• Ooyala Launches Updated Video Player as It Prepares for Strobe Entry

    Today Ooyala is officially releasing its updated video player, named "Swift," with a lighter-weight, more modular design intended to deliver faster loading/playback for users and improved integration of advanced features for its content provider customers. Sean Knapp, one of Ooyala's 3 co-founders, and head of technology shared more details of the new player with me last week, and also provided a perspective on the coming entry of Adobe's Strobe video player framework, which will undoubtedly impact all of the video player/content management companies.

    A key focus of the Swift's development has been modularizing its code, so that only what's required for that particular user experience is downloaded to the user. Faster response times and better playback are critical drivers in the user experience, as we've all no doubt endured the wait for a video, only to end up clicking away. It's no surprise that Ooyala - with a cadre of people from Google, where cutting milliseconds from the time to deliver search results is an obsession - should be focusing on response times.

    Playback quality is another focus of the new player, with improved bandwidth detection that supports Ooyala's adaptive bit rate ("ABR") or "dynamic video" delivery. ABR/dynamic video has become a competitive battleground lately, with companies like Move Networks (an ABR pioneer), Microsoft, Adobe, Brightcove and others all touting ABR delivery.

    ABR delivery detects on a moment-to-moment basis the user's available bandwidth and computer processing capability so that an appropriately encoded video file can be dynamically delivered. Sean said that via an HTTP delivery workaround it created over a year ago, Ooyala has been able to offer ABR in Flash, thereby preceding Flash Media Server 3.5 (FMS 3.5 was released last November as the first Flash server to support dynamic streaming; it has only recently been deployed by CDNs).

    Sean explained that the new player's design approach aligns with the coming entry of Adobe's "Strobe" video player framework later this year, which he welcomes. From his perspective, Strobe has the potential to address a lot of the core video functions that Ooyala and other video player companies have had to develop themselves. If successful, Strobe will provide a standardized foundation layer ("getting us out of the muck" as Sean happily said) that would free up Ooyala to focus on supporting higher value components such as advanced monetization (e.g. micro-payments, subscriptions). Ooyala has not yet announced support for Strobe, but it plans to.

    This is basically how Adobe itself would like Strobe to be perceived. In a recent conversation with Sumner Paine, Strobe's product manager, he explained to me that Strobe's tools and frameworks are intended to accelerate the development of custom Flash players, to better support content providers' specific objectives (and of course reinforce the Flash value proposition).

    Key to Strobe are third party plug-ins from the growing video ecosystem meant to replace the duplicative process of each video player company having to integrate with each third party. Sumner sees video player companies with freed-up resources being able to move up the stack, for example, to provide tighter integrations with customers' content management systems.

    Strobe's Q3 entry is going to be another milestone in the ongoing maturation of the broadband video industry. Adobe is trying to create additional industry scalability and drive further customization while defending its turf against Silverlight and other potential entrants. If Strobe is successful, the bevy of video players on the market will need to find new ways to innovate to differentiate themselves, such as Ooyala's trying to do here with Swift. With so many moving parts this is going to be a closely watched space.

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