Cloud Computing

Cloudflare Stream Promises Easy, Cheap Video Hosting

Cloudflare on Wednesday released the beta version of Cloudflare Stream, a new, inexpensive streaming video service.

Designed for app developers who want to build businesses hosting and streaming videos, Cloudflare Stream bundles encoding, global delivery and video player software into one package. These functionalities can be separated upon request.

Cloudflare wants to remove the need for users to grapple with the nuts and bolts of the technology, and to offer its service at a low price.

Users just shoot a video and upload it to an application programming interface standpoint to make the video available globally. It streams adaptively through an embeddable link that Cloudflare provides.

Cloudflare Stream pricing is based on the amount of time consumers actually spend viewing the video. That charge includes encoding, global delivery and the player.

Compression is enabled by default, and Cloudflare will support new, better codecs upon their release.

Too Much Protection

“Firms regularly use YouTube to distribute content because it’s really easy,” noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

However, they might prefer Cloudflare Stream if they want better control over the quality and content, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“I know of one instance where Google killed the corporate stream for a live event because their filters identified the background music being used before the event started as protected content,” Enderle said. “With consumer services, because the protections have to be aggressive, you can have lots of unanticipated problems.”

Problems With Video Streaming

Only about 1,000 companies do any meaningful level of video streaming, Cloudflare said, mainly because it’s technically too complicated. Moving beyond uploading videos to a consumer service like YouTube requires the use of at least three different services.

Someone needs to encode the video into a streamable format. Then a content delivery network, or CDN, is needed to deliver the video stream. Yet another party is required to provide the player code that runs on the client device.

Further, encoding companies charge based on CPU usage, which depends on the video’s length and quality, and the number of streaming formats it’s converted into.

Traditional CDNs charge different rates for each region of the world based on the number of bytes delivered.

Then player vendors charge tiered rates based on the number of views.

“There are a lot of competing video formats, and delivery of video can be complex,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

However, “for most video streaming, the real issue lies generally in media content rights,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Video format generally tends to be a very big issue for content providers, rather than for individual users, “who are just looking to post their video on any platform so a limited audience can access it,” Jude said.

While there isn’t a universal codec available, some — such as Quicktime or RealPlayer — come close, he noted.

Different types of video — such as movie footage, talking heads on TV shows, music videos and animations, to name a few — encode differently.

“You have to adjust for screen size and performance, and the stream is compressed to save bandwidth,” Enderle explained. “What would work on a PC likely wouldn’t on a cellphone or tablet, and you need to be able to adjust for the hardware and bandwidth to ensure a good experience.”

Further, every new generation — HD, Blu-ray, 4K — has different resolutions and streaming requirements, which is largely “a function of the march of technology,” Frost’s Jude pointed out.

Cloudflare Stream in the Market

Cloudflare Stream “is an expansion opportunity” for the company, Enderle observed.

“Getting an initial advantage is doable,” he noted, but “maintaining that advantage if you don’t have massive economies of scale is problematic.”

Cloudflare Stream “offers video distribution in a box — a one-stop shop to get it done and little overhead,” Frost’s Jude remarked. “If they’re a very low-cost operation, they can afford to wait and build up clientele; if they aren’t, they need to ramp up quickly.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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