ESPN.com has taken its video player to the next level with faster time to playback, dynamic streaming up to 720p, closed caption support, a new look and a new third-party streaming provider that will allow the ESPN Digital Media group to focus more on enhancements to the overall experience instead of the core elements of streaming video and audio.
“ESPN’s focus is on creating value add for the fan and the best way to do that is to not internally develop our own player,” says Jason Guenther, VP of Technology in the ESPN Digital Media group. “Instead we want to add value on top [of that player].”
The new player is built on the Ooyala video platform and now is Flash-based (although iPad users can tap into an HTML5 version) and also dynamically changes the quality of the stream so it delivers the best look possible given the users computer, network connection, and more.
“We used to use progressive downloads and have a high- and low-bit rate that the user would toggle between,” explains Guenther. “But now with multi-bit rate we can deliver HD up to 2.8 Mbps.”
Working with Ooyala will also allow ESPN to push the envelope on things like time to load and features like a new scrub bar that shows thumbnails so a user can quickly find the part of a video clip they are most interested in.
Social media is also important as visitors to the site can now share videos via Facebook and Twitter from within the player.
“We had social media integration before so there is nothing fundamentally different there, but we brought Facebook and Twitter front and center so they are not hidden and it is just one click to share,” says Guenther. “We think it’s a growth area.”
And then there is closed captioning support, an important feature for the hearing impaired or users who simply don’t want to have audio playing from their computer.
“Closed captioning can be tough because it doesn’t always mimic what goes on air,” explains Guenther. The challenge is that if content is repackaged for streaming, the captioning metadata drops out of the original file.
The use of captioning also will make it easier for users to find clips as the search engine can find clips that have captioning. “We don’t want users to hunt and peck for those,” adds Guenther.
What lies ahead in terms of new features remains to be seen but the new player definitely has potential.
“We just launched the new platform, which is phase one, and now we want to innovate on top of it,” says Guenther.