How to create your own video streaming website (like Netflix or Amazon Prime)

19th November 2018 No comments
Vimsy Macbook Pro The PM Channel 10


Video is becoming the most popular form of content being consumed online, yet producing high quality videos is an expensive and time consuming process. To help recover these costs, video creators have been uploading their videos to YouTube and waiting for the ad revenue to roll in.

There is clearly money to be made by doing this. Facebook has also thrown its hat into the ring with its Watch tab feature and Instagram launched IGTV earlier this year, for example. But for the actual creators, unless your videos are regularly getting tens of thousands of views, you’re unlikely to be generating much revenue this way. You’ll be lucky if you end up breaking even.

If your content appeals to a niche audience you stand very little chance of building a sustainable business with video under the ad revenue model. A natural solution for many video creators, then, is to look at building a “pay to view” video streaming platform (similar to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu), through which their videos can be monetised with one-off or subscription payments from viewers.

One of our customers, Provek, made this move some years ago by launching The PM Channel. Provek itself is a training company offering a variety of project management qualifications for individuals and large organisations throughout the UK. The PM Channel offers video-based learning and development content for project managers in exchange for an annual fee. They now have over over 1500 videos that they serve to thousands of subscribers, including some of the biggest companies in the world, who watch their videos on-demand from their desktops, tablets and phones on a daily basis.

In this post I hope to give you an insight into what it takes to set up your own video streaming website. Although I hate the phrase because it’s very corporate and means very little to most people, this is known in the industry as an Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming platform.

Cobra Hydro3
When it comes to creating content you may need help from someone like this – a videographer (which in this picture is me!)

Creating your video content

If you already have the content you want to sell, or you’re in the process of producing it, skip right ahead to the next section. If you’re still at the start of this process, read on.

Picking your subject matter

I’m going to assume that by the time you’re reading this article you’ve already decided on what you intend to sell from a subject-matter perspective. Perhaps it’s a training course, recordings from an event (such as a concert or conference), or traditional independent video content like a documentary, web series or short film.

If you’re not sure about the type of video content you should sell, my suggestion would be to think of something you know a lot about and turn that into a series of educational videos. For example, I personally know a lot about video production. I could make a short course covering the basics of creating videos. What are you good at? Whatever the answer is, make a series of videos about that!

Choosing the best production method for your budget

When it comes to production, the costs can vary dramatically. It’s important that you pick the most suitable option for your budget, which includes both your financial budget and time budget.

Whether you’re creating content in the hopes that it’ll become your primary source of income or you’re selling videos as an additional revenue stream for an existing business, the fact is that building a streaming platform is building a business and you need to be sensible with how you allocate your money and your time. The way you choose to produce your videos is the first decision you’ll make towards making your business sustainable (or not).

I’ve written before about whether or not you should do DIY video or hire a professional. If you decide to take the DIY route the most important thing is making sure that you can create sale-worthy content in a timely manner. If you spend months making videos yourself instead of focussing on other perhaps more important aspects of your business then you’ll have problems. (You don’t want loads of videos and no customers to sell them to!)

Additionally, while you’re primarily selling the the messages/stories within the content, the way in which you deliver those messages/stories is important to stop your audience from switching off or, in a worst case scenario, asking for their money back. After all, if you end up charging a premium price for your video content your customers will expect the quality of your content to be premium too.

Here are some of the most popular methods for producing video content:

Low budget approach: Use your smartphone (or a cheap camera)

While there are definitely reasons why professionals still pay thousands for their kit, you can make fairly good looking and functional videos using just your smartphone, as this blog from our friends at Wistia details:…

As most people have smartphones these days, this approach is good for anybody who is dipping their toe into building a video streaming website without having to commit financially before their site starts generating income. The results won’t be excellent, but they’ll be adequate.

If you choose to go the smartphone route I would expect to spend somewhere in the region of £150-£300 on additional kit to make your footage look as professional as possible. I would personally spend that money on a few small LED lights, light stands, and a tripod. All of the above can be purchased on Amazon fairly cheaply from Chinese vendors and are usually good enough quality to get the job done if you’re budget conscious.

If you’re planning to do “vlog” style videos in which you or a colleague presents directly to the camera then you might want to invest in a backdrop to hang behind you, but it’s really up to you how you want to present your content.

Finally, audio is by far the most important thing to get right in your videos as it has a bigger impact on the overall production quality than the video itself. If people can’t hear you properly the information you’re sharing won’t be taken in. If you’re recording interviews or a presenter, and if your phone has a headphone jack or if you have a suitable adapter, I would recommend the Rode SmartLav. (I’ve not used this specific microphone personally, but I’ve used other Rode microphones and rate them highly.)

