It’s the same story in your social media posts, search results, product pages, landing pages, emails, and ads. But even companies that are snatching up video content faster than a pack of Black Friday shoppers are finding that they still have a very big problem.
Their issue is this: How do you get the wonderful videos you’ve worked so hard to create off your desktop and onto people’s devices for viewing? You can’t email them—the files are too large. And you can’t host them all on your site—they’ll only slow things down. Plus, how do you ensure that wherever they view it, the video is encoded, compressed, and viewable on a variety of screens?
The answer to all of the above is video hosting. In this article, we’ll explain why it exists, how to use it, and what to look for in an online video hosting platform.
What is online video hosting?
Online video hosting is the process of uploading your video to a service that makes the video available in all the places it needs to be. The video-focused social network YouTube is a great example: you upload it to one place, and suddenly it’s available in hundreds of countries.
As we’ll explore, there are many different types of hosting services, and you have to search carefully for the right one for your business.
So why wouldn’t you just host all the videos on your own? For most companies, the answer is it would take too long and cost too much. Video hosting is a bit like dropshipping in e-commerce. Rather than hand-wrap every order yourself, you can send all your inventory to a dropship provider who does it for you. They benefit from economies of scale: they have a warehouse and employees working around the clock.
Video hosting platforms offer similar advantages. They have virtual data warehousing, a smooth interface for uploading and tracking videos, and both the network and technology to deliver it in many places at once. This means that no matter where someone views your video or how many people watch at once, it loads quickly and looks great.
How does video hosting work?
You can upload your video to a video host that has the infrastructure to distribute it—even in other countries.
The biggest benefit of online video hosting is that it makes your videos available in lots of places while controlling them from one dashboard. That means you get the best experience possible and can distribute them widely while doing less work. That can free you up to create more videos and to get even better results.
Here are just some of the benefits of a video hosting platform:
An excellent viewer experience. Hosting your video can make the image crisper (it’ll adjust to people’s devices) and provide a video player with controls.
Time saving tools. Hosting services can do most of the hard work of uploading videos automatically. They’ll compress the video if needed and can automatically encode it, making it viewable across devices. Otherwise, you have to remember that Windows Explorer needs H.264 codec and Google Chrome needs Webm codec – whatever that means.
More effective video marketing. When you can organize all your videos, you’re more likely to use them, and to get a better return on investment (ROI).
Features for hitting your goals: Are you in marketing? Support? Sales? PR? Hosting platforms may offer role-specific features to make uploading and sending easier. For instance, salespeople might be able to record videos right from their browser and customer success teams can group videos based on topic.
Save time with integrations. Hosting platforms can integrate with other applications so you can push your video to lots of different channels. You can also edit it after it’s been published or quickly take it down (if needed).
High availability. Hosting platforms replicate your video across data centers around the world, which means it can be available in many countries at once (based on their laws).
Redundancy. Hosting offers automatic backup, so if your site fails, your video won’t go down elsewhere.
As video grows even more popular, video hosting will become an absolute necessity. Cisco estimates that by 2021,82% of internet traffic will be video. Some 92% of marketers now say video is an important part of their strategy, up from 78% in 2015. More videos means more bandwidth. More bandwidth means a greater need for online video hosting.
How do I choose a video hosting solution that’s right for me?
Ask yourself what your goals are. Are you trying to generate brand awareness? Build pipeline? Convince late-stage buyers? Help your CEO share fireside chats? Help customers answer their own questions? All of the above? As we’ll explain, for each scenario, there is a different platform that’s the best fit for you.
The biggest distinction you should draw between hosting platforms is between those that have a discovery feature, meaning they attract viewers to your video, and those that don’t. Both types of platform have advantages.
YouTube, for instance, has a discovery feature. It’s the second-largest search engine in the world and recommends your videos to people who will enjoy them. That can be great for top-of-funnel marketing, but it also means YouTube could recommend your competitor’s video next.
Pure video hosting solutions without discovery features offer a lot more control, which many businesses need. These platforms will only recommend your videos, allow you to customize the video player, and have deeper analytics.
Ask yourself the following questions to help you make a more informed decision.
What matters more: reach or personalization?
If all that matters is reach, video platforms with discovery features are great. If all that matters is personalization and control, a pure video hosting platform works best. For the best of all worlds, use one of each.
What teams will use the video hosting platform?
Is this for marketing? Sales? Internal communications? Customer success? Everyone? Look at the video hosting platform’s existing customers and use cases—if they don’t have relevant success stories, they may not understand your team’s needs well enough to be helpful.
What integrations are necessary?
Make two lists: Integrations that are necessary (your marketing automation system, for instance) and those that are nice to have (for example, your CRM). This tells you what your deal-breakers are, and helps you narrow the list of options.
How many videos will you have?
