Ooyala Now Powering ESPN’s Billion-Plus Video Streams

Today, Mountain View-based Ooyala, the fast-growing online video services provider, is announcing that it has landed a big content partner: The so-called “worldwide leader in sports”, ESPN. Those avid sports fans among us may have noticed some changes in the look and speed of videos on ESPN.com. Over the last few weeks, Ooyala has begun integrating its video technology into ESPN’s website, and is now officially powering all of the sports media behemoth’s streaming video content.

It’s a serious feather in the cap and vote of confidence for the four-year-old video startup, as ESPN is one of the biggest producers of online video content, with 400 unique visitors hitting play on ESPN videos every second (and serving over 1 billion streams per month), according to Ooyala Co-Founder and President of Product Bismarck Lepe.

For Ooyala, Lepe said, this partnership with ESPN is evidence that it has achieved scale, and in the big picture, shows that the online video industry is at a point where the fundamental building blocks are in place and can support viable, healthy businesses. Another sign that Ooyala has achieved scale? TechCrunchTV uses the service to power its on-demand videos.

ESPN VP of Technology and Product Development Jason Guenther told TechCrunch that the company had been using its own video system, based on Disney technology (ESPN is owned by Disney), and had been experimenting with a number of different video platforms and technologies. Yet, the company is at a point, Guenther said, in which it really wants to begin focusing on content and the overall user experience of its digital platform, rather than have to worry over the technology necessary to serve billions of video streams or refining its own video player.

The VP of tech said that after vetting a number of third party platforms, Ooyala “landed a bit higher” than its competitors, because it enables the sports giant to shorten video load times and to take advantage of a multi-bit rate that can deliver HD at up to 2.8 Mbps. ESPN’s new player is Flash-based, though users can tap into an HTML5 version on their iPads, and offers dynamic video quality that adjusts to the individual user’s network connection, bandwidth, etc. in order to serve the best quality video according to each viewer’s capacity.

For ESPN, not only does Ooyala step up load times and increase playback quality, but the video startup also enables the sports broadcaster to better utilize internal resources by streamlining the management of their videos and related data, according to the announcement made today on Ooyala’s blog. Ooyala also offers its customers a realtime analytics engine, with detailed per-video and per-user reporting for both on-demand and live video streaming, as well as integrations with payment systems so that customers have the ability to launch both paid and ad-supported video business models.

ESPN has generally lagged behind its big media competitors in terms of its utilization of social media, so the fact that Ooyala enables visitors to easily share videos via Facebook and Twitter from within the player, is a huge social boost for ESPN.

Guenther told me that scaling has been a big issue for ESPN.com, and the tech team has been looking for ways to take advantage of new mobile channels, as well as keep content quality consistently high on the Web. Ooyala allows ESPN to serve video of consistent quality across platforms and scale effectively. Going forward, he said, ESPN will look to innovate on top of its new video platform, as well as explore ways to beef up and publicize its API.

All in all, it’s great to see ESPN finally offering a quality player with fast load times and a more linear on demand experience in which video queues and layouts feel more akin to a television viewing experience — and can compete in ease of video use with YouTube. And for Ooyala, who recently inked a deal with Yahoo! Japan and will soon account for more than 50 percent of all Japanese online video viewership, according to Lepe, this is yet another sign that it is reaching that elusive tipping point.

But don’t worry, Ooyala has no plans to change.