Digital Video - Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily Wading Into the Stream
by deg farrelly
Public awareness of streaming video exploded with YouTube’s 2004 launch. While streaming video was not unknown at the time, it was this large, commercial application that brought it to the forefront of public attention. One month later, Films Media Group launched the first large-scale collection of streaming video for academic use.
|Freed from the limitations of a physical artifact, streaming videos are available anywhere ... no need to reserve in advance, arrange for equipment, or pick up and return.
In the ensuing decade-plus, streaming video moved from being a novelty to becoming essential for libraries, providing video content to their constituency. The growth of academic streaming video occurred simultaneously with the growth of commercial streaming services; the expansion of high-speed internet into American homes, businesses, and schools; and shifts in educational modes and user expectations. Few would question consumers’ acceptance of and demand for 24/7 access to video and other media in their home—and, more recently, on mobile devices. A 2016 Nielsen report states that 65% of people worldwide now watch streaming video or video on demand (Loechner 2016).
Libraries moved more slowly into streaming video for a number of significant reasons. Early providers had limited titles available, often consisting mainly of older ones in distributors’ catalogs. Few distributors offered streaming options for their titles. And the first streaming platform configurations presented numerous issues related to DRM, multiple OSs and video players (Windows Media Player versus QuickTime), end-user bandwidth, and authentication.
But slowly and surely, bit by bit, streaming started to become the approach of choice for many libraries and their faculty. To some degree, the history of streaming video in academic libraries does not differ widely from earlier format migrations: 16mm to 3/4" video, Beta versus VHS format wars, and the emergence of the DVD as the dominant format for moving image media. All were met with some reluctance, hesitation, and concern over when to convert, what to convert, and how to support the new form of content delivery. For an interesting history of media in academic library collections, see Lori Widzinski’s article, “‘Step Away From the Machine’: A Look at Our Collective Past” (2010).
Streaming video, as it matured, offered options and benefits that none of these other formats could provide. Freed from the limitations of a physical artifact, streaming videos are available anywhere, anytime (assuming connectivity). They do not degrade in image or audio quality from repeated play and can be used simultaneously by multiple users in multiple locations; no need to reserve in advance, arrange for equipment, or pick up and return.
Today, streaming video approaches ubiquity as 84.5% of all academic institutions provide at least some streaming video. That market penetration increases to 89% in doctoral institutions, and 96.2% in Association of Research Libraries institutions (farrelly and Hutchison Surdi 2016). If your library is not among those that already stream, you are most likely giving considerable thought to doing so.
Moving into providing streaming video requires planning on multiple fronts simultaneously. Important considerations include deciding what content to stream, myriad approaches to acquiring or providing access to the content you select, how to host and deliver that content, and options for discovery of the content your library acquires. Many of these considerations were simpler a decade ago when few distributors provided streaming video. Now, nearly every academic video distributor offers streaming options for its titles, and most provide a platform or solution for hosting. Even those that do not provide their own portal provide digital site licenses at least.
Libraries that are contemplating moving into streaming and video will want to first consider what content to provide and acquire. Licensing models and package deals will emerge from this first consideration. A logical start is to examine use data for hard copy videos (VHS and DVD) already in the library’s collection. Heavily used titles, those placed on reserve frequently, and those used by multiple faculty members or classes are prime candidates for conversion to streaming format. Transitioning such titles most likely will involve working directly with the original distributor to arrange for streaming rights and/or hosting (more about hosting later). Most distributors offer deeply discounted pricing for format conversion, often a set price below $100 per title or half the price of the original hard copy.
There is no one-stop shopping for streaming video. Three distributors dominate the market: Alexander Street, Films on Demand, and Kanopy. All of them offer very large collections, between 20,000 and 50,000 titles. A fourth distributor, Docuseek2, is much smaller and operates both independently and as a partner on the Alexander Street platform. They have selected titles in their catalog as subject-based subcollections. They contain exclusive content not available from the other distributors, but there are instances when content overlaps among them. Much of this overlap is for content in the public domain or that’s available elsewhere, but some of it is the result of smaller distributors including their content nonexclusively. The Oct. 15, 2015, issue of Library Journal provides a comparison of these and other distributors of academic streaming video (Hazlett 2015).
