Big rectangular screen, controls along the bottom, triangular play button, some kind of timeline. The fact that video players look mostly the same doesn’t stop every platform from making its own (see a collage of five control strips below).
But we’re seeing some ways that video players are evolving. Developers are finding creative ways to give viewers more options, both with the permission of content owners and without. Meanwhile, content owners are finding ways to better keep track of their videos without too much negative impact on user experience. Nobody seems to be talking about any drastic changes (like, say, a single standardized video player for everyone), but these little tweaks may well go a long way.
Chromeless players: An increasing number of video hosts — YouTube, MetaCafe, Brightcove, Akamai, NBC, and CBS — are developing ways to make streams available without their branded players wrapped around them. These so-called “chromeless players” give outside developers access to the standard video controls, but with their own customized skin and additional features. Meanwhile, the original video host’s ads, analytics, and watermark stay intact with the content stream.
Media companies especially like this because they don’t have to give up control, and they don’t have to mess with uploading their content to all sorts of different sites. Meanwhile, developers like EveryZing, which indexes videos and provides transcript search and other tools, can build experiences for their clients that bring in videos from all different sources in a consistent environment (see a screenshot above from an EveryZing wrapper on a YouTube video on iVillage’s Petside). The downside? Context, comments and community don’t necessarily come along for the ride.
Plug-ins: Beyond the basic Flash (and now Silverlight) that everybody has to download to watch online video, downloaded plug-ins offered by video sites enable added-value features like peer-to-peer.
CNN, for example, has made extended functionality available to its users with plug-ins like Octoshape and Taboola. Octoshape, which enables high-quality live streaming, requires download and has the user contribute bandwidth (which has caused some controversy), while Taboola shows recommended videos within the player via a line of code CNN has incorporated for you. Another rapidly developing area is clickable hot spots within videos, usually for affiliate product placement. But the risk with multiple plug-ins is that players can get junked up.
User extensions: Companies like Veoh, RealPlayer (screengrab via last100), and VodPod are bringing bonus features to other people’s embedded videos. These are a different sort of user-initiated plug-in, with added functions like showing related videos, expanding to widescreen, adding to a playlist, and downloading.
The issue with this approach is it depends on power users who seek out ways to pimp their online video rides. Because the features are often only visible after a download, they are less likely to spread virally. Probably the best place for this category to go is up to the browser-level, where people could have access to these features without any extra action necessary.
But don’t worry, it’s really not all that complicated. Nobody’s taking away your big triangular play button. Any other cool new video software developments we’re missing? Let us know in the comments and we’ll follow up.