When you’ve recorded your videos, you can even edit your videos on your phone directly using apps like iMovie (iOS and Mac), Adobe Premiere Clip (iOS and Android), Lumafusion(iOS), or Adobe Premiere Rush (iOS, Android, Windows and Mac). With some time, patience, and a lot of trial and error, you can have some pretty good videos without breaking the bank.

If you feel like the video quality is lacking on your smartphone, you might want to invest in a cheaper but high quality camera such as the Sony A6000 – or whatever the latest equivalent is when you’re reading this post. (Cameras change very frequently!) With a USB or SD Card adapter, or the WiFi option on many modern cameras, you can import the footage to your smartphone or tablet and use the apps I mentioned above to edit the footage you’ve shot.

You don’t *have* to hire me as your professional… but it helps! :)

Mid budget approach: Hire a professional (freelancer)

If you want to step your videos up a gear, a great option is to hire a professional videographer or production company. The benefit of this approach is that you get access to an experienced professional with high end equipment without any permanent overheads. Hire them in when you need them, pay them when the work is done, then pay nothing until you next need them.

Usually this approach guarantees a professional result and you’ll have an end product that can confidently be sold without the risk of people complaining about the production quality. After all, you – the customer of the video professional – have already paid for it and deemed it satisfactory!

The most appealing aspect of this approach is you don’t have to worry about investing in expensive kit (they will have their own) and, even better, you shouldn’t have to worry about the nitty gritty production details at all. With a DIY approach you’re responsible for preparing the content, recording the videos, editing the videos and distributing them. That’s a lot to do on your own and will require a huge time investment as you learn the ropes and figure out your workflows. Are you going to be able to juggle that in addition to the workload that comes with running a business, such as finding and supporting your customers?

Costs vary for professional videographers and video production companies. Most videographers will work to a day rate, which is usually between £250-£1500 per day in the UK depending on the experience and size of the crew. When it comes to filming for clients I typically charge £450 to £600 per day plus expenses (and VAT) for a one or two person crew with a single camera, lights and microphones. With editing as well, most smaller projects I work on tend to come in at around £1500 plus VAT. (These rates are for guidance only as prices will vary depending on where you are in the world and what it is you’re trying to do. Recreating HBO’s Game of Thrones is going to cost far more than recording a simple piece to camera in a conference room!)

Within the videographer’s rate you’re paying for someone who has professional equipment (I usually have about £10,000 of equipment with me on a typical corporate shoot – if not more), who knows the kit inside and out, and has the experience to avoid common production pitfalls like filming against a window, filming in a room with a noisy air conditioning unit, or filming in the wrong video format. They’ll also handle all of the media management after the shoot, and they’ll usually do the editing, which will usually be completed in a fraction of the time you could do it yourself.

The most important thing to bear in mind when hiring a professional is that you get what you pay for, and the less you pay the less likely it is you’ll end up with a high quality result. The most sensible thing to do would be to get a quote from a few video production companies and videographers in your local area to see what the going rate is to make sure you’re not paying too much — or too little!

You pay more for experience, and a dedicated corporate videographer that’s charging towards the higher end is probably going to be able to get the job done far quicker and to a higher standard than someone who’s making cheap corporate videos for pocket money while they try to break into broadcast or film. It may actually cost you less in the long run to pay a little bit more.

I should end this section by saying that if you’re based in the UK, or if you’re based elsewhere in the world and have budget to bring in a crew from the UK, you should talk to my production company, Southpoint Films. We’re reliable, affordable and have worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes who are creating content to be sold on a video streaming website.

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High budget approach: Creating professional video in-house

The most costly approach to producing video content is buying your own equipment and building an in-house video production team.

Let’s start with equipment as this is where costs can really fluctuate.

On the lower end you could invest in a cheap professional camera like the Panasonic GH5. On the higher end you could invest in a professional video camera like the Canon C100, which a friend of mine who doesn’t have a formal video production background uses for creating DIY videos for his business. (I’ve personally used a Canon C100 for shooting many professional corporate videos, although I now use the Canon C200, which is for all intents and purposes its 4K successor – although it comes with a heftier price tag.)

Please note that new cameras are released constantly and my examples here could be out of date if you’re reading this some time after the article has been published!

