Video Applications for Horse Industry Websites

Can I, Should I, and HOW Do I?

A good friend of mine sent me an email about the confusion of video and web technology, so I felt compelled to write about it.

Video Formats
Because a few very skilled geniuses created programs for web video, and didn’t talk to each other while they were doing that, we now have a variety of ways to watch video on the web. While free enterprise is good for the economy, it really messes up the people who want to show video to their audience. Which format should you use on your website?

Flash – flv.
Let’s start with the best, or easiest (for the viewer) – Flash Video Format, or .flv . This is the video you see when you come to a site and don’t have to download a player or plug-in to view video. The second you click the PLAY button it’s broadcasting. Sometimes it even plays by itself. Flash reaches your entire audience, allowing everyone to watch it. Viewers do not like to have to work at anything, especially watching video. Flash just plays directly from your web page. You don’t have to go out of your way and waste time to explain to your viewers how to download this and click on that.

In technical terms, Flash (.flv) has decent quality-to-file-size ratio, meaning it can deliver decent video with lower sizes.

Flash is used on Horseman’s U.

Players
QuickTime, Real Player, Windows Media (mainstream trio)

Viewers need to have these players to view your video. Problem is, most viewers have their preference and don’t want to download something else. Unfortunately none of these players has 100% coverage. If you want to reach your whole audience you will have to supply the video in each format: Windows/RealMedia/QuickTime/MPEG/Flash.

Types of Video Delivery

True Streaming
This is where all video is on instantly. Nothing is downloading while you watch. Advantages are that no one can steal it, and is the only video format with this advantage.

Progressive download
All the video on Horseman’s U is progressive streaming, meaning it loads while you watch it – instantly. You can toggle back and forth and pause and play, making the video interactive.

Download
When you download a file, the whole file is saved in a temporary folder on your computer. Large files can take time downloading, especially if the viewer is on dialup modem.

Why is some video very grainy?
Before video hits the web, it is compressed, meaning it is squeezed into a smaller file. Compressing simply takes out bits of information the eye won’t really miss, unless the video is compressed too much. Many web videos have been compressed twice, adding to the grain problem (and you thought only horses had grain problems).

Also, video recorders do this thing called interlacing. Without sounding techy, this really messes up the quality of showing video. Unless you are skilled at compression and deinterlacing, posting video can be a nightmare.

What format works best for YouTube?

To get that great quality so few YouTube videos have, ‘squeeze’ your files into MPEG4. In my opinion there is only one really good software that can help you with that: Sorenson Squeeze. And the people there are fabulous! They’re actually REAL.

Can video be stolen?
The problem with video is that you are opening yourself to theft. All video applications can be stolen other than ‘True’ streaming files from a streaming server, meaning the place where your website lives also contains your video, where people watch it via a real-time stream and there is no download left on a computer. However, video cameras can capture anything, even computer screens. Unfortunately the quality will ‘flicker’ so this application is likely for personal use over commercial use.

Cost of hosting video
Here is where most sites have to bow out from showing video. Hosting video (on the server, where your site lives) can be expensive. Video takes up insane amounts of information or bytes. A five minute clip can be anywhere from 10MB to 10GB, depending on how it’s edited. Sound techniques, special effects and any additions run up the data volumes quickly.

Space can be a premium, although it’s come down a lot, and continues to go down (why can’t FOOD do this? Oh, right, food’s a necessity). Most host servers charge by the 250MB, so 6 or 7 videos about 5 minutes long and you’ve eaten up your quota. Host quotas include everything: your site, the traffic you get, email and the ‘heavy’ additions like video. Space costs money. It also costs to pay employees to monitor the servers, and keep them up and running. This cost is added into hosting costs.

Viewing video on your site requires a ton of bandwidth. This is the speed in which the information is delivered. Modems supply lower speeds, while cable and DSL supply higher speeds. Bandwidth costs money. Loading your site with video that has to be downloaded to a player can eat up bandwidth, and cause low speed users to have problems viewing (or not at all). Those who use Flash (.flv) can compress for lower file sizes, and allow dial-up modems to access the video and still maintain a decent level of quality.

The Tipping Point
How can you deliver quality and enough information to make it worthwhile? First you have to decide if you only need a few little videos on your site, and if you’re going to replace them now and again. If this is the case then you will likely get everything on your site for under $50/month.

However, try doing that with a horse website. With horses, there are 3 styles of teaching, or information delivery. One: articles, where the reader gathers new information and gets encouraged to try something new; Two: video, where they get to see what it is they are about to do, which gives them a bit more courage to try, and Three: clinics, where they finally realize that they need one-on-one instruction to put the pieces together that the articles and videos couldn’t give them.

Video and horses means LENGTH. We have so much to say that it can’t possibly be squeezed into 2 minute segments.

When the video you want to display becomes large enough that the costs to host your site get out of hand, it now becomes a marketing issue over just having some video on the site. You have to weigh cost and reward (read $$$). How are you going to achieve this? Shelling out $1000/month for a site has to have a return on the investment (ROI). This is the Tipping Point to deciding on a Membership Site or getting aggressive with ad and sponsor sales.

Let’s save that for another article.

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