Behind Flash Video
Interview with Chris Hock – Macromedia’s Director of Product Marketing
Does Flash Video work? We believe it does! Macromedia recently launched a new service called Flash Video Service. Their objectives were to provide a platform that can stream Flash Video files, and make it available to the average user. We met with Chris Hock, Director of product marketing at Macromedia, to talk about Flash Video, the Flash Communication Server, and the advantages of using this new exciting technology.
FSW: Congratulations to the great success of Flash video recently. It seems we’re moving slowly into a new area of web video and we’re glad that you’re doing this interview with Flashstreamworks.
What do you think is the most important success of Flash video in 2004?
Chris Hock: We’ve had a tremendous amount of success in the last year with Flash video spanning many different aspects of the business -from partnerships with our Flash Video Streaming Service partners VitalStream and Speedera to seeing great video experiences such as Amazon Theater on Amazon.com come to life. It would be hard to identify the single most important success.
FSW: What are the biggest streaming events so far?
Chris Hock: Earlier in the year, we announced that Carat Interactive used Flash video to deliver the “Impossible is Nothing” campaign for adidas featuring female boxer Laila Ali and her legendary father, Muhammad Ali. The video ad delivered more than one million plays in a single day. You can read more about this here: http://www.macromedia.com/macromedia/proom/pr/2004/vitalstream.html
Events such as “Impossible is Nothing” that garner over a million visitors viewing streaming Flash video are becoming more and more commonplace as Flash video adoption continues by leading media and entertainment companies and web portals such as comcast.net, cnet.com, sbc.yahoo.com, discoverychannel.com, biographychannel.com, and countless others.
FSW: How high is the current penetration of Flash video compared to other media formats like Windows Media, Real Player or QuickTime?
Chris Hock: One of the biggest contributors to the success of Flash video is the ubiquity of the Macromedia Flash Player. Macromedia Flash Player is the world’s most pervasive software platform, used by over 1 million web professionals and reaching more than 98% of Internet-enabled desktops worldwide as well as a wide range of devices- this is over 30% higher than the penetration of the next closest media player. Additionally, the Flash Authoring Tool is used by over 1 million professionals to create rich internet content such as Flash video.
You can find survey results about the penetration of Macromedia Flash Player as well as other various media players here: http://www.macromedia.com/software/player_census/flashplayer/
FSW: Streaming companies are slowly realizing the importance of Flash video for traditional video streaming. Will Macromedia release an official Video Player similar to Real Player or Windows Media to deploy Flash video easily on the web?
Chris Hock: We think we have a great model that really works for enabling our customers to deliver video with the best possible end-user experience to the widest audience in the most cost-effective, trouble-free manner. Our customers are able to do this because Macromedia Flash Player is widely distributed, cross platform compatible and very small and unobtrusive.
I think building a large, bulky, 9 to 12MB player that people had to download and install wouldn’t help our customers solve the problems they encounter when deploying video to the web.
FSW: The Sorenson Spark video codec is getting slowly older. What is the importance of Flash video for the Macromedia product line and will we see improved video capabilities in the future?
Chris Hock: Short answer: Yes. You’ll definitely see improved video capabilities introduced in future versions of Flash Player. In fact, we’ll continue to improve our video capabilities across the entire Flash platform – in the Flash authoring tool, in Flash Player, and in Flash Communication Server – and as we announced at the Macromedia MAX conference in early November, video quality is one of the things we are working on.
You can get a glimpse of what we discussed here:
FSW: Is Flash video considered to be a replacement for standard video technologies like Windows Media? Are you targeting the same audience?
Chris Hock: If you are a developer or publisher of video content destined for the web, you have to be asking yourself “how can I reach the widest audience possible and give them the best user experience – without headaches and problems.”
In the past, this typically meant that publishers needed to encode in multiple formats. In addition to the increased time and resources needed to do multiple encodings, this also raised a lot of other issues and questions such as, “how do I standardize on a single UI when I have different players with different capabilities,” or “how can I ensure the same experience across different platforms,'” or “how do I customize my player so it fits in seamlessly with my brand and my UI?”
The Flash video platform is aimed at solving these problems while providing a consistent, common, customizable experience across different platforms and browsers. In that manner, it could possibly replace existing legacy media platforms on the web.
FSW: Currently, there are two categories of Flash video hosting companies. Flash Video Streaming Services (FVSS) and Flashcom providers. What is the difference and why is it divided?
Chris Hock: There is actually only one category of hosting partner that Macromedia authorizes for Flash Communication Server and that is our Macromedia Alliance Partner ISPs.
These companies are authorized to offer Flash Communication Server on either dedicated or shared servers for customers. Customers have full access to all Flash Communication Server capabilities including the ability to make applications and set up and administer the server. This is a great solution for customers who want to create Flash Communication Server applications themselves and have full control over setting up and maintaining the servers that those applications run on.
While typical Flash Communication Server ISPs were a great resource for developers, we found that there were a significant number of content providers who didn’t want to set up servers or create applications. They did, however, want the benefits of streaming Flash video with Flash Communication Server. To address this need, Macromedia partnered with leading content delivery network (CDN) providers such as VitalStream and Speedera and developed the Flash Video Streaming Service.