The benefits of shooting with bigger, more expensive cameras is that they tend to include a number of features that you can’t find in the smaller, cheaper cameras. For example, the ability to plug microphones in via XLR (a professional audio connector), to shoot in LOG colour (which is better for colour correcting than “normal” video), or to shoot in broadcast-friendly video formats.

In addition to investing in a camera and lens, you’ll also need to invest in a tripod, lighting kit and microphones. It’s also worth noting that bigger cameras (like the Canon C100) require heavier duty tripods, which are more expensive. Additionally, professional cameras need professional lenses – which aren’t cheap and will often cost more than the camera itself. It all starts to add up very quickly!

In my experience a high quality corporate video production kit could cost anywhere between £1,500 and £7,500 depending on your budget and which camera you go for. The costs could be far higher if you really want to splash out on all the bells and whistles – at which point you’ve really got to ask yourself how essential producing video is to your business. Unless you’re in a position to run a professional video production studio, I’d suggest keeping costs down as much as possible without limiting yourself. When producing web video, there’s only so much quality the viewer is going to see – there’s no need to buy broadcast or cinema level equipment unless you’ve got the business to back it up. (And not to be rude, but I’m willing to bet that you don’t if you’re reading this article.)

When buying a camera you also need to consider how this impacts post-production too. Cheaper cameras will record video in consumer-friendly formats which you can edit with software like iMovie quite comfortably on cheaper or older computers, but higher end cameras will require that you use editing software like Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut Pro X which both cost money – in the case of Premiere you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription to use it – and you’ll need a more powerful computer to edit with. I’ve been making a number of videos with a 8K 360°VR camera recently and the footage it creates brings even our fastest computers to a crawl, and these are high spec machines specifically designed for editing video content.

My advice? Keep it cheap and simple until you absolutely need something better. A professional camera like the Canon C100 is the absolute maximum that the majority of people looking at making corporate videos need – even then it’s overkill unless you’re doing more intensive tasks like location filming, at which point you’re probably going to need some help.

If you feel like you’re about to go all-in on video it may seem like a sensible idea to find a videographer or two to join your business on a permanent basis, be it full time or part time.

The only issue with this option is that it’s an incredibly expensive one, and it only really makes sense for a business whose primary method of generating revenue is through the sale of video content, or one that has wider applications for a video team within the business that will keep them constantly busy.

I’ve seen businesses in the process of setting up a video streaming website that immediately leap to hiring a member of staff to produce the videos, only to let them go a few months later when they realise they simply don’t have the workload for them. You may be thinking that the solution would be to assign them other tasks within the business during the production downtime, but I’ve also seen instances where in-house videographers have quit after becoming tired of spending the majority of their time doing tasks which aren’t part of their primary job description. (Basically, don’t hire a plumber to chop wood.)

Unless you know the video production process well before you hire, it’s very easy to misjudge how busy your in-house team is going to be. Considering that you’re going to need to pay a market rate salary for that person every year, plus the cost of the equipment, you need to be absolutely certain that you need a member of staff to run your channel before you make that commitment – for the benefit of both the business and the person you decide to bring in.

The best way of determining whether you need an in-house video team? You either need to be spending so much money with a freelancer that there are cost-savings to be made by putting somebody on the payroll, or you need to be generating enough money through video sales to cover your additional hire. I would avoid hiring while your video streaming site is pre-revenue in almost every case.

In conclusion, having a video team can be a great benefit to your business if you’re selling videos or using videos across all aspects of your business, but don’t rush into hiring full time or part time members of staff before you’ve exhausted your other options. Let your business grow organically, if you can.

Wildcard approach: Licensing content from third parties

If you’d like to forego the production process entirely there is the alternative option of licensing your video content from third parties. This is the original model that Netflix and Amazon Prime took while they were building their services.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a big brand with a big budget, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to license commercial television shows or movies, and the fact that Netflix and Amazon are moving into producing their own content indicates which way the wind is blowing for these sorts of deals.

Over the next few years I suspect we’ll see all of the major content powerhouses moving towards producing their own streaming services rather than relying on third parties to distribute their content for them. Disney have already announced that they’re ending their deal with Netflix in favour of launching their own service and the other major content producers will no doubt follow suit.

Does this mean that licensing content is no longer an option at all? I wouldn’t say so. It’s quite possible that you could launch a successful streaming service for a specific niche using licensed content. Just be aware that you will need to be able to offer the content owners something that they can’t get by launching a service of their own, which is becoming increasingly easier to do…

Building the streaming website

By this stage in the process of setting up your video streaming website you should have your content, or at least an idea of how you’re going to get your content. The next step is to think about how you’re going to share that content with the world.

