). From 2011, the press began blogging about the most popular streaming media services that would bring high-quality commercial content streamed to the TV sets, smartphones and computers of the masses.
Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand (now rebranded Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime), Hulu Plus and Vudu came out on top (“SVoD providers”).
Replicating the successful business model of music streaming in the video streaming sphere: it’s all about scale, baby
SVoD providers have it so good: not only can they benefit from the great strides made by streaming media technology since the mid-noughties, but they can also educate themselves faster thanks to, and avoid the pitfalls which threatened, their predecessors, i.e. streaming music on demand providers such as Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, Rdio, Grooveshark and Beats (the “SMoD providers”).
While SMoD providers typically charge USD4.99 per month for an access plan to their services, and up to USDD9.99 per month for a premium plan, SVoD providers start their monthly subscription plans at USD7.99 with a maximum price of USD11.99 per month for SVoD services on up to 4 screens per household. Fearless Netflix even got a lot of flak, in April 2014, for hiking up its new subscriber fees globally by USD1 to USD2 a month. If we quickly do the maths, we can forecast that there is more money to be made in SVoD services, than in SMoD services, provided that these services are scaled up.
And scaled up they are: on 23 April 2014, Amazon announced a licensing agreement that gives Amazon Prime members exclusive access to highly-sought after HBO’s library of original content, hence undoubtedly increasing the appeal of becoming an Amazon Prime’s subscriber. On 24 April 2014, competitor Netflix announced that it had contracted with three small cable companies to provide subscribers access to its content via TiVo DVRs, while on 28 April 2014 it announced a deal with Verizon to provide Netflix subscribers high-speed online access to streaming content, the second such deal Netflix has made with an Internet service provider (“ISP”).
As the technology industry – and to a degree the entertainment sector – function very much on a “winner take all” economic model, streaming content is an evolving battlefield teeming with opportunities and risks, in which companies assert their dominance and grow their market share. There are some clear winners, in the SVoD services’ sector, such as Netflix which, in the first quarter of 2014, added 2.25 million streaming subscribers in the US and a total of 4 million worldwide. It now has 35.7 million US subscribers and more than 48 million globally, in line with its long-term goal of 60 to 90 million domestic subscribers. It all makes sense from the consumer’s standpoint too: streaming is converting the most valuable downloaders (of music and video content) into subscribers and in doing so is reducing their monthly spending from USD20 or USD30 to USD9.99 on average.
By the end of 2014, music streaming revenues accounted for USD 3.3 billion, up 37% from 2013. In comparison, online and TV-based video streaming services combined to pull in a revenue of USD 7.34 billion in 2013, a figure that PriceWaterhouseCoopers (“PwC”) says will rise to USD 11.47 billion in 2016, before reaching USD 17.03 billion in 2018. That rise will be driven primarily by subscription video services such as Netflix and Hulu, PwC says, rather than by through-TV subscriptions.
The leap into content creation and production
What is interesting is that SVoD providers are going beyond what SMoD providers have ever done: they are entering the content production sphere, in order to enrich their catalogues and offerings; to expand their networks of, and reach to, high-powered executives, producers and movie-stars as well as to assert their newly-acquired status and clout. Online streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu will make more money per year than the US movie box office by 2017, according to a new report release by PwC.
The report projects that streaming services will be the biggest contributor to the American filmed entertainment industry in four years, as the revenue generated by TV and subscription video on-demand providers reaches almost $14 billion, $1.6 billion more than the amount earned from the traditional cinema box office. Therefore, SVoD providers have, and will keep on having, a lot of disposable cash to invest.
How to better invest this available income than in producing high-quality video content, to enrich one’s catalogue and products offering? The main area streaming services will have an impact on the traditional box office, the PwC report says, is in release dates. At the moment, most movies are given months in theaters before they slowly make their way to streaming services. PwC says the strength of companies such as Netflix is expected to put pressure on the industry to make this transition faster, offering filmed entertainment to consumers earlier.
More importantly, SVoD providers keep on expanding their content inventories. Netflix already has USD 7.1 billion in existing obligations for original and licensed content, and it recently contracted for an original Spanish-language series; a new series from Mitch Hurwitz (the creator of much-loved Arrested Development); a third season of House of Cards and a final season of AMC’s The Killing. Indeed, the economic returns of House of Cards, the test case, were as successful as the critical reviews. Netflix’s new strategy fortified its existing revenue model-acquiring and retaining subscribers-and even opened up new revenue streams such as content licensing or even a branded channel with traditional distributors. Netflix spent roughly USD 100 million to produce the first season of House of Cards plus additional marketing investments, including advertising buys for primetime TV spots and high-profile billboards. If House of Cards brought in half a million new Netflix subscribers, with the same average life span as current subscribers (an estimated 25 months), the show would have just about broken even in two years. The real test was the lifetime value of these new customers.
