Why We Need Free-Software-Based Video Hosting

I was asked recently by a free-software / free-culture advocate why we don’t self-host our Lunatics videos using HTML5 on our site. The reason is technical and economic, and deserves a wider hearing. We need the advantages of a collective hosting site, but I really would like to have a free-software/free-culture friendly option for doing that.We use a VPS, because that’s all we can afford (that’s $40/mo, by the way). That implies, among other things, limits on bandwidth. Video is an incredible bandwidth hog. Streaming video also involves some CPU and RAM load. On a tiny site like ours, with other sites on the same server, even heavy use of the regular site can result in slow-downs.

Self-hosting video off of this server would be like DoSing our own site (this is probably even true now).

Now, as the project grows, that will only get worse. Using an outside server (and at the moment, a free service) is really our only option. When the project has actual funding, then we might be able to pay for some kind of video hosting service on subscription.

But it would still be a terrible idea to host it on our own server.

Whenever we release a video (and remember, we’re considering the future where we have positive funding, which means a minimum of about 3,000 people are following the show — much more than the few dozen we have following it now) then we will get a huge usage spike. If our server isn’t up to that full load (which is going to mean at least a dedicated managed server (over $250/mo) — and it might even need some kind of load-sharing multi-server system (could be $thousands/mo)) then it will fail under that load.

Now, if we spend $250-$10,000/mo (depending on load) to serve that usage spike without availability failures, then for the rest of the time (>95% of the time) we are burning money. I’m not even considering the labor cost to manage this, which we’d have to absorb if we’re self-hosting.

Self-hosting video sucks if you’re ever going to have traffic. It sucks especially badly if you’re going to have spikes when you release new content.

What would be awesome… what I’m looking for… is a subscription-based free-software video hosting service that we can use for our videos. We could probably pay in the $10-20/mo range for this (I don’t know if we can afford that right now, but at least we should be able to do that soon).

(A service which provides for many different video projects with different schedules, would spread the server expense over many accounts. Since their usage spikes probably won’t coincide, it doesn’t have to bill them for peak bandwidth, but only for average bandwidth).

I’m not aware that such a service exists yet, though I have been talking to some people who have an interest in such things. I’m thinking that we might be one of their early adopters if they ever make it happen.

Now at this point, I want to remind you that Lunatics’ entire income for 2012 was just over $2600 — that includes a $2400 Kickstarter for pre-production and about $200 in additional donations, for which I am very grateful. During that same time, Lunatics spent $3600 on commissioned work alone — that doesn’t include overhead costs like web hosting, printing conference flyers, or recording equipment.

This means we lost a lot of money on Lunatics last year. I cannot afford to keep doing that. I probably couldn’t afford to do it then, to be completely frank about it.

We didn’t even pay the voice actors — they all did it on speculation, for which I am very grateful and a bit embarrassed.

I certainly could not afford the EXTRA $3000 it would take to move up to a dedicated server (and before I blew money on that, I would pay for more modeling work to get the project closer to completion or pay actors for work already done).

And quite apart from the money issue, I am SWAMPED. I am directing and producing Lunatics and also at the same time developing a new video release standard (Lib-Ray), a software script to play it, two example releases, and writing a book about how to use all of it. I’ve been playing catch-up for months, trying to get these projects on schedule. It is absolutely critical that Lib-Ray releases on deadline this Summer.

I also have no budget for IT work. So I do ALL of my own IT work.

So I can afford neither the time nor the money for self-hosting video.

We’ll migrate to better, “freer” services as soon as we can afford the time and money to do it. I’m still holding out some hope that a free-software service will exist before we need to release our first fully-produced episode.

Until then, it’s either stream it on existing free video services or download the file and watch it in VLC. I can direct you to some nice Firefox extensions for downloading YouTube videos, all of the Vimeo videos have download links, and we will get more stuff up on Internet Archive as soon as we can.

Anyone is of course free to mirror the video on their site if desired. That is part of the point of releasing under a CC By-SA license. If you do, let me know, so I can link to it.

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About Terry Hancock

Terry Hancock is the producer and director of "Lunatics" ( http://lunatics.tv ). He is also a regular columnist for Free Software Magazine ( http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles_by/5 ), and a lifelong advocate for space, science, and technology. More at http://terryhancock.narya.net
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