We took the decision to host SciCast films ourselves – rather than use YouTube, Revver, Blip, etc – 18 months ago, so it’s interesting looking back and trying to work out whether we were right. The list goes like this:

Quality. Old Flash video (Sorenson Spark) plain sucks. It was fine in its day, but that was 10 years ago. The frame-rate is poor, the compression blocks obliterate fine detail – even more significant when you’re making technical films – and it looks really rubbish when blown-up to project on a classroom wall, which is a typical use case for us. YouTube’s presumed move to H.264 will mitigate this, but see my previous post about high-quality stuff.

Rights. I believe YouTube changed their licensing package last year – I should explore this. But I’ve a sneaking suspicion that by uploading films you still grant YouTube some control. I can do that for films we own, but contributed SciCast films are under CC licenses, so I don’t have the authority to assign subsidiary rights except under Share-Alike. Which means contributors would have to upload directly. Which might be fine, but SciCast is also about editorial quality, not just sheer numbers. Tricky, and messy.

Advertising. Advertising around educational content is a thorny issue, and I’d rather duck it entirely. As I understand it, the UK ban on advertising ‘junk’ food to children applies to print and broadcast, though not the web. If that should change, not having control over advertiser focus would simply be untenable. YouTube have recently started running ads over video, too, which makes a lot of sense, but isn’t something that would be acceptable in a classroom environment.

Comment Moderation. I feel very strongly that a site aimed at children should be a ‘safe’ browsing environment. That means, crucially, pre-moderated comments – nothing gets published before it’s been read. You can now do this on YouTube, but the proximity to other content (as little as one click from something over which you have no control) makes it hard to maintain a buffer. So you end up building your own site anyway, and embedding YouTube videos – all you really gain is a clean upload mechanism. Which is significant, but not enough, because:

Blocking. YouTube is often blocked by school and/or Local Authority-level firewalls. Game over.

It’s easy to assume that YouTube ‘owns’ web video, and that doing anything else is swimming against the tide. I don’t hold to that, since I think video is easy and it’s what you do with it that’s hard. YouTube is the cable TV of the web – oceans of material with the occasional gem bobbing around. What I’m trying to build is more like BBC4 – targeted at specific audiences, and hence with a much higher hit-rate. I’m trying to build something that’s fun and useful.

…which is partly why I’m keen on a middle ground between a commissioning model (cf. broadcast), and a free-for-all (cf. YouTube). There aren’t many sites taking such an approach, but one prominent example is Current.tv.