Make This Startup: HD Video Serving Service

Here I am, the night before Christmas, thinking about what I'm going to do with the high-definition camcorder I bought myself. Naturally, I am going to use it to share some HD video on this site to spice up reviews and so on. The problem lies in how to get that large amount of content from the server to your display.

Of course there are tons of video sharing and hosting services out there but not many support HD. Furthermore, the sites that do support HD video don't let you embed that HD within your site. For example, after a brief email exchange with someone at Vimeo, it was confirmed that HD consumes too much bandwidth to let Vimeo users embed it on their site and currently only SD content is embedable. The rest of this post is the type of thing that goes through my mind when I have a realistically achievable idea.


Independent publishers looking for a bulletproof and quick solution to serving up high-definition content on their website. These users don't care what is involved as long as it is reasonably easy, holds an uptime SLA and is fast. As such, they don't mind paying bandwidth and membership/service fees.

These independent publishers could be anyone from professional bloggers to blogging networks and even larger publishing houses like newspapers expanding online. Example uses include publishing HD video interviews, product reviews, and anything else video is currently used for, in higher quality.

Value Prop

Reliable and fast high-definition video embedable within any site and the ability to fully-customize encoding, resolution, bit-rate, et cetera. Since HD content is too large resolution-wise to fit as a direct embed on most sites, content will likely be displayed in a lightbox format laid over the site when activated.

Technical Details

  • Amazon S3 for storage and hosting
  • Amazon EC2 for converting videos through ffmpeg
  • Flowplayer or a homebrew flash player to display the resulting .flv files, with ability to degrade gracefully to SD or lower HD for users on slower connections
  • Web interface for uploading videos, inputting ffmpeg video encoding parameters for more advanced users, managing video statistics (views, downloads, et cetera)

Business Plan

There are several routes to take for monetizing the service. When dealing with HD content, I don't think anything can be offered for free. We're talking about a lot of bandwidth consumption here. However, since the intended users are more professional than the average consumer they won't mind paying one of the following:
  • a) a flat rate membership fee with various tiers depending on their average traffic/bandwidth
  • b) a DIY route with the user supplying their own Amazon AWS credentials and X.509 certificate for this service to use their own AWS account AND a standard monthly or yearly membership fee.

The latter (b) would be geared towards more tech-savvy users that feel better having their content easily accessible on their own AWS account. Furthermore, they could setup a CNAME to have the content appear to be served from their domain and remain brand-friendly.

The Time is Right

The latest beta of Adobe Flash 9 player supports the H.264 video codec for HD content in addition to HE-AAC for audio. This means less CPU is required to play superb 1080p full-HD content. However, since not all people can display such a large 1080p video on their screen without downscaling, this proposed service would be smart enough to detect capabilities and load the proper size or load a user-selected size (480, 720, 1080).

HD content can saturate an Internet connection by consuming over 2,000 kbps. Fortunately, the Internet populace is more prepared for this now than in past years. As a last resort users can always opt for an SD video or wait and buffer the HD version.

Check out Adobe's HD gallery to see the capabilities of the latest flash player combined with superb HD content. Imagine watching video close-ups of the latest gadget and actually being able to discern fine details, contours and more, rather than a 400px wide fuzzy video.

Digital Web Magazine has a great article about HD Flash for the web and The New York Times had a recent article regarding upcoming Intel processors with the SSE4 instruction set that facilitate video compression and HD content viewing.


A rough draft could get off the ground with ~6 months of development time and 4-5 hackers working off of 150k of initial funding, not including capital spent on potential partnerships with related companies using technologies this service could benefit from (ex, if Adobe had some great service to facilitate server-side video encoding).

Potential Snags

HD sounds expensive and it is. Lots of bandwidth, lots of storage and lots of processing power will be required from the get-go. Usually startups don't have to deal with scaling until some time later, not so with any HD venture. Fortunately, this service can benefit immensely by outsourcing the hard stuff to Amazon, but it's not free.

The prospective user-base is fairly niche but as HD becomes the de facto standard on the web, small publishers generally devoid of IT prowess will rely on this service. Proving to those publishers that the value prop of this service is right for them will be easy but finding the perfect price point will be tricky to say the least.

Acquiring funding might be a challenge as well since unlike every other startup out there now, the main website won't be getting too much traffic. It would serve only as an interface for the publishers to upload videos and look over stats/settings. While the concept could evolve into a HD video-sharing site, that's definitely not the initial purpose and would waste more bandwidth than necessary.


Do you think this has merit? The web is naturally moving to high-quality this and that, with video most-definitely taking the hot seat. If you were a small, independent publisher and wanted to serve HD video reviews, news, and so on to your readers, would you use this service?