The third entry of my ‘commercial video player overview’ blog series is all about Flowplayer. For more information on the concept of this blog series, and links to the other parts of this series, please start here!
Everything I write is on personal title and not affiliated with my role within 24i.
Similar to Bitmovin, Flowplayer does offer a lot more than the name might suggest. While their origins definitely lie with the video player, Flowplayer now offers a suite of products all related to video. From the player, to hosting content and providing analytical tooling, they offer quite a complete suite. With customers like Disney, HBO and Sony; Flowplayer has an impressive track record of serving video content to thousands and millions of end-users.
Flowplayer is well known for their lightweight HTML5 video player. From this player, they are able to offer support for the majority of web platforms. Officially this doesn’t include support for SmartTVs, but since they are web-based, there is a chance it might work on television models from e.g. 2019 and later.
On the mobile side there are native SDKs available for both Android and iOS, with the same iOS SDK being available for tvOS as well. Sadly though, there is no official support for AndroidTV. Another noteworthy platform missing is definitely Roku, making the platform support on the side of Flowplayer undoubtedly falling onto the more ‘conventional platforms’-side of things.
What we can see on both the platform support and the feature set as well, is the fact that Flowplayer has put the majority of their focus on providing a stellar HTML5 (Web) player. If the HTML5 player is used, the majority of features on your mind can be supported. With the likes of DRM, Seeking Thumbnails and Chromecast & Airplay support, the HTML5 player offers quite a full set of features.
On the native side that feature set is a bit smaller, at least according to the documentation. We’ll dive a bit more into this in the next chapter about third party integrations as well, but some generic features from the HTML5 player are also not available in the native mobile SDKs.
Overall, there is quite a lot of feature support in the HTML5 player, and less so on the mobile side. Arguably missing are more advanced features, there is no support for Download to Go and no Low Latency support. They are features that you would definitely expect from such a big player like Flowplayer, that offers a full suite of video tools.
Third Party Integrations
Where Flowplayer definitely does do well (again, mainly through their HTML5 player), is third party analytics integrations. With out-of-the-box support for Comscore, Gemius and Google Analytics, you are not falling short of any analytics.
Besides analytics, the only other integration mentioned is one with Mux. Sadly the documentation proved to be incomplete, so I can’t really tell what is available at this point. Any other third party integrations, if they do exist, are unfortunately not mentioned. You can tell that the focus for Flowplayer has shifted from third party integrations towards offering as much as possible from their own product suite, similar to Bitmovin.
Ease of Use
The basic integration of the HTML5 player is very easy. With only a few lines of code it’s possible to get the player to play video. That is largely due to the nature of Flowplayer and how it is setup. Most of the configuration of the player itself (e.g. the skin and branding) is defined on in the so-called ‘player configurator interface’, a tool that can be used to configure any player related business. It makes for a very easy way to get started, while still offering a lot of flexibility for branding and customisations.
Adding plugins, which is what the majority of the player features consist of, is both very easy but also a bit cumbersome. If you wanted to add DRM, MPEG-Dash, HLS and Seeking Thumbnail features, this would require additional scripts to get loaded for each of these features. While it keeps the main player lean and mean, it does make for additional effort in order to be able to use the ‘extra’ features you want in the player. This principle makes the player both as small and simple as possible, but does add some extra effort for each individual feature.
One of the cool benefits of the pricing model of Flowplayer, is definitely the very easy opportunity to test the product suite to see if it works for your use cases. In the end though, most parties will probably end up using the Enterprise tier, where they’ll be able to leverage the full power of Flowplayer’s expertise and tooling suite.
There are quite some compelling features that Flowplayer brings to the table. Their claim of having the fastest and lightest HTML5 video player is definitely a great benefit if your main focus is on web-based platforms, especially with the relative ease with which you are able to integrate and configure the player. There are however some important features and platforms missing. Having them would make Flowplayer a stronger party in the OTT & PayTV ecosystem. But the foundation is definitely there. And don’t count out the HTML5/Web player, as that’s about as good as any out there on the market.
And that’s a wrap on the third entry in this blog series about commercial video players. Have you missed the first two entries? We’ve looked at Agnoplay and Bitmovin in the last two weeks. For the next entry, which will be published next week, we’ll be looking at JW Player. Until then!
PS. If you come across any factual inaccuracies in this blog, please reach out so I can address them. Thank you!