What if many or most turned out to be opportunistic viewers who ended up canceling their subscriptions a few months after watching House of Cards? Then the breakeven opportunity looked vastly different. For example, if the average customer life span was closer to four months, then Netflix would have needed more than three million new subscribers for the project to breakeven-essentially, a 43 percent increase over its current average acquisition rate. Needless to say, this debate is now closed and, in addition to its string of series, very successful Netflix has brokered many recent theatrical deals – it plans to release the sequel to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon day-and-date online and in Inmax theatres, and has struck an exclusive four-picture deal with Adam Sandler – which have supposedly enraged many in the business.
Speaking at a keynote in Cannes’s MIPCOM in November 2014, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos insisted that the company was only looking to modernize a theatrical distribution model that “is pretty antiquated for the on-demand audiences we are looking to serve”. Netflix, he said, is not looking to kill windowing but rather to “restore choice and options” for viewers by moving to day-and-date releases. Not only that, but Sarandos said Netflix would be expanding into more niche genres, including the financing of documentaries and art-house films. Hence, the marketing stunt with teaming up with mega movie star Leonardo di Caprio on the release of documentary Virunga focusing on the fight against poaching endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The documentary was released simultaneously on Netflix and in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on 7 November 2014. Amazon Prime’s tally in content creation and production is also impressive, most notably thanks to its decision to engage Woody Allen to write and direct a series for its SVoD services in January 2015 and its competitive force in TV by landing two Golden Globe trophies for best comedy for its critically praised Transparent and actor for series star Jeffrey Tambor also in January 2015.
So the future is more than bright, for SVoD providers, but what are the threats to their growing supremacy and market share?
A sorry state of affair for SVoD providers and traditional video distributors: counterfeiting in the video streaming market
A tentative expansion to international territories? A false alarm
Initially, the major threat to the rise and scaling up of SVoD services worldwide came from the reluctance, by several European countries to accommodate and “psychologically adapt” to the business model offered by the likes of Netflix.
The French, in particular, were a headache: In the own words of then French Minister of Culture Aurelie Filipetti, “(the French) are absolutely not going to close the door to (Netflix), but they need to get used to the differences with the French market and how they can participate constructively.” France has some of the world’s toughest rules for protecting its home-grown film and music industries, and none of these will make it easy for a foreign service like Netflix to make a serious dent in the market. The company, which eventually started offering SVoD services in France around November 2014, faces higher taxes than it is used to, including 20 percent VAT, as well as obligatory investment quotas from its profits. Indeed, SVoD services based in France with annual earnings of more than 10 million euros are required to hand over 15 percent of their revenues to the European film industry and 12 percent to French filmmakers.
Meanwhile, France insists that 40 percent of mainstream broadcasters’ content must be in French, while existing SVoD providers – including Canal Plus’ “Infinity” and Wild Bunch’s “Filmo TV” – are currently forced to wait 36 months after a film’s cinema release before they can stream that content online. These rules – the so-called “Cultural Exception” – mean that France retains a healthy film and music industry despite fierce competition from the Anglo-Saxon world. And while some commentators have said this model is outdated as ever-increasing numbers of people get their audiovisual entertainment online rather than from more traditional TV and radio media, France is nevertheless continuing to do all it can to protect its homegrown industries.
As mentioned above, despite these hurdles, Netflix eventually started offering SVoD services in France, the toughest foreign market to enter as of yet, during the fourth quarter of 2014. At MIPCOM 2014, Netflix chief content officer Sarandos went on record for saying that viewer behaviour, in Germany and France, was “on par with our successful launches elsewhere in the world” and that Netflix prison dramedy ‘Orange is the new black’ was the most watched show on the SVoD service in all of the six new European territories. Sarandos added that the viewing mix in Europe – about 70 percent television series and 30 percent feature films – was also similar to that on Netflix services around the world. Therefore, the major threat to SVoD providers, and their more traditional video distributors, lies elsewhere.
The culprits: illegal video streaming programs and providers
While the illegal downloading of music has decreased compared to previous measurements (about a quarter of people who use music streaming services still download music illegally, compared to 32 percent in September 2014), 35 percent of people who use SVoD services are still downloading movies and TV series illegally. This is according to the study Trends in Digital Entertainment, from January 2015, which is conducted by GfK and appears once per quarter. Some illegal SVoD providers are alive and kicking such as Time4popcorn. They offer SVoD services to members of the public, on the internet, without having paid proper and agreed licensing royalties to the owners of the rights in the video content which is being streamed on their channels.
One of these illegal SVoD providers was Aereo.com, which filed for Chapter 11 reorganization proceedings in November 2014. In June 2014, the US Federal Supreme Court handed down a decision in ABC v Aereo. Aereo, a TV-over-the-internet service, had introduced a disruptive business model, using thousands of very small antennas stored in a warehouse, to live stream broadcast signals which they had encoded into packets, directly into the home of users. It was sued by the broadcasters (originally including 21st Century Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC) for infringement of their copyright in public performance. Aereo defended its actions claiming that all it did was to provide a device to watch a programme that was already available. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the broadcasters, ruling that Aereo and its cloud-based technology was too similar to a traditional cable company to say that its service did not infringe. The failed watch-TV-on-the-Internet startup Aereo.com may come back though, since TiVo bought its trademarks, domain names and customer list at auction, for the bargain price of USD1 million in March 2015. TiVo could be looking into offering an Aereo-like service but one that is licensed by TV networks.
