“Free vs. Commercial”: Which One to Choose When Building a Streaming Solution

To date, the rapid development of streaming services worldwide has tended to be dominated by discussions around content – who is producing it and how it’s being consumed. But in the understandable excitement around these new platforms and services, it’s clear that some key technical issues can ruin these efforts if not addressed properly, none more so than the role of the video player. The video player is the very last mile of the delivery chain, where all upstream constraints apply.

Ruochen Shi

Ruochen Shi is a Senior Marketing Manager at VisualOn. She is responsible for product research, product marketing and focused on understanding customers demands.

Native players allow operators to implement a basic platform for video content. The most common OTT native video players today are AVPlayer (iOS) and ExoPlayer (Android) on mobile devices, or an HTML5 player on a browser. They tend to be popular with operators because they are free and support a range of common popular formats. But what does “free” really mean?”

Native players have led some streaming providers to de-value the role of the video player with the allure of “free.” This can be a short sighted perspective depending on the level of experience a provider wants to offer. Native players generally lack cross-platform functionality and are not able to support advanced viewing features, analytics, ad tracking, and insertion, for example. Operators who rely on native players can only wait and hope for the update from open source when they have demands on new formats, bug fix, or other improvements, which means putting a key part of the delivery chain in non-managed hands.

Free vs Commercial OTT

Let’s break down the discussion on “Free vs. Commercial” video players, which we call the 5 Cs to help you evaluate what is right for your video service.

1. Customer Experience (QoE)

Advanced features from commercial players help to enhance viewer engagement, such as synchronized multiple streams of the same event, co-watching features, and fast channel switching for live channels.

Streaming player solution providers should improve viewing experience not only with high video performance, including  fast adaptation to highest resolutions, low start up time, high picture quality, etc, but also with advanced features such as MultiStream Sync, fast channel switching, thumbnails scrubbing, etc. to enhance viewing engagement.

2. Customization and Cost

Free player solutions are not always easy to customize (if even possible at all) when you want to add key features for a high-quality viewing experience. To modify the source code or fix bugs, you will need an in-house engineering team or find an outsourcing solution, which requires additional cost and effort. Furthermore, these resources are needed every time new player versions are released.  An in-house team will need to spend time on learning how to use the native player in order to effectively tweak and improve it.

A comprehensive commercial video player is designed to easily add advanced viewing features to keep consumers watching content. Video player providers are inherently incentivized to release frequent new versions that keep pace with consumer demands and industry trends (e.g. video codecs). When factoring in customer service support, the total cost of ownership is often lower with commercial players.

3. Control

New versions of native players are not always released on a regular basis, and are tested against standard public test content, meaning bugs or new codec support may not be addressed for an unknown period of time. Since native players are platform specific, service providers need to ensure cross-platform playback for a consistent and high-quality viewing experience regardless of device type. By embracing all platforms, a commercial player vendor can help operators ensure that their analytics KPIs are consistent across platforms, and the Ads playback and consumption report are the same whatever the end-device is.

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The commercial multimedia player can give operators a competitive edge, by owning the full software stack of a commercial player enables:

  • Access more analytics data to diagnose problems quickly
  • Play nearly any stream with any subtitle; wide DRM and analytics support
  • Add features or customizations that customers require
  • Work with customers to ensure that the roadmap is in sync with theirs
  • Each release can pass QA on customers very own content

4. Customer Service

Customer service is important as it retains customers and extracts more value from them. By providing top-notch customer service, operators recoup customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal following that refers customers. Streaming video providers have only one chance to make a first impression. And the player solution sits at the forefront of that experience as it’s what customers actually see. An urgent issue in production requires an urgent response.

Video player providers may help numerous customers to figure out content issues in a timely manner, who deeply understand that the more detailed data receive concerning playback., Besides, video analytics tool gathers the most accurate playback metrics for session analysis and field troubleshooting to better support operators in managing the quality of service for their viewers.

5. Easy to Migrate

Operators prefer a player that can be easily integrated into existing applications, no matter when choosing a native player or a  commercial player solution. By providing a video player solution which compatible with ExoPlayer and AVPlayer based projects, operators will be able to comfortably plug and play SDKs to original applications and start to benefit from the additional streaming features, support, QA, and etc. right away. There are multiple benefits of choosing a commercial video player solution, however, it depends on the team’s goal to make the decision. To provide the best viewing experience, streaming platforms commit themselves to increasing the video performance. It’s always helpful to better understand your customers’ demands and focus on how to enhance user stickiness effectively.

Ruochen Shi
Ruochen Shi
Senior Marketing Manager at VisualOn

Ruochen Shi is the Senior Marketing Manager at VisualOn - a pioneer in video software technology with many years of experience working with the world’s top device makers and streaming video service providers.

At VisualOn, Ruochen is responsible for product research and announcement. She has worked on multiple projects to conduct comprehensive market research on video player solutions and innovative streaming features. Meanwhile, she executed and integrated marketing activities through online and offline marketing channels to release products and maintain customer relationships.

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