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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is Youtube really making money?

I've been saying it for years, streaming business model does not work. For the simple reason that expenses grow at the same rate as the users growth. No limit, no cap. The more users you have, the more expensive it is to operate. Ask Spotify. Ask Youtube.

Youtube, with a billion users every month, more or less break even with their operation expenses:

(Article published in The Wall Street Journal)

sv bell

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Don't buy a car to go get bread at the store

I'm getting frequent messages like: "Man, I LOVE your channel, and I do have a film in the making. As soon as I have money, I'm buying a camera and make it happen!"

That's awesome, go for it! I can only encourage anyone to make their dreams come true.

Where I see a problem though is when someone tells me they're going to buy equipment to make a film. In many situations it's not really a good move.

Chances are, you want your film to look professional, right? And pro cameras, usually, aren't cheap. Your best option is to rent one. Rent from friends, from rental outlets, but don't buy. Don't buy if it's only to make your movie. After all, you will be filming for 3 weeks, and spend the remaining of the year in the editing room. While your camera will gather dust on the shelves. Not a good investment!

When will you make another movie? Technology moves really fast (too fast) so chances are that next time you will produce another film, your equipment will be outdated and you will want to work with the latest toy.

Renting fixes all that. Cheaper, and always up to date technology. Let the rental outlet to struggle keeping pace with the latest gadgets.

But you know where the fact of renting will really benefit to your film's production? When you'll finally get to the filming day, you will be much more prepared. Planning a film shoot is critical. When you rent equipment for a certain date, you plan things ahead, much more carefully than when you bring your own stuff. And it makes a huge difference...

sv bell

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

So you want to launch your own VOD?

Back in 2009 when I started to look into having my films available online, I considered a couple of avenues to make them available for video on demand. There are tons of options, from Vimeo, Youtube, Ustream, Filmon and many others. But none of them offered everything I needed, or if they did, it wasn't cheap.

We both know how much indie movies generate, right? The last thing indie filmmakers want is to spend big bucks for a streaming presence on the web. Or have someone eats all revenues an indie film can make.

That's how I decided to build my own streaming solution, and not use any of these platforms. It's not that hard, believe me. I don't have an IT degree or a training in broadcast engineering. If I could make it work, anyone can.

The key of the system is to have a good CDN (Content Distribution Network). That is where you will host your media files, and the provider have a solid distribution engine. The usual platforms I mentionned above already offer that, you'll say. Yes, they do, but what they don't offer is the direct access to the output stream. They give you a player, and you are stuck with that player. Any feature you want, you are being charged for it.

If you have access to the output stream, you are free to do whatever you want with it. Build your own player, integrate a paywall, send the stream to your own website, manage your own subscribers via Paypal, send the stream to Roku, Amazon, output to your own iPhone app and so on. You need to have access to the output stream for that.

I tried many options (including running my own dedicated server and a license of Adobe Flash Media Encoder and Wowza, but I wouldn't recommend that. Managing the server itself is quite a hassle. Adobe's streaming suite will cost you around 3 grands, Wowza is about $50 a month, and you still have to take care of everything.

The CDN provider is the best option. They take care of the hardware, give you a certain amount of bandwidth (and storage), and you control the content, stream in and stream out.

Some of the best streaming services I used recently include DaCast, CDN77 and ScaleEngine. They offer a solid platform, excellent support, and affordable packages. ScaleEngine is probably the most flexible of the group, but the platform itself and management console is a bit confusing. The techs are very helpful though.

The CDN I'm currently using for Black Flag TV, Obskura TV and CultMovies TV is MetaCDN. For me it is the most cost-effective provider, considering I'm broadcasting live, 24h a day.  That means a lot of horsepower, and a lot of bandwidth all together for a low price. And also Roku support. Not all the above providers support Roku HTTP streaming. MetaCDN also offer the option to build your own custom player, with your own splash screen, and clickable links overlayed on the video.

So once you have uploaded your content on the CDN host, in your console you will find your stream's URL. This is the URL you need to send your stream wherever you want. Building a player is straightforward (likely the CDN has options to build it), and you place that player wherever you want. For instance, on a paid member section of your website. If you're concerned about having your player shared, and people watching your films for free, you can ask your CDN to get a token. Having a token means you can 'lock' the stream to a certain domain. Outside the domain, the stream just won't play. So the player can be stolen and shared, it just won't work.