In my opinion there are three options:

  • Making your own streaming website the DIY way
  • Hire someone to build your platform
  • Use an existing solution

Making your own streaming website the DIY way

For the sake of this explanation I’m going to assume that you’re not a professional web developer. In which case you’ll probably be looking at pulling your streaming website together using an existing content management system (CMS) like WordPress.

My general complaint with this route is that these content management systems are not built with video at the forefront – or at all. While you might be able to spend a few weeks bending it into submission with a variety of plugins, the overall issue is that it’s going to buckle and break pretty quickly once you start pushing the limits.

To get an out-of-the-box WordPress installation working as a video streaming website, complete with a paywall, you’re going to need at least a video gallery plugin and a paywall plugin. They might work well together on day one but what happens when the video gallery plugin is updated and becomes incompatible with the paywall plugin? And what happens if WordPress is updated in a major way that breaks either of those plug-ins completely? Your customers are going to be furious when they can’t access the videos they’ve paid for or all of your videos are suddenly made available for free to the whole world.

You could of course choose not to update WordPress or your plugins from the moment you get it all working, but what happens when a critical security patch is released? You can’t forego installing it or else your site could be hacked. Don’t believe me? Here are some of the reasons why WordPress sites get hacked. It’s incredibly common. Do you really want that hassle?

If you’re primarily a creative, or if you’re simply not a web developer, I wouldn’t encourage this method. Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

Hire someone to build your platform

An alternative option is to hire somebody to build a bespoke video streaming website to your specification. Web designers and developers are available to hire all over the world on a freelance basis, and finding a local web development agency is only a quick Google search away.

The obvious issue with this solution is that it’s costly. You could find yourself spending tens of thousands to build a platform which satisfies the criteria of a typical video streaming website. You will also need to put a lot of time into managing the project, writing your specification, testing that it works the way you want it to, and so on. This will take up your time and you will need to be technically minded enough to communicate your vision to your developers and make sure that the end results matches your requirements.

Equally, you also need to be able to trust the developers you hire to deliver to your expectations. If your budget isn’t high enough or you pick the wrong developer you’ll end up paying somebody to essentially do a DIY job for you, in which case you’ll be plagued with many of the problems you would have had if you’d made the website yourself, except you’ll now need to pay somebody to fix the problems for you. Avoiding issues here usually means learning a fair bit about the technical platforms that your service will run on so that you can talk to your developers in the same language, which can be daunting if this isn’t your primary area of expertise.

Is this a bad solution? Not if you’ve got larger budget, can afford to hire good quality developers, and you absolutely need something bespoke, but there could very well be a better option…

Use an existing solution

There are several services out there that will let you build a dedicated video streaming website. There are options from Vimeo, Wistia and other big players too, so there is plenty of choice. Some of our clients have had success with platforms like Teachable, too.

Getting your streaming service out there

The next and final step in starting your own streaming service is taking it live and promoting it to the world. If you already run a business that ties into the topic of your streaming site, the most logical thing is to promote it to your existing customers. Use your existing mailing list to let your customers know about your new offering, share links to it on social media, and – of course – include links to it on your website so that it becomes part of your holistic product / service offering.

If your streaming site is your only business, you need to start treating it like one. Think about where your customers might be and find ways to target them. There is no hard and fast rule on how to achieve this, despite the number of business books, articles and videos from “gurus” who think they’ve nailed the secrets of selling. Building a business takes time and effort, and it’s very unlikely that your streaming site will be an overnight sensation. (If you can figure out how to get an instant hit, well done. You now know something that 99% of people in the world don’t, and you’re going to be very rich.)

The reality is that you’ll need to keep promoting your new streaming service as much as possible, wherever possible. If your videos are B2B then make sure you’re using social media platforms like LinkedIn to connect with people who may be interested in your service. If your videos are B2C then you’ll need to think about where your demographic might be interested in hearing about it – perhaps you could place flyers in shops and venues that attract a similar customer base, or you could collaborate with other creators in the same industry for some exclusive content for your streaming site?

Community websites like Indiehackers and Reddit are great places to get bespoke advice from other entrepreneurs who can answer questions you have about growing your business. Even if you have no questions to ask, seeing the questions that other startups are asking can often point you in the right direction.

Ultimately there is no right and wrong with this step – it’s simply business and you’ll get as much out of it as you put in. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s not impossible. All I can say at this point is… Good luck with building your new streaming service business!

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