Buyer’s Guide to European Video Platforms 2015
Many reports, most notably the Magic Quadrant or Enterprise Video Content Management report from Gartner, analyse and highlight vendors in the global online video platform space. However, there are special considerations for European-based companies that apply beyond the general, global recommendations analysts such as Gartner might make. These considerations are not just vague notions of “cultural understanding,” but include some very necessary and important technical capabilities.
Within Europe, many companies become frustrated when dealing with an overly U.S.-focused service provider. So what matters to companies based here when they’re making sourcing and service decisions?
- This article looks at the following:
- The role of local technical support
- The importance of local language
- The value of contracting within a local legislation
- The technical aspects of encoding from U.S.-centric profiles
- The advantages of having the application layer hosted within Europe
- The ability to implement changes
Its 9 a.m. Monday and your integration team is stuck. They’ve read the API documentation, but something’s missing and they need to talk. If things are as they suspect, they’d like to discuss extending the functionality.
Many U.S. companies that are expanding into Europe offer excellent account management, but the truth is that the development is done back in the States, or at least on U.S. time. A typical example is Brightcove’s support, where the highest available Gold Support offers many things but only actually gives “off hours” support for critical issues. That means your development team might not get an answer to its detailed technical holdup until 4 p.m.—in other words, until a day is lost.
The truth of the matter is that system support is fairly easy, but it is almost impossible to replicate the real development brains geographically. So if a code-level decision needs to be made or a problem needs to be resolved, it has to be done at the System Architect level, and that person can only be in one time zone.
English is the most widely spoken language across Europe (with 13 percent native speakers and 38 percent speaking it as a foreign language), but it is by no means ubiquitous.
Figure 1, taken from the European Commission’s own “Europeans and Their Languages” survey in 2006, shows the approximate percentage of users over the age of 14 who speak English as a second language.
Figure 1. Knowledge of English as a foreign language
The graphic needs to be qualified; internet users are more likely to be better educated than people who don’t use the internet, and many of the symbols used on online transcend language barriers.
Nonetheless, the bar chart illustrates the danger of taking English for granted and shows that in some large and rich European countries—Spain stands out here—the knowledge of English cannot be taken for granted.
The most important area to have local language options is the most complicated—the administrative interface. If instructions are only partially understood, mistakes can happen here.
A second important area is in subtitling or closed captioning (the difference being that the latter includes contextual information, not just speech). Not only should your video platform allow subtitles to be added directly to the video, but those subtitles play an essential role in SEO. If the user is searching within his or her native language, then the subtitles need to respect that in order to be included within the search.
Contracting Within Local Legislation
A cursory glance at a contract will tell you the jurisdiction under which it operates, while a more in-depth analysis will bring up the problems and legal contradictions that occur when a transnational service is delivered according to a single country’s legislation. However the truth is more prosaic.
In the past 14 years at Stream UK, we’ve only had one domestic legal dispute. That ended in small claims court where a pleasant and logical man did an excellent job of assimilating the arguments from either side. He negotiated an agreement that same morning (by giving the other party the option to settle or face official sanction) and the dispute was over.
On the other hand, in the years from 2001 to 2010 (before we started taking larger prepayment) 90 percent of our bad debt was accounted for by companies from countries in which we had no local representation.
The problem of getting fair treatment from suppliers or clients that operate outside your jurisdiction is twofold.
First, it will likely be more expensive to draw up an initial contract, because of costs associated with understanding the terminology. If the contract is written in a language that is not native to the user, the costs multiply with the need to produce certified translations.
Second, the cost of litigating is higher and the knowledge barrier is significant. Turning up to foreign courts and employing foreign legal advisers is likely to make the recuperation of debts of less than about £30,000 (about $45,470) financially impractical.
Third, the party you are dealing with is going to know all about the second point—making it far more likely it will push the boundaries, both in honest negotiation and in less-than-honest nonpayment.
Hosting the Application Layer Within Europe
Most of the top online video providers that operate within Europe utilise the cloud, their own application layer, and a global content delivery network.
Frequently the amount of nonvideo data can be significant—by nonvideo data I include all API calls, statistical reporting, and connection negotiations.
The term “cloud” covers a lot of scenarios and gives a warm impression of proximity—especially in rainy England. The reality is that it refers not to a globally distributed set of super-servers, but to physical machines, running virtual machine software, that exist in a physical data centre. U.S. companies choose a U.S. cloud location (read “data centre”) whereas European-based providers will choose locally—Dublin is the main centre for our AWS environment.
Does it make a difference? Well, yes. The issue is not so much the trans-Atlantic internet speed, which is generally sufficient, but that there is increased latency and packet loss due to the multiple hops involved.
The difference will be felt most acutely in integrations that make extensive use of the API—it is here that genuine failed connections might occur from systems that lack the patience of human operators.
The second critical area is live broadcast. Here, it is essential that ingest points are local since it is practically very difficult to sustain a live uplink of over 2Mbps across the general internet for a significant period of time.
The third area where European-centric infrastructures benefit is in fault-diagnostics. If problems do occur, the fewer and more localised the areas that need investigation, the better.
There’s a hard reality to getting changes done by your suppliers—you either pay enough, or you are strategically important enough.
It has to be this way, since all online video providers serve multiple clients and that means a single code base has to be kept together. That’s not to say that individual customisations cannot be done, but if the change is at a fundamental level, it needs to be carefully considered. Our platform has two major feature releases each year; at the feature release meeting, the value (or potential value) of the feature is postulated by our sales and marketing director.
Ultimately this means that if you want to influence strategic direction, you need to find an online video platform provider that is, relatively speaking, the right size.
Live events typically have a lot at stake, and a good live event might need one or more of the following:
- Local ingest points to ensure that you are not trying to uplink more than 1Mbps across the public internet’s international routes
- The familiarity of your online video provider with the relevant locally based international switching organisations, such as BT Tower in the U.K.
- Technicians from your online video provider who are available to go on-site and ensure that the encoding is done to a professional standard
- Production capabilities including satellite uplink from remote locations
- A phone number to call for assistance, which is not only answered but done so in your preferred language
Many of these prove a challenge to online video providers that do not have technical and production resources based in Europe.
In conclusion, the advantages of a high-quality, locally based European video provider are real and can be quantified, and those seeking an online video platform in Europe would be wise to consider local offerings first.
This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Europe Sourcebook as "Buyer’s Guide to European Video Platforms."
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