Flash Video Streaming Service is a jointly-marketed, hosted service for video on demand and live video streaming applications across a reliable, load-balanced network. Customers upload their Flash video (FLV) files to the network and then, with the assistance of authoring tools that we provide, they create the client UI. Ultimately, these Flash applications pull the video streams from the appropriate edge servers. The service offers full reporting and analytics as well as a UI to manage assets on the content delivery network.
In this manner, the Flash Video Streaming Service is probably more similar to Macromedia Breeze Live than it is to the typical Flash Communication Server ISP dedicated server or shared server offerings, in that both of them are hosted applications built on typical Flash Communication Server.
FSW: There are still some industry features Flashcom doesn’t support, for instance Digital Right Management (DRM), Multicasting or Load-Balancing outside the VitalStream and Speedera network. What is the direction for Flash video and will Macromedia address these things in the future?
Chris Hock: Because Flash and Flash Communication Server provide full development environments, many of the specific tasks that users need to achieve when they speak of DRM, multicasting, or load-balancing are readily achievable within the Flash environment. Here are a couple of quick examples:
Crowe Chizek and Company deployed a company-wide Webcast via distributed Flash Communication Server servers that split streams and distributed them out to local offices to achieve many of the same bandwidth bottleneck savings features found in a multicast. You can read about that here:
Audio and video streams served up with Flash Communication Server are not cached to the client hard disk and are not accessible in the application UI via a right mouse click. Furthermore, because the Flash Player supports SSL and RTMPS, the streams themselves can be encrypted for the ultimate stream protection. Features such as this enable companies such as CBC and Virgin Music Canada to use Flash Communication Server for delivering MP3 content confident that it will keep users honest.
Many customers using Flash Communication Server to deliver video on demand from multiple servers use a simple round robin approach to spread the load to various servers.
That said, we’ll continue to look at what customers need in order to effectively create and deliver their media and look to add functionality where appropriate.
FSW: Live broadcasts with Flash video. What was the biggest event so far? Are there plans for a hardware encoder with improved video quality?
Chris Hock: I can’t say that I know all of the live events that are occurring with Flash Communication Server and hesitate to speculate on the largest. However, we participated in a live broadcast event with VitalStream and Red Bull Energy Drink over the summer which featured satellite uplinks of video feeds, three live cameras for the viewer to choose from, and cameras mounted in zany places such as on the skydivers’ helmets. That event attracted over 8,000 viewers. You can read about it here:
Regarding hardware encoding solutions – to be clear, there are hardware encoding vendors which can encode to FLV format today. Digital Rapids provides a solution that uses Sorenson’s ACE engine.
The piece that’s missing, however, is that none of the encoding vendors currently offer the ability to encode and stream live Flash video feeds. It should be noted that you can capture, encode and stream live video feeds with the Flash Player 6 or higher and a Flash Communication Server application today. This is a great solution for quickly and easily sharing webcams or DV cameras for video communications applications. However, for live video applications that require higher quality live streams, the best solution will need to occur outside of Macromedia Flash Player in a hardware- and/or software-based tool specifically designed to encode and stream video.
I think this is a very important piece of the Flash video ecosystem that’s missing. We’re currently talking to some of the leading encoding vendors and with a little luck (and some nudging from your readers – read: contact your encoding vendor of choice and demand live Flash video streaming support) one of them will come out with a solution soon.
FSW: What is the market you see the biggest demand / growth for Flash video?
Chris Hock: The benefits of Flash video are so compelling that we’re pretty much seeing interest across the board in most industries and segments.
However, the segments which are adopting the earliest, the quickest, and with the most gusto are:
- Media and Entertainment – Flash Communication Server and Flash Video Streaming Service are being used to power broadband video portals such as SBC/Yahoo!, Comcast.net, and CNET.com .
- Advertising and Interactive Agency projects – Interactive agencies are making extensive use of Flash video. Couple that with DoubleClick’s recent roll out of Motif Streaming Video, based on Flash video, and this segment is hot about Flash video.
- Retail – We’re seeing a number of examples of retailers large and small using Flash video for showing promotional content as well as online merchandising.
question it.When you really think about it, though, and compare it to the “instant on,” no hassle experience that unquestionably occurs when you turn on your TV, your radio, or your telephone, you realize that, compared to these experiences, video on the web is a horrible experience.
I look forward to a day in the near future when this experience is completely reversed. When 9 out of 10 times hitting the Play button on a video clip on the web results in it immediately playing – no questions, no “loading bar”, no pop-ups, no hassle – just play the video. I believe that Flash video and Macromedia tools, servers, and services are in the best position to enable content providers to create these fantastic user experiences. My expectations for next year are that we turn the corner and great video experiences on the web start quickly out-numbering the poor experiences.
FSW: Thank you so much for this interview.
Chris Hock: Thank you for your time and a big thanks to the individuals involved at Flashstreamworks for actually helping make these wonderful Flash video experiences happen.
Chris Hock is director of product management at Macromedia. In this role, Hock is in charge of Flash video business and led the creation and launch of various video-related products at Macromedia including the Flash Communication Server and the Flash Video Streaming Service. Prior to Macromedia, Hock co-founded RedSpark Inc., an Autodesk venture which provided hosted enterprise collaboration solutions. He served in numerous senior product management and application engineering positions at Autodesk and the Autodesk Data Publishing division in territories as diverse as Asia/Pacific, EMEA, and the Americas. Hock received his undergraduate degree in physics from the College of Natural Science at Michigan State University and holds a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Michigan.