This is the fourth part of the ‘commercial video player overview’ blog series, that I started about 4 weeks ago. In this edition we’ll be covering the fourth of our total of six video players: JW Player. New to this blog series? I’d advise you to catch up on the format, and read through parts 2 and 3 before continuing here.
Everything I write is on personal title and not affiliated with my role within 24i.
Similar to other players in our list, JW Player is now known for a lot more than just their video player. Through own developments, as well as acquisitions, JW Player offers a suite of video playback tooling. From content protection, video monetisation all the way to user engagement; JW offers a whole lot to enhance their player activities. And their numbers show how good that approach works. With over 10 billion monthly plays across customers like FOX, Vice and IMDb; they reach millions of end-users in virtually all countries across the world.
While JW Player does offer OTT Apps for seemingly every platform (Web, Mobiles, SmartTV, AndroidTV & FireTV, Apple TV and even Roku), their official player support doesn’t go that far at all. With SDKs only being available for Web, Android and iOS, their player support really only touches the conventional device types.
Technically speaking, the Android Mobile SDK could potentially be used for Android TV and Fire TV. However, there is no Android TV UI available, and there is no reference to working with the likes of Android TV at all. A similar principle applies to the iOS SDK for tvOS. In the end though, it doesn’t look like the SDK is destined to be used on those platforms. Contrary to that, the Web SDK does mention working with Samsung Tizen televisions starting at 2018 (Tizen 4.0) and later. So there is some, albeit small, potential to use the Web player for HTML5-based SmartTV platforms. It does however look like standalone player support really only goes to the traditional platforms, despite JW Players ‘OTT Apps’ offering going way beyond that.
In terms of features, both the web and mobile player SDKs offer quite a lot of functionality that you’ve come to expect from OTT applications. From playing DRM protected content, seeking/preview thumbnails, advertising and Picture in Picture playback; it’s all available in some way, shape or form. What’s odd though, is that it looks like not all features (even ones I mentioned) are available across every platform. The web player doesn’t seem to have support for seeking thumbnails, for example. It does however support chapter markers, which in turn are not available on the mobile SDKs. Consistency of features can be very important, especially if you want to be able to offer the same user experience regardless of the platform. Despite that, JW Player does offer plenty of features that will make a great player.
Third Party Integrations
The trend we’ve been seeing with the player we’ve been reviewing in this series, is continuing with JW Player as well. There are virtually no readily available third-party integrations to speak of. Yes, you could hook into exposed events to integrate analytics tools, for example. But it requires custom effort and doesn’t come as easy as just setting a configuration value. Which is something we’ve seen across the likes of Bitmovin and Flowplayer as well; the focus really is on offering an end to end player. So not just the player is coming from JW Player, but also the streams, analytics, and in this case even the monetisation. You can clearly see the focus of JW Player towards their own tooling. Third party integrations are possible, but are not available out of the box.
Ease of Use
The player of JW Player is fairly easy to use. Similar to others, the majority of features is exposed via a configuration object that can be passed to the JW Player SDKs. The aim of this is definitely to give developers full control over the features they want to use, and be able to experiment and try different features without too much hassle.
As with most of the players you’ll find in this comparison, there is an enterprise tier that you’ll find most of the companies to go for. In the case of JW Player that’s even more the case, to my opinion at least. While the starter tier offers the full capabilities of the HTML5/Web player, it doesn’t come with the mobile SDKs. So in order to be able to offer playback for more than just the web, the only option really is to go for the enterprise tier.
The trend we’ve seen with other players in this series, continues with JW Player. It is clear that JW Player really wants you to use their full product-suite, as third party tools are not supported out of the box. Their Web and Mobile SDKs do offer compelling features that should cover the majority of use cases. And you could still do add the third party tooling if you wanted to, but it’s not as easy as it could be.
Thank you for reading the fourth entry of my blog series ‘the commercial video player’, about JW Player! Next week we’ll be looking at Nexplayer, and the week after we’ll be concluding this series with THEOplayer. Thanks again, and see you next week.
PS. If you come across any factual inaccuracies in this blog, please reach out so I can address them. Thank you!