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

The more forward-looking streaming service providers are increasingly realizing the importance of optimizing the performance and capabilities of the video player. 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, in a world where the diversity of consumer devices has never been that big.

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. With Video Analytics, operators are able to reform their customer service response times. 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 fixes, or other improvements, which means putting a key part of the delivery chain in non-managed hands.  

At VisualOn, we deeply understand that the more detailed data we receive concerning playback, the greater our ability to diagnose and fix problems quickly. Our analytics tool gathers the most accurate playback metrics for session analysis and field troubleshooting to better support you in managing the quality of service for viewers. Our ad tracking and insertion module will speed up the implementation and ensure the best possible user experience. And our ability to answer and implement customers’ demands in a timely manner is recognized in the industry.

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.

At VisualOn, we improve the 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, WatchParty, 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 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.

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 our customers require 
  • Work with our customers to ensure that our roadmap is in sync with theirs
  • Each release can pass QA on your 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 to 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.

VisualOn has the expertise and helped numerous customers to figure out content issues in a timely manner. Besides, VisualOn User Experience Monitor collects real-time data sent by VisualOn video players. Our customers have been able to reform their customer service response times. At VisualOn, we deeply understand that the more detailed data we receive concerning playback, the greater our ability to diagnose and fix problems quickly, but above all proactively ensure the best possible customer experience. Our analytics tool gathers the most accurate playback metrics for session analysis and field troubleshooting to better support you in managing the quality of service for your 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. Our Exo+ and AV+ SDK are compatible with ExoPlayer and AVPlayer-based projects, which enable operators to comfortably plug and play SDKs to original applications and start to benefit from the additional streaming features, support, QA, etc. right away. 

We, at VisualOn, provide streaming solutions that optimize the impact of the video player with years of providing playback innovation for Tier 1 streaming and telco providers worldwide. Talk to our video playback expert today to upgrade your video streaming solution!