Managing the subscriptions isn't too complicated either. DaCast offer a paywall service built in the player. Other providers don't but you can make your own using Paypal's IPN service.

Once you're up and running, promote like crazy and bring people to YOUR site. That's the beauty. You work hard to bring people to you, I always found it's a shame to send them to someone else's website. You work hard to gain your fans, bring them to your own website, not on a third party platform that will monetize on your content, and charge you a fee at the same time...!

sv bell

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Streaming Time Bomb

Like many others, you may think streaming TV is the future.
Maybe it is.
But maybe it's a time bomb that will blow in our face in the very near future. Here's why.

Heard about the cord cutters? These are the folks that cut cable TV and turn toward streaming television. Watch TV via the web, and save big bucks on their cable bills. It certainly is an awesome option, after all cable TV is damn expensive. Can't blame cord cutters for sure!

Slowly but surely, more and more people abandon cable TV subscriptions, leaving these providers with lesser and lesser revenues. Who cares, they make billions, right? Time for them to give up and disappear from the face of the earth, right?

It's not that easy sadly. Because, see, these cable TV providers are the same folks giving us high speed internet. High speed you need to stream video. What happens in a situation where everyone moves to streaming TV, and the providers end with much lesser revenues to maintain the network?

Maintaining a nationwide content delivery network requires a lot of investment, and that money comes from the cable TV providers, from your cable TV subscriptions. These societies need to make money, they are public companies, listed in stock market, they have investors buying shares, they have banks investing money, and so on. If revenues shrink, the value of the shares shrink, and investors, banks, everyone take back their investments before it's too late. That is how large societies collapse in a matter of weeks.

Cable TV providers are not exempted from that scenario. If cable TV business goes down, the streaming TV business model will go down too.

The Google network.

You probably heard about Google running cable network in some select US cities, and offering low cost internet access, with options for people who want to watch TV via streaming. Basic packages start at $0, but if you add all the same services you get from current cable companies, unlimited internet, phone, basic TV and ala, you end up with pretty much the same price, roughly between $80 and $120/month.

Maybe, after all, the pricing of today's cable companies is right, and it's really what it costs to maintain a decent service.

sv bell

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Black Flag TV 2015: moving to computerless environment

What's really annoying when extensively working with computers and softwares, it's the only thing that's certain is that everything is unstable. Or at least it doesn't remain stable for very long.

There's always something, somewhere in the process, some tools or hardware parts you need to upgrade, to update, to replace, and so on.

Technology evolves very fast. Faster than the time you need to recoup an investment. Programmed obsolescence is also very frustrating.

My goal for 2015 with my TV channels is to move everything toward a computerless, softwareless environment. There are standalone streaming decks available, that do not require a computer to stream media to the web. Depending on the capabilities, these decks don't come cheap. But looking at it on the long run, they still come cheaper than the sum of video routers, computers and software updates/upgrades that are required to run a TV stream on the course of a few years.

By the end of March, I will begin to stream one of the TV channels without a computer, see how it goes, make adjustments and eventually move all my stations to dedicated standalone streaming decks. Just like the big boys over at those real TV networks out there...

Wish me luck!

sv bell

Monday, February 9, 2015

Black Flag TV migration is completed

It's done!

Broadcast has resumed on all channels of the Black Flag TV network! Now going thru a much faster 12mbits internet connection, you should be getting a more robust and stable stream.

The stations were all down for about 2 hours, just the time the network guys ran a new cable to link my office to the world out there. That's two hours with no TV, no internet, and no phone.

At least I could keep you folks updated via my mobile and Twitter!

sv bell

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Embedding Black Flag TV (or other TV streams) on your site?

Feel free to embed my channels on your website! The more people watching, the easier it is for me to maintain the stations. Ratings are everything!

In case you're asking: “If I add your stream to my website, do I have to pay something? I heard bandwidth is expensive...” Answer is, yes, bandwidth is expensive, but NO! You don’t have to pay anything. Bandwidth charges are all on me, since the TV stream goes thru my server. There is no hidden charge for you.