Plan a year or two out, so you can grow into the platform. The more videos you plan to have, the less likely it is that a free, consumer-grade video hosting platform will work for you. They often lack the organizational features of paid services, and if you can’t easily find and sort your videos, they won’t get used.
Will the solution primarily be used internally or externally?
Distributing videos within your company is often more complicated than without. Internal messages could contain confidential information and you may need features to protect them, say, by restricting who can view. This is especially important for public companies and regulated industries.
What formats will you use?
There are lots of alternative types of video you might want to consider in the future, like 360 videos (allows the video to look around) and 4K video (super high-definition).
Where are your videos being viewed?
Different players have different strengths. Some offer mobile apps, and others offer flexible browser-based players that work across devices.
Is video accessibility a priority for you?
If so, you’ll need a video hosting platform with accessibility controls that make it easier to view for those who are blind, color blind, deaf, or require other accommodations. A lot of these changes are made when recording the video, but some players allow you to add subtitles or narration after the fact.
How much support will you need?
However much support you think you’ll need, double it, especially while onboarding.
Will you need to track your videos?
The more you need to know about how your videos perform, the more important analytics will be. A video hosting service with advanced analytics can tell you who watched, when they watched, and which parts they rewatched. Platforms that integrate with your customer relationship management (CRM) system or marketing automation platform (MAP) may also be able to score leads based on view time or automate your marketing activities.
What’s your budget?
Some platforms are free, but the free ones often lack the features businesses need—like tracking video consumption for leads or accounts, or the ability to recommend your own videos as opposed to those from your competitors. Know your team’s maximum or “walk-away” number before you evaluate, but also know that most vendors will apply at least some discount.
What other technical considerations should you be aware of?
Does the player load videos quickly?
Is it easy to use?
What’s the uptime and reliability?
Are there storage or bandwidth limitations?
Is there extra functionality? (E.g. in-video calls-to-action, pop-ups, forms, quizzes, interactivity, etc.)
What are my online video hosting options?
Your video hosting decision will come down to which video hosting platform meets all of your needs while meeting or falling below your budget. As we’ve discussed so far, you’ll probably want two video hosting options: A paid platform that you use to organize and track your videos, and a free hosting platform that focuses on discovery (i.e it recommends your videos to viewers). Both are useful for different things, and neither does it all. Here are specific features to consider:
While all hosting platforms host videos, they charge for different things. In today’s age, bandwidth is a commodity, and you should steer toward vendors that charge based on factors that are more fair, like the number of videos.
Can the platform insert personalized elements based on who the viewer is? Some platforms can insert people’s names or their photo into the video so it appears to have been made just for them.
Does the platform allow you to group, tag, and sort videos? What about creating topic-specific pages or microsites? In short: How easy is it for your team and your customers to find the videos they’re looking for? The better the organization, the more they'll be used and the better your video ROI.
Does the video hosting solution integrate with your email platform? Will it automatically generate a GIF thumbnail and a link to the video, or do you have to do that yourself?
Every platform offers analytics, but each is tailored to different needs. Hosting platforms that are also social media networks often can’t track individual viewers, and so aren’t very useful to B2B marketing or sales teams. As a rule of thumb, the more specialized the platform, the more useful the analytics. Ask yourself:
What metrics will I use to track videos?
Can the platform track those metrics?
Can the platform produce reports that everyone can read?
Settings to restrict who can view videos
If you create an internal company video, can you exclude people outside of your network from watching it? If you restrict it, can you still include partners? With many free hosting services, all videos are publicly available by default.
If you have many people across the organization using the platform, can you give them different levels of access? For instance, can you keep salespeople from accidentally deleting videos? Or success managers from accidentally duplicating them?
Does the platform promote your video to a network? Few do—and most of them are free because as part of the deal, they allow others to run ads before your video.
Can you create videos within the platform itself, or do you have to create them with other tools and upload them? (If you can do it all in one platform, it’ll save time.)
In 2019, people watched 1.1 billion hours of live streaming, and it’s likely to keep growing. Lots of social networks are also favoring live streamed content over other content. Does the platform you’re considering have this capability?
Go slow to go fast. If you jump the gun and trial a software only to discover it’s missing the ability to track viewers or doesn’t integrate with your marketing system, this whole process will take a lot longer. You’ll have to download all your videos and reupload them a second time.
The best thing you can do is evaluate carefully. Review all the questions in this article, and ask people on all the teams who’ll be involved. It’s only through questioning that you’ll discover all your needs, like the fact that salespeople want to record, send, and track videos from their phones.
Hopefully video hosting platforms now seem a lot clearer. There’s much to consider. But making a careful decision and deploying a video hosting platform (or two) is a whole heck of a lot simpler than the alternative – trying to host it all yourself.
Tyler Lessard is a father of four, watcher of Westworld, and creator of exceptional customer experiences. As VP Marketing at
Vidyard, he's spent six years immersed in the world of video marketing. He’s a frequent author and speaker on video, content, and demand gen.