• Will Kaltura's Open Source Video Platform Disrupt the Industry?

    This morning Kaltura takes the wraps off its "Community Edition" open source video platform, available as a free download, thereby threatening to disrupt its established proprietary competitors (e.g. Brightcove, thePlatform, Ooyala, Digitalsmiths, Fliqz, Delve, VMIX, etc.). Yesterday Kaltura's CEO Ron Yekutiel explained open source and Community Edition's opportunity. Later in the day I spoke to executives at many of its competitors to get their take what impact open source will have on the video platform market.

    As a quick primer, open source isn't a novelty; it's a standard way that certain kinds of software are now developed. Successful companies like Red Hat have been built around open source. In fact many of today's web sites run on the open source software stack commonly known as "LAMP" - Linux (OS), Apache (web server), MySQL (database) and Perl/PHP/Python (scripts). Kaltura has been pioneering open source in the video platform industry which has been dominated by proprietary competitors. Ron believes the video platform industry is ripe for open source success because it has too many proprietary companies offering minor feature differences, all using a SaaS model only and competing too heavily on price.

    Kaltura Community Edition's three big differentiators are that it's free for the base platform and offers greater control through self-hosting which can be behind the customer's firewall. Ron also believes that by tapping into the open source community, CE can offer more flexibility and extensibility than its competitors.

    As with all open source options though, free isn't "free," because if you're interested in support and maintenance, professional services for customization and certain features like syndication, advertising, SEO and content delivery, these all cost extra. And you can't forget about the costs of the internal staff you'd need to run the video platform or the costs of the infrastructure itself (servers, bandwidth, storage, etc.). In the SaaS world, many of these costs are borne by the provider and then reflected in the monthly fee. Determining which approach is more cost-effective depends on your particular circumstances and needs.

    All of this is why, as one competitor's CEO told me yesterday, the choice to go open source more often than not isn't primarily price-based; rather it's features-based. In fact, given the range of low cost proprietary alternatives (e.g. $100-$200/mo packages from companies like Fliqz and Delve), even free doesn't represent really significant savings.

    When it comes to features, clearly the ability to download CE and self-host is a big differentiator, and will be valued by segments of the market. As Ron pointed out, there are government agencies, universities and others who have mandates to self-host. He also noted that by customers' gaining access to CE's code, their ability to integrate with other applications and customize is enhanced (though again, not without an additional cost).

    Other industry executives countered that unless you have to self-host, these advantages are diminished by the fact that in this capex and opex budget constraints make SaaS more appealing than ever, especially for smaller customers with less in-house technical expertise. They added that they're rarely asked about self-hosting options (though that could well be due to self-selection).

    Further, many of the leading video platform companies offer a slew of APIs, which open their platforms to 3rd party developers without needing to be open source per se (examples include Brightcove's and thePlatform's robust partner programs). Another industry CEO noted that while there's a gigantic and highly active open source community in the LAMP world, it remains to be seen just how vibrant it is in the video space. And it's important to remember that the intense competition among today's video platforms have already driven the feature bar quite high.

    So the question remains: will Kaltura's CE open source approach truly disrupt the video platform industry, causing rampant customer switching and gutting today's pricing models? My sense is no, or at least not immediately. Instead, Kaltura will definitely grow the market, creating new video customers from those who have been dissatisfied with current choices or have not yet jumped into video, but inevitably will. CE will likely peel away some percentage of existing proprietary customers who have been eager for a self-hosted, open source alternative. For many others though, they'll be keeping an eye on open source and will successfully push their existing providers to adopt similar capabilities if they're valued.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.