The Rise of Media APIs

Last year at the SocialMedia Business School I gave a presentation on Media APIs and how they could be leveraged to enhance existing experiences or build entirely new services around freely available media content. Since I have received many follow up questions, I thought I would take the opportunity to expand on the topic.

Media APIs
2008 definitely saw a rise in media APIs across the major media content types with ProgrammableWeb cataloging 38 music, 42 video, and 37 photo APIs.

In the photo space, Flickr continued its dominance and saw strong growth in the use of its APIs, reaching a record of 704 API calls per second and ranking as ProgrammableWeb's second most popular API (after only Google Maps).

YouTube finally launched its own video APIs in a big way in March 2008, quickly becoming the default video API of choice. YouTube did a great job with their offering, providing full programmatic access to their video player as well as a chromeless player to allow third party sites to brand the experience and customize the player controls as they saw fit.

2008 also saw a slew of entrants in the music API space, with imeem launching its APIs in March (disclaimer: I manage the imeem APIs), followed by Last.FM API 2.0 in June, Yahoo Music in August, and iLike and MTV in September. Each came with its own strengths, ranging from unlimited on-demand full length streaming, to limitless music-related metadata, to high quality music videos.

In all 3 categories, API providers have offered very complete solutions to recreate the entire site's user experience as well as leverage a lot of the site's underlying infrastructure. Each provide upload APIs to offload the cost of uploading, storing, and serving media content. They each also provide advanced search APIs to programmatically find exactly the content you are looking for as well as full access to associated metadata for every media item.

Media API Mashups
We are already starting to see categories of resulting mashups emerging, including startups seeking to innovate on the browsing, personalization, and social aspects of experiencing media.

Browsing Experience
We saw a variety of startups in 2008 evolving the user experience of browsing and consuming media content. For example, uvLayer created a beautiful and fluid webtop experience for experiencing YouTube and Flickr content.

Personalization Experience
Given the continued media fragmentation and move away from prime time TV towards online content spread across dozens of popular destinations, it has become much more difficult for a consumer to constantly find interesting content to consume. To fill this void, a variety of media aggregation plays have emerged to bring the best of these content sites together and provide recommendations based on your personal tastes. ffwd is one such service that has aggregated videos from many APIs and organized them in personalized channels based on your expressed tastes.

Social Experience
Others have focused exclusively on the social experience of sharing and discovering media with your friends. Slide has spent a lot of its effort on this, with the integration of premium video into FunSpace and premium music into Top Friends.

API Cost
All the major API providers have decided to provide their APIs for free to developers and hope to monetize through advertising within the media playback experience or indirectly monetize through driving traffic to their destination sites. This is good news for entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of these APIs.

However, I suspect with the flight towards revenue for many technology companies in 2009, entrepreneurs leveraging the media content should expect significant advertising in all syndicated media.

Licensing Limitations
It's not all good news though when it comes to media APIs. Some have very serious licensing limitations that can have significant implications on a startup that is built completely on top of them.

The limitations range from caps on number of API calls, to explicit language preventing building products that compete in any way with the API provider, to the ability to force you into a rev share agreement at a later date. So read the terms of use of each of the APIs carefully before embarking on an integration.

The most serious limitations that some API providers have are those around commercial use. This limits your ability to monetize the service that leverages the third party content. Some prevent it outright whereas others have severe limitations on how and when you can monetize the content. Keep in mind as well that the content provider typically reserves the right to advertise in the media itself (instream audio or video pre-rolls\overlays typically). This also limits your own ability to command high CPMs from brand advertisers on media pages as you cannot ensure you can command 100% share of voice for the advertisers.

I hope this provides a more detailed overview for anyone thinking about leveraging media APIs in their next application. Embedded below are the slides from the original presentation.

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