Cloudflare moves into video with the launch of Cloudflare Stream

Cloudflare has made a name for itself as a content delivery platform and security company, offering services to help keep websites up and running (sometimes running into a little controversy in the process). Now, as the company marks its 7th birthday — it actually launched on September 27, 2010 — it’s moving into another new area, literally and figuratively.

Cloudflare is today taking the wraps off Stream, a new service designed specifically for websites and apps that want to build businesses hosting and streaming videos, similar to what the likes of YouTube, Vimeo, and around 1,000 other sites do today. The service is launching in beta today. Those interested in it can sign up here.

To be clear, Cloudflare has already been working with sites that stream video — some 1 billion people already watch video through Cloudflare daily, the company tells me — but more often than not those videos are either hosted elsewhere, or they are not the central function of the sites themselves.

The idea now will be to let these sites and apps provide a more direct and vastly more simplified video service that what is in the market today, putting Cloudflare head to head with other CDNs and those who host video with an all-in-one package, and giving sites and app publishers “the ease of YouTube with the power and control you used to previously only get from bespoke solutions,” in the words of the company.

In doing so, Cloudflare is building out a new revenue stream for itself. The company has raised around $180 million, and it is now is valued at over $3 billion; and now it is hotly tipped as an IPO prospect, so this would help with that.

But beyond its own financial fortunes, Cloudflare is also potentially opening up the market to a lot of more competition and video content, turning — as the company describes it — a landscape of 1,000 sites into a landscape of 100,000.

Cloudflare Stream, the company says, will offer a service that combines encoding, global delivery and a media player into one product (typically, video streaming from the likes of Akamai but also many others often sees sites taking those services from a hodge-podge of providers). It’s also removing some of the technical headache around hosting and streaming video.

“You shoot a video, upload it to an API endpoint, and within seconds we make it available globally to adaptively stream via an embeddable link we provide,” Cloudflare notes.

Pricing, meanwhile, will be similarly simplified: it will be based on the duration of time that people consume a video — and nothing else. We have contacted Cloudflare for more details about it, but it seems as if they are not making this too public while the product is still in beta. For now, the company has said that the basic premise will be to give users a pared-down, single price for everything in the video streaming chain, with a charge that includes encoding, global delivery and player.

As Cloudflare describes it, this is a big shift from how things are done today. A typical video service could include multiple charges: from encoding companies for CPU usage based on length and quality of the video and the number of streaming formats it’s converted into; from ‘traditional CDNs’ that charge different rates for each region of the world based on the number of bytes delivered; and from player vendors charge at tiered levels based on the number of views. (Here is pretty decent summary of some of the challenges of hosting your own video, and also of another alternative to hosting it on something like Cloudflare.)

There are at least a few clients using the Stream service out of the gate.

“Our company is focused on bringing thoughtful and easy-to-use course delivery tools to teachers and learners wherever they are, and a huge part of doing that is through video,” said Mark Johnson, co-founder of Pathwright, in a statement. “We’ve long been looking for a video solution that is simple to implement and seamless to use, and have not found one that checks all the boxes for us. We’re excited that Cloudflare Stream is being launched with the developer in mind from the beginning. It sounds like exactly what we’ve been searching for and we can’t wait to get started.”

Video is held up by a lot of media and other sites as panacea for their businesses — videos are more engaging than other kinds of content, keeping people on your site for longer, and because of this, they are also a more lucrative platform when it comes to advertising.

The issue is that when you are not Facebook or Google or Twitter, building something like this from scratch can be too cost prohibitive and efficient to do. It’s smart of Cloudflare to tap into the interest in video and see how it can disrupt how things are done by simplifying the whole process on its CDN platform.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.