Sorenson Has A Winner With Their New 360 Video Platform (Hands-On Review)
Back in May, Sorenson Media, best known for their Squeeze encoding software and the Spark video codec, launched a new video platform called Sorenson 360. After being hands on with the offering for the past three months, I've come to the conclusion that it's one of the most well thought out platforms on the market for small and medium sized customers.
While the company markets their new service as a "Video Delivery Network", the new SaaS based offering is really a video platform that has been built specifically for those who may not need all the bells and whistles of more complex platforms like Brightcove or Ooyala. Sorenson's new 360 system was designed for the needs of small and medium sized businesses and bundles in transcoding, storage, management, player design, delivery and analytics all in one easy to use system, all hosted by Sorenson.
While I've personally used a lot of video platforms myself, many of them are designed for content owners who have a lot of complex needs or are trying to monetize their content. As a result, many platforms have all sorts of functionality for ad insertion and monezitation which makes the platforms quite difficult to learn and use. While there's nothing wrong with these systems and are valuable for content owners who need that functionality, there's also another large segment of the market who simply needs to get their content online quickly and easily without all the bells and whistles. That said, I found the Sorenson 360 platform to be not only easy to use, but also rich in functionality. Added 7/24: Thanks to the commenter below for pointing out that I didn't mention if the platform supports streaming based delivery. Currently, all videos are delivered via HTTP and not via streaming based protocols.
Encoding of content for the platform can be done two ways. For content owners needing maximum control and highest video quality, it's best for them to uploaded videos using the latest version of Sorenson Squeeze 5. This seamless functionality built into the new version made encoding and uploading videos from my desktop a snap, but for me, it was even easier to upload videos via my web browser. For content owners who don't have encoding software on their computer, being able to drag and drop a file into the browser and have the Sorenson 360 system transcode it is much easier. I uploaded a bunch of clips a few minutes in length and the system transcoded them very quickly.
The system supports a lot of upload formats including ASF, AVI, DV, MOV, MP4, MPEG, MPG, WM and WMV amongst others. Currently, the Sorenson 360 platform outputs Flash compatible .mp4 (H.264/AAC) exclusively and since the files are .mp4, can also be played back on the iPhone. Sorenson plans to support others formats as well later in the year.
One of the nicest things I liked about the Sorenson 360 system is the user interface and the control you have over your content. The system allows you to do everything from creating your own customer player, to password protecting your content. Clicking on each video allows you to easily edit the title of the video, add meta data, select the player size, get the embed code and a host of other features. The system has a plugin for WordPress, has controls for syndication and with a click of a button allows you to retire videos from circulation on the net. The dashboard also allows you to see real-time video analytics and viewing metrics and is truly done in real-time. As I clicked to watch one of my videos, the viewing number on the analytics page changed instantly. The platform has a bunch of other functionality built in as well but in the interest of time, I won't cover every single one. Simply go to Sorenson's website if you want to see a list of everything the system can do.
If I had to put some sort of rating on Sorenson's 360 offering, I'd give the platform 4.5 stars out of 5. The product is extremely easy to use, has most of the functionality a content owner would need, is priced so that anyone can afford it and is backed up by some really good support. One thing I loved seeing is that some of the feedback I have the company on features I would like to see added have already been rolled out less than three months later. I started testing the system in May and today, Sorenson announced a bunch of new features for the platform. That's a really quick development time-line and the company plans to continue to improve upon the platform with updates releases later this year.
While Sorenson's 360 system is not the only product on the market targeting small and medium sized businesses with their video offering, Sorenson does have the added advantage of having hundreds of thousands of customers for their Sorenson Squeeze software, including their bundled deal with Avid. This gives the company quite a large install base of customers who already use their software that they can up-sell with this offering. Like other platforms on the market such as Delve Networks, Fliqz, Vimeo and others, Sorenson's service simply requires a credit card to sign up and pricing starts at only $99 a month for the ability to delivery 10,000 two-minute streams.
One of the smartest things Sorenson does is break out their pricing based on number of streams delivered and shys away from translating all of that into metrics like GB or TB. Most small and medium content owners don't know what those metrics mean anyway and quite frankly, don't care. While Sorenson's initial pricing packages on their website are for 2-minute videos, Sorenson will create pricing for any sized customer based on any length of content. Without using my name, I put in a request to their sales force for custom pricing based on 5-minute clips and got back a price within one business day.
When Sorenson launched the product in May to the market, some bloggers wanted to compare this offering to Brightcove or other vendors who offer a very different type of platform, geared to a very different kind of user. Sorenson is targeting the video professionals who already do a lot of encoding and need more support with a good end-to-end workflow solution. While some have written that Sorenson has a lot of competition in the market for their offering, Sorenson has a few competitive advantages. For starters, they have been around for more than a decade and software is their business, it's all they do. Also, offering any product in the market at a list price of a few hundred dollars a month means you can only get revenue based on volume. Since Sorenson gets revenue from other sources other than the platform, they have a diversified revenue stream that many of their competitors don't have.
Sorenson really has a nice thing going with their 360 platform and if they continue to keep it focused and provide the great level of support they have shown, I see them leading the small and medium sized market with this offering.
Added 8/4/09: At the time of the writing of this post, Sorenson Media was not a sponsor of my blog