In many ways, JW Player is the godfather of the online video player, having been the first player to power much of the video world’s first UGC and “premium” (for that time) video content. Launched in 2005, JW Player has managed to remain a contender in an increasingly cluttered video ecosystem. JW Player clients include Maker Studios, who uses the JW Player over the Blip video player which they acquired in 2014 and later shut down in 2015. We caught up with the JW (Jeroen Wijering) and JW Player president Chris Mahl about the business today, the future of the video business and some of the hurdles facing online video publishers today.
VideoInk: Over the years, various competitors have entered the market. How have you guys managed to stay competitive and differentiate?
Chris Mahl (CM): JW pioneered the player on the web and we have invested a great deal of money to be way ahead in terms of performance, quality, integratability, control, customizability. The next aspect of differentiating was really about the ability to integrate and using API’s from the beginning. It’s a “use what you need” strategy. We let publishers and other video strategist use their current systems and workflow or the ones that they have chosen to build their business around, and integrate incredibly well with that. So we never had a sort of ‘We’re going to build everything for everybody and they have to come into our world.’
VI: And you also just announced a new strategy called the Independent Video Ecosystem, how did that come about? Why that particular approach?
CM: As we look to solutions that we are bringing to market in 2016 and beyond, we are always going to focus on driving to the publisher maximum results, maximum reach, high quality play, but we are also aware that these ecosystems are developing around content that wants to work more closely together. So that is the world we will be developing towards — to help those relationships scale as well. What leads us to this sort of independent video ecosystem is that, our clients, which have fallen into every profile there is possible are all looking for increased content, increased demand options, increased elements of audience.
VI: So if you’re solving for various problems you anticipate video publishers will face, what is the biggest pain point that you consistently hear from publishers or even independent content creators who want to use your infrastracture?
Jeroen Wijering (JW): So the number one question this year and last was “[How can you] get me more views.?” “I can get a lot of views on Facebook and Youtube, but how to do I monetize that without Facebook and Youtube getting my money.” There is also a lot of “Hey I want it on my website. I want to blow out the number of visitors that I have, and the amount of video they consume”, basically engagement. [Those have] been the number one business question[s].
VI: And it seems that everyone is trying to break into the Owned and Operated space. What do you say about build it vs buy it (or contract it, in JW Player’s situation)?
JW: I think we have found this perfect balance between giving developers control such that they don’t have to build it themselves, but don’t go overboard and get all these bells and whistles where you need to have a PHD to jump into a dashboard. [JW Player] dictates your work flow vs you dictating your work flow. We are bearing the fruits of a lot of publishers that used to build it themselves, that were saying ‘Hey this is getting too tough, there are too many platforms out there, I am just buying a solution.’ I think that will happen fore more and more publishers. We see broadcasters now, big big broadcasters, who a couple of years ago were building, and now they are buying. And we try to give them the entire tool set that they need. That goes for mobile, too.
VI: What are you guys doing in response to the rise in ad blocking and viewability? How do you view JW Player’s role in that?
JW: Yeah. In general we don’t want to be in this arms race between the ad blockers and publishers. From a product point of view we are showing our publishers how much ad blocking they are seeing, and they can use that to inform their customers. For example, they can put up a banner in their player that says “Hey if you enjoy this video, please turn off your ad blocking, because we are trying to make money, and you blocking your ads does not get us there”. Or we have seen publishers direct people to their subscription page. That is something lightweight that we are doing — giving publishers insights. And then we are always working with the publishers to make sure that they will be educated on effective but non intrusive ways to do video ads. Because there is a lot of sketch out there. We are a part of the ecosystem so we have to educate [publishers] and make sure that those publishers are playing by the rules.