Once, preparing video for the Web meant choosing the format that would reach the greatest number of viewers. Now, the landscape has become much more complex. For one thing, even small businesses that serve video need to think about reaching viewers on tablets and other mobile devices.
How to do that was the topic of a panel discussion at this week’s Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles.
“In the future, I don’t think you’ll be able to mention mobile without mentioning multimedia,” said Joe Inzerillo, senior vice president for MLB.com.
For Inzerillo, devices that run on the Google Android operating system pose a special problem. It turns out that while people who own Apple iOS devices upgrade them quickly wherever there’s a new OS release, Android users don’t. He often sees handsets that are three revisions behind, which makes it hard to ensure viewers can see his content.
To learn which devices it’s important for your site to support, do what Inzerillo does and study which ones often visit your site most.
For MLB.com, delivering live video seamlessly is crucial. Renditioning — that is, creating multiple renditions of its streams — must be done in real time. Those multiple renditions must all be stored, because while MLB.com makes most of its money on live coverage, it has archives. Inzerillo uses the H.264 codec for all his streams.
Using adaptive streaming is the right approach, Inzerillo noted, as it lets the video quality automatically raise or lower depending on bandwidth and network conditions. Consumers expect high quality in their video, watching more when the experience is better. New devices make serving the best quality video tricky, however: when a user streams video to their iPhone, that video is optimized for the phone, so if they use AirPlay to send it to an AppleTV attached to a big screen television, the picture can be less than perfect.
Inzerillo said his company has seen big improvements streaming with HLS. Its Flash video use is decreasing, limited to legacy devices. Looking at the upcoming MPEG-DASH format, Inzerillo had harsh words, saying that its heart was in the right place, but that it’s a long ways from practical use.
“It’s not even close to ready for prime time,” Inzerillo said.
The mobile devices that content creators should serve now, noted panelist Gerald Abrahamian, vice president of digital operations for NBC Universal and E!, were those that run iOS, Android, and the BlackBerry OS.
“The lower-end handsets, we try to just steer away from,” Abrahamian said.
Panelist Michael Dunn, chief technology officer for Heart Interactive Media, said that for his company, 90 percent of mobile traffic comes from iOS devices, while only 10 percent from Android.
For those selling ads on their mobile content, serving iOS devices is a smart business decision. “All the advertisers are asking for iOS,” Abrahamian said. “Apple’s done a great job of marketing themselves.”
Like Inzerillo, Abrahamian is also a fan of HLS, saying that it simplifies his life. He doesn’t find HTML5 ready for broad use yet.
While quality testing mobile results is important, Abrahamian believes that simply looking at video playback on devices is the best quality check. If he misses anything, he said, he works with 20 executives who will point it out to him.
“They will find it before we do,” Abrahamian said.