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Embed, DIY, or buy? Determining the best way to add user videos to sites and apps

Video is a powerful way to build community and increase stickiness in your product. According to our recent report with O'Reilly, “Users spend 88% more time on websites that contain video than those that do not…and video now makes up 80% of the internet's content.” In other words, it's pretty clear that video is effective.

And companies are building on that to drive traction and connection. Many are encouraging users to upload their own video content to their apps, spiking engagement, helping creators, and building community.

Take Strava, who began allowing users to upload videos while hiking the trails and saw incredible adoption, or Pixieset, who enabled photographers to add video to their portfolios to attract more clientele. Use cases that center around user-generated content are unique, and come with their own considerations for sites and apps looking to provide users with the option to upload and publish video.

In this article, we'll explore the nuances for three key options to enable your users to add video:

  1. Embed: Allow users to embed video from free or paid video services (like YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia) into your products.
  2. Do-it-yourself (DIY): Build your own video infrastructure in-house using your engineering resources.
  3. Third-party platform (sometimes thought of as “buy” in a build vs. buy framework): Work with a third-party video platform, which provides the infrastructure, maintenance, expertise, and support.

You may notice that both the “embed” option and “third-party platform” option have some third-party vendors listed out. This is mainly because of a difference in approach: embedding technically relies on another company's video services — and this makes the most sense if you don't have a development team. In the third option, when we say “third-party platforms,” we're talking about leveraging another company's solution that allows you to take advantage of best-in-class components, easily integrates into your products via APIs, and is built to empower developers to build video. You may also notice that some popular third-party platforms (e.g., Brightcove) are not mentioned here. That's because these platforms are primarily built to support first-party uploading and publishing, and are not well-suited to handle scenarios where lots of end-users are uploading and publishing content.

Whichever option you go with, this decision has long-lasting implications for team bandwidth, development time, and the ability to keep up with new video standards and technology. It also speaks to how you grow, and your ability to iterate and build new video experiences over time into your product. As an infrastructure provider, we're partial to the third option, but we know that each path has its benefits depending on your company goals, resources, and needs. Let's dive into the pros and cons for each of these three options — whether you're just starting this process or evaluating a new solution.

Link1. Embed

Pros: Fast and easy to get started

Streamlined setup: If you're just starting out with video, or if you only have a small user base or potential audience, allowing users to embed video is a solid option. It's often a cheap and quick way to test interest among your community before investing lots of developer resources. Since there's minimal development necessary, and you don't, find room in the budget, this option is also the fastest of the three options.

Cons: Not scalable, limited control over UX, brand, and infrastructure

Risks to customer experience: Although embedding is easy at first, it can come with long-term risks like a lack of control over your brand look and feel, user experience and support, and scalability issues. For example, for users to upload their own videos, they will need to sign up for the embeddable video service, like Vimeo or YouTube, before they can take action. Even one additional (and potentially frustrating) step like this can make a huge impact on whether people come back to your product or ditch it for another easier-to-use option.

Here's a good example. Vancouver-based Pixieset makes beautiful galleries, websites, and more for photographers. They decided to test video with their audiences, first embedding YouTube and Vimeo. While their initial test was quick, the embedded solutions lacked the control and elegance they needed: they wanted it to be as easy for photographers as adding a photo, and for viewers to have as beautiful an experience as the rest of the gallery. They ended up switching to Mux to future-proof their business, leverage easy-to-use yet robust features to control the experience, and get scalability they needed for long-term success.

Minimal support: If your users run into any issues with video, you'll need to refer them to the third-party service for answers. Since these services are free, this support experience is usually minimal and you have no control over how they handle user complaints. If your SLAs elsewhere are speedy or you want to maintain a customer-first approach to support, this issue can prove at odds with your brand values. Moreover, misalignments with your business model can create problems: Your users will be on the hook to pay for any unexpected bills associated with these services if a video unexpectedly goes viral through your platform.

Limited product data: Embedded solutions provide some basic metrics like feature usage, but you won't be able to see deeper user experience and engagement data. This leaves you flying blind on what content is popular, how your audience uses your product, and whether or not you're providing a quality user experience.

Link2. Do-it-yourself

Pros: Full customization and control over infrastructure

Fully own the product: The main benefits of building your own video infrastructure are customization and control. Your development team selects and stitches together every component of your video pipeline, which means you're getting exactly what you want and ditching what you don't need. If you go this route, it's often easier to estimate infrastructure costs as well, since you have a full picture of what you're building (although… there can be hidden costs — more on that below).

Control over brand: DIY means you'll have complete control over the look and feel of your video experience, and in turn, the entire audience experience your users have with video.

Cons: Slow to market, maintenance and innovation risks, and hidden costs

Ongoing maintenance and innovation challenges: If you're considering the DIY route, ask yourself, “Does our company have the in-house expertise to build, manage, and maintain video infrastructure?” If you decide to build your own solution, you will either have to dedicate engineers with video expertise to build the components of the platform or hire additional headcount. Even if you have these resources at the beginning of the project, you might not always have bandwidth to dedicate to ongoing maintenance and upgrades. There will inevitably be bugs and downtime with your systems. This can distract from other high-priority projects and lead to lost productivity over time. It also restricts your ability to innovate.

