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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

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