Customer Q&A with Screenlight

Technology is changing the way that we communicate and collaborate on a number of things, not the least of which is video creation and production.  Today we’re highlighting Zencoder customer Screenlight.

Here are some words from Screenlight founder Chris Potter on the technology behind their service.

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What do you do at Screenlight?

Screenlight offers a private video sharing and collaboration platform that makes it easy for video producers & editors to securely review videos with clients, get their feedback, and get video projects approved. The service solves communication and platform compatibility issues that people experience when using DVDs, email, FTP, YouTube, and custom solutions to review and approve videos.

ScreenLight provides a private online hub where video producers can upload and share videos with teams and clients. Video projects are password protected, and people will only see projects they have been invited to participate in. Project communication is kept in one place with blog-style comments that can be entered for each video. The service can accept virtually any input video format, and videos are automatically encoded for playback on desktops, advanced smartphones, and the new Apple TV.

Whereas most online video platforms are about mass distribution of video, Screenlight is about private viewing with invite only groups of participants. Video production is an inherently collaborative process, but until now, there have been few mass market online tools to make it easy and affordable for video producers editors to collaborate with clients outside the edit suite.

How are trends in the marketplace effecting your technology decisions?

Our customers needs are constantly changing and we work to evolve the platform and keep them happy. Customers want to review and collaborate on video production anywhere, anytime, anyplace (much how they want to watch television). This need to review video on the go (especially on the iPad) was a major factor that drove our decision to automatically encode client videos for cross-platform delivery. Customers can now review videos “outside the edit suite” on mobile devices without having worry about codecs, encoding specs, HTML5 vs. Flash, or the delivery method that is used.

What types of encoding solutions did you look at? What led you to choose Zencoder?

We looked at several alternatives and how they would stack up in terms of quality, encoding speed, scalability and reliability.

  • Quality: Video quality is the livelihood of our customers. We absolutely had to deliver high quality video that would look fantastic on different devices.
  • Encoding speed: Our value proposition to customers is that we can help them can save time with video review and approval. If videos take too long to encode, then we can’t deliver on our promise.
  • Scalability: The volume of uploads that we process each day is highly variable. We wanted a solution that would easily handle our peak demand without videos getting stuck in a queue. The ability to simultaneously encode video into multiple formats was also an important component of this.
  • Reliability: Encoding is a tricky business, and we wanted a solution that would meet our customer needs in terms of uptime and successful video encodes.

Rolling our own solution in a way that would meet the requirements above would have been costly and time consuming. A big concern with this option was that there would be encoding bottlenecks and that we would have to manage spinning up and spinning down a bunch of servers to manage peaks and troughs in our daily encoding volume.

We looked at alternatives that charged per dedicated encoder. The issue with this model is that it forces you to make the choice between buying the number of encoders that you need during peak times, or provisioning for your average capacity and accepting that videos will have to sit in a queue during peak periods. Neither choice was acceptable to us.

Since we started using Zencoder we have had fewer video playback problems, the quality pleases even the most discerning eye, we can support playback on iPhones / iPads, and customers appreciate not having to think too much about the settings for the video they upload. In short we have a more reliable service and happier customers since we integrated with Zencoder.

What’s your favorite Zencoder feature?

It might sound strange, but two of our favorite Zencoder features (and ones that helped swing us towards Zencoder) were the API documentation and the per-minute pricing model.

The documentation was really important because it provided a signal about the quality of the customer experience that we could expect. Since documentation is usually an afterthought, your clear documentation was a sign that you put a tremendous amount of care into the service. It made integration easy and totally frictionless. We didn’t need to call on customer support or use forums for help.

The pricing model was important because it provided predictable costs that were easy to model. I think this model does a much better job of showcasing Zenconder’s value compared to charging by file size (data transfer in and out).

Please share a recent company milestone.

We are excited about having completed a full overhaul of the look and feel of the application in December and a revamp of the marketing site in January. We’ve added automatic video encoding, support for playback on iPhones/iPads, and a much larger video player (960*540) that puts customer videos front and center on the desktop. We also started the year off by significantly increasing the amount of storage in all of our plans. We expect that 2012 is going to be a game changer!

What’s the most exciting trend in online video at the moment?

I find it really exciting to see how innovation in the video industry is being driven by a continual reduction in the cost and complexity of making and distributing great video. As video moves beyond the television and the desktop onto mobile devices it will shape our lives in a pretty profound way. Online video is changing how we learn, how we tell stories, how we entertain ourselves, how companies market themselves, etc. It’s a really exciting place to be!

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