One of the sleeper trends in IT recently has been the growth of video. It hasn't been commented on in the way of cloud computing, datacentre rationalisation or some other such meme but it's been pretty apparent that video is creeping into the IT domain whether that be in terms of conferencing, consumer-grade Flip and other devices or smartphones being used to create product demos, ads or viral movies on sharing sites like YouTube, or something more formal and professional.

The 'something more formal' category might well have taken a leap forward today with the announcement of Brightcove 4. This is the latest release from the company that is emerging as the 800-pound gorilla in the sector. Most CIOs won't have heard of Brightcove but it is the de facto online video platform (OVP) if you speak to creative agencies and other media types.
Brightcove 4 has a ton of new features but the most eye-catching (and long-demanded) one is the new entry-level pricing makes this perhaps the first OVP release that broadens out the appeal of such systems to become a mainstream platform.

In a preview meeting recently, I spoke to Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire, a likeable chap who appears to lack the characteristic egomania of most software chiefs but has serious form in building media platforms. Before starting Brightcove almost six years ago, he played leading roles in building ColdFusion (at Allaire Corp., later acquired by Macromedia) and Flash (at Macromedia, later acquired by Adobe). Now, he's building another platform with a company that already has 800 customers in 28 countries, 180 staff and saw revenue grow over 50 per cent in 2009.

On the state of video today, Allaire says:

"We started this company with the idea that every professional website would want to publish video on their site and every company would want it as part of their mix. Beyond user-generated content [like YouTube], it's really becoming a broad market but doing it well and doing it on your own is really hard. Once you want to take advantage of video [for more advanced applications such as marketing or advertising campaigns, or for education] it's hard, and the market is getting broader not smaller. This is driving customers to say 'why are we doing it ourselves?' or 'why are we using viral sharing sites?' It's a good start there but as soon as companies want higher quality and control over their brand and advertising, or tighter integration into the rest of the site for workflow, they have to go somewhere else."

Allaire believes that the solution is to have a platform for video content that lets companies track usage, analyse audience behaviour, control various modes of communication and playback and generally build a fabric around video. Walk around a media hotbed area such as Soho in London and it's clear that the environment around the category is already mushrooming.

"People now talk about online video platforms as a category and [analyst firm] Forrester is producing a report," Allaire says. "OVP has become a noun used in RFPs. It's video publishing on the web writ large and it's really broadening; it's media companies of all types and sizes and corporations of all types and sizes. In the UK, it's the Office of the Prime Minister, the NHS, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Each quarter, more than 50 per cent of new customers are doing video marketing and video communications is growing too. The figures show that video drives transactions, video helps sell [and there are more video-friendly fields such as broadcast and music, corporate communications and customer loyalty]."

While Brightcove is widely acknowledged as the sector leader, other OVP firms are grabbing attention, from open-source outfits like Kaltura to the much-hyped Ooyala, but Allaire is confident his firm will continue to lead the plethora of rivals, comparing its position to that of Salesforce.com in sales force automation to open-source challenger SugarCRM.

Brightcove 4 adds finer control of resolution and bit rates, iPhone optimisation, cloud-based encoding, auto-adjustment for connections that are delivering variable speeds ("video quality should be a fundamental human right", Allaire says), support for "social sharing" through sites like Facebook, and new analytics and debugging.

But it's the $99-per-month entry pricing that will capture the attention of many tyre-kickers, the people who, as Allaire acknowledges, "say 'we want to use Brightcove but it's expensive'". With broadband pervasive and getting faster and with an unending demand for a high-quality multimedia experience among consumers, Brightcove will be a company to watch in 2010.