During the AIPPI Congress in September 2014, Elizabeth Valentina, Vice President Content Protection for Fox Entertainment Group, (speaking on her own behalf as Fox was still litigating the case), pointed out that Aereo’s business model involved the streaming of broadcast content obtained without permission, authorisation or license, and for which service Aereo were charging their subscribers. This business model was harming that of the broadcasters and content owners, by devaluing their content, interfering with exclusive deals for content to be delivered over the internet and to mobile devices, as well as diverting eyeballs from TV advertising revenue. It was a harm clearly recognised by Judge Nathan at first instance, in the broadcasters’ motion for a preliminary injunction. During the same congress, Sanna Wolk (Associate Professor at University of Uppsala, Sweden and co-chair of AIPPI’s copyright committee) compared the US position with that adopted in the EU where the CJEU in March 2013 ruled that online near-live streaming by the UK Company, TV Catchup, was an unauthorised “communication to the public” within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 (InfoSoc Directive) and therefore an actionable infringement of copyright. The CJEU concluded that as TV Catchup was making the works in the original “terrestrial” TV broadcast available over the internet, and hence using different technical means to retransmit the broadcast, this retransmission was a “communication” within the meaning of the Article 3(1). Furthermore in the circumstances the court did not have to consider whether communication was to a “new public”, as the new transmission required an individual and separate authorisation from the copyright owners. While full-blown litigation seems the obvious and mostly-used response to copyright infringement and counterfeiting in video streaming services, it is debatable as to whether an ardent battle against streaming video piracy is worth it. Indeed, drawing on the experience from the inconclusive fight, led by the music industry, against illegal downloads of music tracks offered by peer-to-peer websites in the early noughties, it may be worth biting the bullet and exploring non-legal avenues to this endemic and crippling infringement.
For example, Popcorn Time, dubbed the “Netflix for pirates” was recently on the run. Time4Popcorn.eu, one of the most popular iterations of the illegal movie site, has had its URL suspended by European regulators in October 2014, effectively turning off the lights for a site that had attracted millions of users in just a few months.
The European ID Registry knocked Time4Popcorn.eu offline due to suspicion that the page was registered with inaccurate administrator contact details. The site’s developers, rather than provide accurate contact information, simply relocated to Time4Popcorn.com. With more and more court decisions forcing ISPs to block access to certain websites in the territories that they cover, the best legal approach seems to request an injunction, in key territories, for ISPs to block end users access to the websites of illegal SVoD providers.
What’s in the stars for video streaming players and traditional feature film and sitcom producers?
In the short term, I think that traditional players in the TV and film industries, including Hollywood major studios, are going to start feeling the pain, as revenues are derailed by the economic and creative successes of legal and illegal SVoD providers alike. As a result, traditional feature film and TV series producers will have to up their game, focusing their financial and creative efforts on solely “block-buster” material projects. It is going to become even more difficult for independent and young directors and producers to finance their content creation processes, in the future.
In the long term, there will be a leap towards more high-quality content being produced (with stronger plots, bankable stars and exceedingly talented writers, directors and actors included in the content creation mix) by both traditional and SVoD content providers: Darwinism will be in the works, with the survival of only the fittest. Major film studios and distributors will have to adapt or die because video streaming is here to stay and will eventually scale up even more due to easier accessibility and affordability on major consumers’ territories, better wifi connections (in particular, due to the generalisation of optical fibre), a wider spectrum of devices on which to watch and stream videos (smartphones, tablets, PCs, TV screens, etc.) and changing habits towards culture consumption (such as, the reluctance to pay to watch movies, an inability to stay in front of a movie screen for around 2 hours for younger generations of consumers and the growth of cocooning).
All in all, the advent of SVoD services and the choice in various SVoD providers is a boon for consumers, as they are spoiled for choice in order to consume only high-quality content; will be able to avoid watching tiring and mandatory advertisements which are crippling TV shows, especially on US TV channels; and will be more in control over the devices on which they wish to consume TV series and feature film content.
The law and its actors (i.e. lawyers, judges, legislators) should accompany this change in consumption habits and video market offering, by being flexible and pragmatic, while protecting, enforcing and defending the rights of content owners and creators to stimulate the creation and production of the highest quality content in a competitive environment.
 “What the numbers tell us about streaming in 2014” by Mark Mulligan, Music Industry Blog, 16 October 2014.
 “Occupy video showcases live streaming” by Jennifer Preston, The New York Times, 11 December 2011.
 “5 of the Best Streaming Media Services Compared”, Christina Warren, Mashable, 14 February 2011.
 “What the Netflix price increase means in the current streaming content market”, Tom Caporaso, Money for Lunch, 30 April 2014.
 “TiVo buys Aereo Assets at Auction. Is a legal Aereo coming?”, Forbes, 1 March 2015.