If you choose to build on your own, you'll need to implement the initial infrastructure and continue to add functionality over time. Let's say you want to add real-time video, incorporate a chat, or include a polling feature. Your engineering team will need to keep track of these shifting video trends and audience expectations and translate those demands into technical requirements — which can take a lot of time and in some cases, training or hiring.

Slow time-to-market: Of all the options, building your platform in-house will take the most time, even if you have the resources to support the project. On top of that, if your engineering priorities shift or you have a sudden incident that impacts headcount (like restructuring or layoffs), your video infrastructure might be put at risk.

Video becomes a distraction: Related to the above point, if you're spending a substantial amount of time focusing on building and maintaining video infrastructure, it's simply harder to focus on building and innovating on your core product. Online video is a complex space, and it requires long-term commitment to build, maintain, and keep improving at the pace users expect.

Integration challenges: For DIY projects, you may also run into integration difficulties. You'll not only need to build the platform, you'll need to build the systems that integrate with the platform — not to mention maintaining and upgrading these systems over time. And you're not only building video streaming infrastructure, but also data pipelines to analyze it — which is incredibly hard. Many companies don't have the resources to build their own CMS, monetization and player capabilities, or accessibility features in addition to their video infrastructure, yet these components are often critical.

No existing support or documentation: If you choose to build a DIY solution, you'll also have to build all of the documentation and field every internal question around infrastructure and analytics. As developers know, documentation is not a one-and-done effort. It requires regular updates and a person (or team) to manage them.

Link3. Third-party platform

Pros: Fast time to market, flexible UX and ease of use, more data and support

Streamlined setup and integration: Third-party providers can work faster because they have the expertise, experience, and the processes to streamline your project and set you up for success. As mentioned in the O'Reilly report, “This generally means you get a finished, functioning product far sooner than you would through a DIY process, where the problems of integrating video are new and must be solved one by one.”

When making this decision, companies like Strava look for a combination of fast time-to-market and rich features. When stakeholders at the fitness app decided to add video to their media experience, they considered several providers but found that most solutions “did a piece of the video puzzle really well, but didn't offer the rest.” They needed to balance core competencies with speed to bring video to their community of 100+ million people. They selected Mux because they got all the functionality they needed to future-proof their video infrastructure, from coding to delivery to analytics. Their implementation took less than five months from start to finish.

Customizable user experience: When using a third-party platform, you get a nice balance of control: you don't have to build the infrastructure yourself, but you can customize the look, feel, and product experience to your heart's content — even down to the player — for your ideal use case. With Mux, for example, you can natively build video functionality into your product so that creators and users can upload and stream video — straight from your app or site.

Worry-free maintenance and upgrades: Third-party video providers have video experts that can help you integrate a platform into your existing systems, without requiring you to dedicate a team of engineers. If there are changes to your infrastructure, you have a dedicated support team that can help you navigate those changes. Speaking of engineering resources, third-party platforms help you keep up with changing video trends and standards. For example, Mux automatically updates codecs and streaming configurations at no extra cost or work on your part.

Robust data and analytics: Third-party platforms provide view-level engagement data in addition to usage data — so you can understand how video drives high-priority business metrics like product conversions. Some platforms like Mux allow you to build custom dashboards to track your video data alongside key performance indicators (KPIs). Having this data at your fingertips helps you make better, long-term decisions around video features and content.

Built-in support and documentation: Third-party platforms have their own product documentation and teams dedicated to updating this information, so you don't have to build or manage it on your own. They also have additional high-quality customer support to field questions and assist with any technical issues.

Cons: Paid solution, targeted towards developers and engineers

Cost considerations: Working with a third-party platform costs money. But many companies find that these costs are minimal compared to the resource costs or risks and tradeoffs that come with other solutions. This is why it's critical to understand your business requirements and product requirements first, and then do your due diligence to fully understand all of the hidden costs that can appear with adopting DIY and embedded solutions.

Developer focus (not marketers): For some third-party platforms (including Mux) you get the most benefit when you have an in-house development team that can tightly integrate a video experience into your application: our philosophy is that developers are the key to building what users want (and we help them do that quickly, reliably, and at scale). But if you don't have a development team, then embedded solutions may be a better path.

LinkMaking a decision

Every company is becoming a video company — and implementing it is not a “nice-to-have,” but increasingly a necessity. Evaluating a solution using these pros and cons can save you hours and keep you from having to reevaluate in years (or even months) as your business grows or your priorities change.

For more information on how the experts are thinking through today's video strategies, and how to evaluate video platforms, a video API, and more, download this in-depth guide from O'Reilly in collaboration with Mux.

Written By

Annie Cusack

Annie Cusack – Technology Marketer

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