While these four companies dominate the landscape, there are numerous other distributors that also offer rich and varied content. Often, these smaller companies provide focused content (such as on the environment, biology, psychology, or social issues). While media librarians are familiar with these companies, only 30% of academic libraries have a professional media librarian—the numbers are higher in doctoral granting and research universities (farrelly and Hutchison Surdi 2016). It is unlikely that most subject or collection development/acquisition librarians are familiar with the players in the field. One way to become more familiar with these companies is through the National Media Market, an annual venue for distributors and media selectors to meet and review, compare, select, and negotiate for video content. For more information, see National Media Market’s website (nmm.net).
Feature films present unique challenges for streaming as do television programs, both current and vintage, and programming from cable and internet networks (HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu). Consumers are familiar with the options and interfaces these commercial sites provide, but may not be aware of their limitations. None of these services provide an educational/institutional licensing model. Individual titles distributed independently by filmmakers and smaller distributors also present challenges as these sources are rarely equipped to host, to provide digital files, or to supply captions.
If moving into licensed streaming is not yet financially viable for your library, you still have options. There are many high-quality collections, with freely accessible video available via the internet. Linking to some of these resources is an easy way to provide access to streaming video for your users. The author’s libguide on streaming video provides descriptions of and links to many such collections (farrelly 2016). The American Library Association’s “Digital Video Collections Guide” also describes numerous quality streaming video collections (Spicer 2016). Although structured with an academic focus, the aforementioned guide lists collections that are applicable to public and school libraries.
As libraries moved into digital rather than physical assets, acquisitions moved from purchasing to licensing. The same is true for streaming video. Licensing of streaming video falls into two broad categories: in-perpetuity (sometimes referred to as “life of format”) licensing and term licensing. With in-perpetuity licensing, the library owns the content in the same way that a library owns a book, that is, the artifact or container, not to be confused with owning copyright. Term licenses provide the right to access the content for a specific period. Term licenses can be as short as a single viewing, a week, or a semester; now, fairly standard periods are 1 year or 3 years.
Within these two broad licensing categories, there are numerous permutations. Subscription is a form of term licensing. With subscription, a collection of video titles is available, generally for a 1-year period, with unlimited use of all titles in the collection, including new ones added during the subscription time frame. Examples of subscription term licenses include Films on Demand’s Academic Master Collection and Alexander Street’s individual subject collections such as 60 Minutes or Art and Architecture in Video. Often, individual titles in such collections, as well as the full collections themselves, are also available for licensing in perpetuity.
Options for term licensing abound. Nearly all distributors that offer streaming video provide for individual title licensing. Several distributors now offer a patron-driven acquisition (PDA) option. Libraries now commonly employ PDA models for ebooks. In a PDA model, a distributor makes an entire collection of titles available for use during the license period. But once a predetermined use threshold is reached, the library automatically purchases the title. For streaming video, the model differs slightly in that once the predetermined threshold is reached (usually four views), the library automatically term licenses the title for a year. Some PDA models allow for the license to be for a longer period, typically 3 years. When the license period expires, the clock counting the number of uses resets, and the process begins again. Alexander Street’s PDA model permits the library to choose between term licensing the video and purchasing the video in perpetuity. Films on Demand was the first company to offer a PDA model for streaming video, but it no longer does so, having replaced it with a subscription model.
A variation of the PDA model is the evidence-based acquisition (EBA) model. In this model, which was developed by Alexander Street, there is no trigger that automatically commits the library to a license. Instead, the library reviews use data and determines which titles were used during the contract period to license. Alexander Street now offers the EBA model as AVON to Own. Multiple companies offer an EBA model, but not all EBA models are the same. One company’s EBA model is a 2-year commitment during which all content is available the first year, but limited to only selected content during the second year.
A lesser-known licensing model is the transactional model (aka pay per view). This is the model underlying the Hoopla and Freegal services more commonly found in public libraries. In it, a wide range of content (often much more than video, but also ebooks and music) is made available. Each use triggers a charge paid by the library. This is not dissimilar to the Amazon on Demand or other consumer-oriented streaming options. While some video distributors offer a single-view option, academic libraries are less inclined to engage with transactional licensing.
Which licensing models your library adopts will depend on the focus of your collection and the intent of your streaming video operations. Is your intent to develop both broad and deep collections—or is your intent to provide the specific content needed by faculty members for their instruction and research? The former is collection development, while the latter provides a service (Arthur 2015).
