What are video APIs?

“Video API” is a broad term that describes a category of APIs that do something related to video. Like any API, they provide access to a specific type of service which you can then build into an application.

Different types of video APIs

Video APIs can include a wide variety of services. The following describes three categories specific to video technology:

  1. Video streaming API
  2. Video platform API
  3. Video player / Client-side APIs

(Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all video API categories and there are resources out there that can help you with API discovery, like this.)

1. Video streaming API

A video streaming API provides three core services:

  • Encoding: Video compression so it’s viewable over the web.
  • Storage: The API provider will usually store a copy or a master of your videos.
  • Delivery: Video delivery is optimized through CDNs so your users get the best experience.

It essentially takes care of the backend technical decisions so you can focus on building the product. These APIs do not require you to use a specific player or CMS, giving you full control over both.

Example:

2. Video platform API

These APIs are all-inclusive services that, in addition to the core services above, include a player and required CMS and can provide most of what you may need to deliver video depending on your use case.

You’re probably already familiar with the social media video platforms. Social media examples:

Online Video Platforms (aka OVP) are targeted for B2B use. OVP examples:

  • Brightcove
  • Wistia
  • JWPlatform (JWPlayer)
  • Ooyala
  • Kaltura

However, there are some tradeoffs for having a turnkey service and this is where a video streaming API could give you a simpler, more flexible solution.

Video streaming APIs vs. OVPs

The key difference between a video streaming API and OVP is the abstraction layer in which they operate. An abstraction layer hides complexity of a system, and the higher the layer, the more it hides. OVPs operate at a varying levels of abstraction often offering very high levels of abstraction, such as a CMS, mixed with intricate technical details all combined into the same collection of APIs.

OVPs provide an out-the-box experience usually including bundled client-side SDKs, players, and a CMS. While this is powerful, it ties you closely to that provider’s data models and SDK integrations which can result in significant vendor lock in. With a video streaming API you’re free to use whatever CMS, player, or advertisement integrations you want - it gives you the power to structure, integrate, and brand your product in a way that makes sense to you.

A video streaming API contains a single, simple, highly abstracted API and used for the ingest and playback of your content. The intricate complexities of how your content is encoded, stored, and delivered is all taken care of by the services underlying API, allowing you to focus on building your product.

Video streaming APIs vs. YouTube

If you want to build your own Youtube (or Twitch or HQ), you wouldn’t be able to use YouTube (...or Twitch). You’d need the ability to support User Generated Content (UGC) – to have your users be able to upload video to your application plus stream to viewers. Of course, YouTube lets users directly upload content, but it doesn’t let developers build their own applications on the YouTube platform.

In addition, you’d probably want to build a custom experience for your unique audience and take into consideration the needs of both your users (content creators) and viewers (content consumers).

UGC examples:

To be able to create an application like those above, you’ll want to use a video platform with the following capabilities:

  • Control over UI and branding

    If you’ve ever seen an embedded YouTube video, you can usually recognize it instantly–there’s the red “play” icon, set controls (Watch later, Share, Info, etc.) that are the same on every player, plus, dead giveaway, it says “YouTube” which takes you away from wherever you are and directs you back to their site. You may not want this as part of your product experience, especially if you’re creating an alternative or competitive product to any of the social media platforms.

  • Control over if and how your users see ads

    YouTube already has ads built-in as a service so you have limited control over how the ad is displayed on your video and you can’t control when it’s shown. With a video streaming API, you can choose which ad insertion technology you want to use and create an ad experience that’s suitable for your business. But what if you want to monetize your content without ads at all? This leads us to the last point.

  • Generate revenue without the use of ads

    Up until recently, the primary way to monetize your content on YouTube was through ads. They’ve since introduced other methods like creating paid subscriptions but it’s still relatively restrictive plus, you have to pay a fee. A video streaming API, however, gives you the freedom to explore a variety of business models and test pricing amounts to find the sweet spot for your product. You essentially get full control over productizing your video content.

3. Video player / Client-side APIs

Another type of video API you might run into are client-side video APIs. When you need to play back video in a browser or on a device, you’ll use these APIs to display video content to the user. Client-side video APIs operate at both high and low levels of abstraction depending on the control level you need over the playback experience. Most pre-packaged video players you could use will also have their own APIs–these players will leverage the lower-level video APIs on a device and provide you with a higher level of abstraction.

Here are some common client-side video APIs you might hear about on different platforms.

On Web Browsers:

  • <Video> Element
  • Media Source Extensions (MSE)
  • Encrypted Media Extensions (EME)

Android:

  • Exoplayer
  • AVPlayer

iOS:

  • AVFoundation

Based on your video needs, there’s more than likely an API solution out there for you. And if you’re not sure of what your video needs are, we’d be happy to chat to help you figure it out.


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