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is the death of free online video near?

Something that genuinely surprises me is the fact we still have the ability to post video online totally for free. The reason I'm surprised is because the operating cost of it is unbelievably high.

Here's a 3-minute video clip from a public domain video I downloaded:

The above video is what's now known as "240p" quality, as in 320x240. It's a 6.6MB file with a mono 64k audio track.

The above video only has to be watched 152 times to consume 1GB of server bandwidth.

Think about that for a second. 152 is not a lot of views.

Since everyone is uploading HD video these days, that same 6.6MB for a 3-minute video then suddenly spikes up to at least 25MB for 1080p quality - and that's just for 3 minutes! At that point it only takes 40 views to consume a gig of bandwidth.

To put this in perspective, 1GB of server bandwidth is the equivalent of serving 1,500 images at 2 megapixels each (which is what a "high quality" Facebook image would be after you upload it there and it's crunched down).

Eventually, there will be no more free online video

By "free online video", I'm not talking about free-to-watch but rather free-to-publish, as in a free online video service where you can upload whatever you want, whenever you want.

There is in all honesty not a lot of choice other than YouTube out there. I'll talk about YouTube more in a moment, but here are your other choices.

Blip is dangerous to be using these days because they just screwed over a whole bunch of users by throttling uploads to just 1 per day. Insanely stupid on Blip's part, but I imagine someone at Blip HQ is doing a total hatchet job in an effort to kick out (by force, if necessary) all the non-pro users. The only redeeming quality of using Blip is that it is the easiest way to get paid for the video you post, assuming you get past their ridiculous signup process that is.

Vimeo has the best business model, but you can't make money with their site. All they offer is "Tip Jar", which is just crappy. No advertiser revenues. Not yet, anyway. Should they get that implemented, then Vimeo will be a major contender. If you have no interest in making money with your videos and want to do it just for fun, this is the best one to use, hands down.

Metacafe is just a total piece of crap. They had "Producer Rewards", then dumped it, so as far as I know there's no way to monetize your videos there. That, and the system is maddening to use; it's just poorly designed.

DailyMotion does have Publisher Accounts now, and that's cool. The problem? Unless you know how to generate massive amounts of hits in a very short period of time, you'll literally make only a few cents a day.

And then we come back to the one everyone knows, YouTube.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that in order to be on YouTube's "good side" you have to be very, very careful with what you post. It's getting to the point where even saying the word f--k in a video is almost grounds to get your account disabled for life.

Then of course there's this huge push by YouTube to feature only professional video-makers, similar to what Blip is doing but not to the extreme level they're doing it... yet.

Where does this leave the "regular joe" user?

Nowhere, that's where. Not unless you want to pay, that is. But there are options that I'll mention in a moment.

Online video host providers always get slammed with huge bandwidth costs. If they were smart enough (which they're not) to offer a "lite" version which went with the old YouTube formula of 240p-only with a 10-minute limit, then sure, they could dramatically cut costs, still serve ads and everyone would be cool with that. But like I said, they're not smart enough to do that.

Truth: Most people don't mind 240p video as long as it was encoded right and not a blurry, pixely mess. People will readily choose 240p over 1080p because it loads fast and really doesn't look bad. Yeah, it's a little "grainy", so to speak, but I mean, c'mon.. most online video is not pro-produced Hollywood big-budget stuff.

If I asked you how many times you've purposely chosen the 240p video option on YouTube just so the stupid video loads, a bunch of you would say yes. Why? Because you don't want to sit there forever waiting for the dumb thing to buffer; you want it now; that's what 240p gives you. Convenience trumps quality, every time.

Free online video may go away, but at least the paid way will be cheap

The best thing I've seen that's genuinely easy is Amazon S3 to store the video files and Simple S3 to play them in web pages and such.

Why is the above combo good? Because you only pay for the bandwidth you use, with near-infinite upgrade options. In the business world this is called being "scalable". You can start small and cheap, and if the bandwidth runs out, just flip over a few bucks for a few more gigs of it as you need it.

The cost? You can try Amazon's S3 for free with "Free Tier". Simple S3 has a free 30-day trial and then it's $9.99/month after that, but you can even cut that cost out if you know how to embed S3 video yourself. So in essence, you could host all your online video for free, that is unless it starts getting insanely popular where you'd need to buy more bandwidth. But the point is that the option is there and you're not left there stuck with nowhere to go.

On a final note there is ZippCast, who just got back in the game. I'd like to see them take off and do well, but it's just too soon to tell. I have a profile there and posted a few videos. But I don't know if I'll continue to do so because they seriously just got back into being in service again. Lots of bugs on the site, but, well, it works. 🙂

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