You can embed my TV channels by using the HTML code located on the channels’ pages.

Let me know if you display the channels on your page(s), I’ll be happy to promote your site!

Sv Bell

Did I tell you why I left iWeb last year?

Don't get me wrong, iWeb is a great host, with top class service and excellent prices.

That's why I rented a dedicated server at iWeb, to host my streaming and encoding system, and stream Black Flag TV. I was using Adobe's Flash Media Server software suite, running on a robust dedicated server.

The stream was rock-stable, very little issues with the dedicated host I was renting. A few months later, while analyzing the bandwidth and requests stats, I noticed that Black Flag TV was becoming 'suspiciously popular'. Some days I was serving up to 16,000 streams.

That's a lot for a small TV station like Black Flag TV.

So I started to drill down in the data, to find where these streams were served. That was a tough call, since Adobe's streaming suite does not include a monitoring and analytics system. You need to develop your own method of analysis, or find a third party monitoring solution.

It took several days of investigation (during which the served streams skyrocket) but I finally found that a hacker was using my server to broadcast his content in the wild. Though I could see in the logs what he was doing, it was not possible for me to know where the origin signal comes from, and what the hacker was broadcasting.

The other discovery I made: Adobe streaming suite offered no possibility to block a certain signal to transit thru my server. I could stop the server, delete it from the library, and restart the server. Minutes later the pirate stream was re-created and resume its broadcast.

Then it struck me. I was responsible to distribute worldwide a video signal that could be anything. Terrorist stuff, child porn, illegal content, it could be absolutely anything. And there was no way I could block it.

So I decided to stop Black Flag TV for a few days, just the time I find a workaround. And it was during these days that I received an official Cease and Desist from a lawyer firm in the UK. Their client have discovered that I was broadcasting content, some Christian TV show belonging to Globo TV on the Brazilian market.

I was sort of relieved to know that it wasn't child porn running thru my server, but still, I had to find a way to pull the plug to whoever was using my system to broadcast stuff stolen from Globo.

I had two options. Get the high end package from Adobe that included all security services (and costed nearly $5k), or move my streaming system to a provider that could handle all security issues at their hand. I opted for the latter.

Renting your own dedicated server is the best option, but it also means you have to deal with all the security issues. If you can't, it's worth to pay the extra bucks to host your business at a company who can do it for you. If things go ugly, at least you're not under fire.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Upgrading my Internet Connection; New TV Channels Coming Soon!

A couple more days before I get an extra internet connection in my office!

I went for a 12mbits upstream connection, which means I will be able to host up to 10 live broadcast, from my own studio! Right now I got 4 live TV streams, and I have a few more on the workbench.

Since all the content I broadcast is hosted on my own computers, I need to have a very high speed upload pipeline. Simply put, when viewers are watching any of my TV stations, what they're seeing is the screen of my computer. As if I was sharing my computer screen with thousands of people. That means a lot of traffic going thru my home internet connection!

Anyways, this is just to say that early next week, I will have a bit of downtime, while the technicians here will run a more capable wire, and hook me to the network. It shouldn't take more than a day though.

As usual, I will keep you updated via Twitter or the Newsletter. Stay tuned!!

sv bell

Another Blog About Streaming? What For?

Yes, here's yet another blog about streaming media on the web!
Correct, there are plenty already, and some are truly excellent. Why do I feel we need another one?

Basically, because I get a lot of messages, every week, from people who are looking into launching their own TV channel or video on demand. They looked into the standard avenues, YouTube, Vimeo, UStream and so on. They tried it for a while, and gave up. Sunk into the flood of TV channels already available on these platforms.

And they ask me how I do it. Black Flag TV (and my other channels) don't use any of these streaming platforms. I don't host my content on the internet. My programming is schedule-based. And I encourage people to embed it everywhere, no need to ask for permission.

"And since it's schedule-based, not on-demand, how do you make it work? People want stuff on-demand, nowadays."


So I figured there's a lot of content I can cover here. Share my experience with Black Flag TV, and hopefully help other people to make their own TV channels, outside the standard streaming platforms!

sv bell