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Comparing Video Sharing Sites and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

When you look for a third party to deliver video content to your mobile users, remember that a dedicated content delivery network (CDN) provides high-end video hosting services for a price. A video sharing site such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Viddler offers free or low-cost services.

The essential trade-off between a CDN and a video sharing site is cost versus control. If you run a television network or produce video for a business or an organization that’s willing to pay for high-end hosting, a CDN is definitely the way to go.

The more you pay, the more control you have over your users’ experience, access to analytics about how users interact with your video, and the freedom to run your own advertising and control access to your videos. A CDN also enables you to use more bandwidth than a free or low-cost service.

If budget is a driving factor or you want to tap into the built-in audience of a site like YouTube, keep in mind that the less you pay (and free is about as less as you can get), the more you’re at the mercy of someone else’s decisions. Free video hosting often comes with advertisements, links to related video, and other things you can’t control on your pages.

You have to weigh the trade-offs of a CDN versus a video sharing site like YouTube. To help you get started, the following sections provide a comparison of benefits and drawbacks.

You can find many CDNs on the market, with specialized services to deliver mobile video. Increasingly, these services focus on delivering video to the iPhone and iPad, as well as the Android and other mobile devices. Dedicated CDNs offer many benefits. You can

  • Use the provided tools to customize the player: Add your own logo or messages, for example.

  • Insert your own advertising: CDNs sometimes maintain their own ad servers so that you can customize ads to appear depending on the user, time of day, location of user, or other criteria.

  • Track users by way of the CDN’s performance metrics system: Track who watches your videos and when and where they watch, and find all sorts of other data that’s useful to you (and your advertisers).

  • Benefit from better customer support: After all, if you’re paying for the CDN’s services, someone had better be there to fix annoying audio warbling or other common issues when you register a complaint.

  • Upload in batches: Save time by publishing a collection of videos all at one time (rather than publish videos one at a time, as is often the case with free or low-cost services).

  • Take advantage of better copyright protection: Many CDNs offer encryption and other Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies designed to protect your content. Also, many of the free sharing sites require you to relinquish legal ownership of your videos in exchange for the free hosting.

  • Restrict the geographic region or domain: Allow only certain users to access your videos.

  • Post videos of any length: The length of your videos must be within reason, of course. Most free hosting services restrict video length to 10 minutes or less.

  • Rest assured that your video is delivered in higher quality: CDNs spend more time tinkering with compression algorithms than free services, which take a one-size-fits-all approach to compression. A good CDN delivers better image quality yet smaller file sizes.

The drawback of using a dedicated CDN is that it can be quite costly: Hosting packages start in the hundreds of dollars for 200 gigabytes (GB) of videos served per month (the equivalent of about 50 full-length DVDs) and rise sharply after that amount.

If your viral video is a hit, your CDN hosting bills can quickly skyrocket into the thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. High bills may be acceptable if you’ve worked out a beneficial advertising model or charge for your videos, but if not, a CDN probably isn’t your best option.

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