The advent of VHS—and later DVD—at relatively cheap prices, permitted libraries to provide video in their collections routinely. But this content consisted primarily of mass market entertainment. Educational and documentary film has never been an inexpensive undertaking for libraries. Pricing for individual titles is not uniform; depending on the distributor and the content, one-time charges for a single DVD can range from $150 to $600. Unfortunately, the move to streaming has only increased the cost. Most distributors charge significantly more for their titles in streaming format than they charge for DVDs. It is not uncommon for streaming files to be priced at twice the cost of the same video on DVD. There is little consistency in pricing between distributors. Pricing, however, is negotiable.
One area in which pricing has stabilized is with term licensing. Based largely on the practices of the two largest PDA models, pricing for term licenses is now routinely around $150 for a 1-year license and $300 to $350 for a 3-year license. Whether a library elects to license a title in perpetuity or provide access through serial term licenses is a matter determined by a library’s unique mix of hosting options, acquisitions budget, long-term need for the content, and other local factors. Licensing actions of smaller institutions will differ greatly from those of large universities.
Regardless of the source or distribution of selected streaming titles, in order to function, streaming video requires a hosting solution. Hosting uses servers to store the digital files and related assets (caption files, thumbnail images, transcripts, study guides, etc.) and deliver them on demand, regardless of the device used for access (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, PC, iOS, or Android). All of the large distributors provide robust platforms. These platforms include value-added functions and features such as segmentation of videos into discrete blocks, transcripts, captions, and clipping tools. Distributor-hosted content is securely backed up, and the distributor assumes responsibility for assuring that the streaming files and additional assets perform as expected.
Some libraries prefer to maintain their own hosting servers. Locally hosting content presents challenges. Chief among these is workload as the library assumes responsibility for procuring the streaming file, backup, and all the functional operation of a site. In the early years of streaming video, there were few commercial options; most libraries looking to stream content developed their own interfaces. Now there are numerous companies that provide hosting solutions: Ensemble, ShareStream, MediaAMP, VBrick, Kaltura, etc. None of them are true turnkey, however, requiring local programming and/or configuration to make the system functional with your content and authentication system.
Recently, another option has emerged, using the hosting platforms and functionality of the large distributors. Alexander Street, Films on Demand, and Kanopy offer options for libraries to host content on the company’s servers. These options are ideal for the library that has a need to stream limited content, but lacks the staffing or budget to maintain a hosting platform locally.
With streaming content distributed over an array of hosting platforms and interfaces, how will your users locate the video they seek? This may not be a big issue in a library that only provides streaming video for course reserves. But for libraries with larger collections from different distributors, requiring users to search multiple portals may be cumbersome and negatively impact overall use. “Findability precedes usability. You cannot use what you cannot find” (Greenfield 2010). All of the large distributors provide MARC records for the videos in their collections. This simplifies patrons’ locating content using the library’s catalog. Surprisingly, despite the availability of MARC records, many libraries do not catalog some of their streaming videos; 15% do not catalog any (farrelly and Hutchison Surdi 2016).
Discover layers (such as Summon, Ex Libris Primo, and EBSCO Discovery Service ) help to close the discovery gap. But these offerings were slow to incorporate video products into their indexed content and may only index the large, externally hosted collections. The likelihood of a discovery layer indexing local or consortium-based collections of individual titles is slim. Sadly, indexers of published content still largely ignore media. Occasionally, a database may reference a media review, but in general, the major subject indexes widely employed in libraries still fail to include video in their indexed content. With SAGE moving into providing video content and ProQuest’s acquisition of Alexander Street, perhaps the tide will turn and searches in an index will return results of not just books, book chapters, journal articles, and conference proceedings—but also videos.
No one licensing model, distributor’s content, or hosting platform can provide all that you need in streaming video. A robust approach will require a mix of content from the large distributors and smaller distributors—some content licensed in perpetuity and some content term licensed. Librarians and the communities they serve must also learn to accept that not everything they want to access will be available and remain available. Streaming video has advanced remarkably in a very short period, little more than 10 years. During that time, there were multiple changes in the quantity and quality of available content, codecs, DRM, images, added features, platforms, and pricing models. Numerous additional advances are certain to follow. The growth of streaming video, both as a consumer model and an academic library resource, shows no signs of abating, with streaming emerging as the dominant and preferred mode to access video content.
For a much more detailed examination of streaming video in libraries, see Cheryl Duncan and Erika Peterson’s book, Creating a Streaming Video Collection for Your Library.