Introductory Guide to Video Streaming API

Phil Henken
Phil Henken
Updated August 2 2021
Phil Henken
Phil Henken
Updated August 2 2021

We’ll get a little more technical at the first subhead below, but in a nutshell, video streaming APIs are software tools most frequently for content management and for online video players to enable streaming video. While you don’t exactly choose an API in the same way you might choose a streaming platform, API should be a factor in your choice of streaming platform since the tools the platform employs need to be those that best meet your needs.


Need more information? That’s what we’re here for. Check out the sections below for a run-down of video streaming APIs and their importance in building up an online video operation. As the title of this post should indicate, this is going to be an intro-level overview of API and what it does. While as always, we hope there’s added value in this article for seasoned video technicians and web developers, the main focus in this article will be laying out first principles in plain language accessible to any reader.


Jump to:




What are Video Streaming APIs and their Benefits?

First, let’s take one step back and elaborate on what an API is: API stands for Application Programming Interface. APIs are software-to-software interfaces, in technical terms “a set of definitions and protocols for building and integrating application software.”


In the same way a user interface is a way for a user to communicate with an application on a computer or mobile device, an API is how a (software) product or service can communicate with other products or services. Developers use APIs to simplify app development, others in organizations and businesses can use APIs to customize their technology and leverage tools and resources to make their day-to-day business easier. While API is a big umbrella term (umbrella acronym?) more specifically APIs dealing with video are likely to be Web APIs (although not exclusively, especially if mobile apps are being used). With the support of APIs as your building blocks, there are opportunities to innovate on existing apps and services.


Video streaming APIs allow you to access video content from your website and can be used in systems for controlling and monitoring content, tracking user data, and customizing embedded players. This means you’re not just limited to using your video streaming platform of choice “as is,” you can customize the experience to your own business or organization. Keep in mind though, at this level we’re talking about using professional service platforms requiring subscriptions or fees—using free social network platforms is the most inexpensive solution, but if you’re moving beyond personal use, a streaming services platform is the way to go. In addition to enhanced ability to use APIs, benefits of a services platform also include tech support, a better capacity to scale up or down, considerations for mobile device optimization, and a more professional and customizable look.


APIs work by using commands, also known as “calls.” These are small bits of code that can be inserted within your app (web, desktop, or mobile) and carry out defined actions that are specified in their code. The benefits of video streaming APIs fall into a few broad categories:


Efficiency: APIs can streamline your system and workflow, eliminating bottlenecks and creating a more efficient operation. APIs can also customize your system to be more responsive; video API for developers is particularly fast and efficient in video content management and for creating and customizing video players.


Integrating & Connecting Services: Live video streaming API can easily integrate into almost any platform by adding a small amount of new code into existing architecture. This includes adding live streaming to an existing broadcasting system and integrating desktop, web, and mobile apps as well as hardware systems, cameras, and servers. This can extend the life of your legacy hardware and incorporate live streaming into existing workflows without disrupting existing services. Additionally, connecting different services is often a way to create something new or repackage existing services in a novel way. Iterate your products and services in creative new combinations and directions. They might become a runaway success in unexpected ways.


Automation: One of the key advantages of APIs is being able to automate system tasks that would otherwise demand time and attention, including scheduling and batching tasks and automating time-consuming encoding. Keep things running in the background while you focus time and labor elsewhere.


Development & Innovation:  APIs allow your developers to get creative, rather than reinvent the wheel. If essential functions already come “pre-built” through API calls, development can instead take off in other areas. Build a customized, powerful, streamlined system that leverages the infrastructure and features of other platforms. Focus on coding your own solutions to unique issues or building your own apps and platforms. APIs are also an aid to innovation. As pointed out above, using APIs frees developers to develop, designing their new iterations. By recombining features in a novel way or setting your sights beyond what already exists, creating something completely new becomes possible.


Video Conferencing APIs: What you need to know


How to Choose a Video Streaming API Wisely

To choose a video streaming API, you should ask yourself (and possibly developers and trusted colleagues at your business or organization) a few key questions:


  • What features do our system applications need?

We’ve mentioned before (and will undoubtedly keep saying it) that the needs you have for any video infrastructure will always be relative to your own organizational goals. Make a list of “must-haves” vs “nice to haves” and deal-breakers.


  • Does this API have adequate documentation?

Good providers will have comprehensive documentation explaining the API calls and giving examples. It can be hard to pick up a new skill without clearly presented formal resources. Really, the more available documentation the better.


  • What data formats does it use?

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is currently the preferred API format. That doesn’t mean you have to go with the current trend. But generally speaking, make sure the API’s data format is keeping it simple and will integrate well with your platform and developers.


  • Do the APIs naming conventions make sense to me/my developers?

This is more strictly a developer’s concern but if the API provider’s conventions are confusing based on your existing system, parameter and method naming, and/or sense of style in coding, it could be more trouble to work with than it’s worth.


  • What are the APIs limits on requests?

Public-facing APIs can be vulnerable to malicious Denial-of-Service (DDOS) attacks or just be able to be flooded with requests—so providers sometimes create a threshold system limiting the number of requests per day. Make sure that if this is the case, your application will fit within that bandwidth, or it’s possible to get an exception.


  • What programming languages does it support?

APIs are generally neutral about programming language—but also include mobile software development kits (SDKs) written in and for specific languages. Just like the point above about naming conventions, you don’t want to create unnecessary complications, so make sure it’s compatible with how you’re doing things.


  • Is there a community or support forum for this API?

Sometimes the documentation just won’t be enough, or there will be an unexpected issue. Check that support resources are available (direct tech support is a definite plus!) or you may regret it later.


VPaaS Video as a Platform


Best APIs for Video Streaming*

You may have noticed the asterisk on the subhead here. Because as you’re probably aware from following along, the question to ask is not “What are the best APIs for video streaming?” but rather “Which platforms feature APIs that will be the most helpful for my operation and streaming content?” So let the asterisk serve as a disclaimer—only you can determine what best suits your content operation. Our aim here is not to set out a list of video API providers with a ranked review, but to give a basis for your own judgment.


That said, an objective criterion is that a good API can reproduce all the features of its live-streaming platform, so you can build your backend. It should look and function just like the native platform, however, you’ll be able to customize it for your operation and keep it on your domain.


Needless to say, we also feel strongly about Kaltura’s open-source platform, built from interlocking APIs that can handle all aspects of a video workflow.


Using Kaltura’s Video Streaming API

Kaltura’s Video Platform as a Service (VPaaS) provides a cloud-based video streaming platform with open APIs that can help you or your developers build everything video. Kaltura’s platform makes it easy to create native apps for TV and mobile featuring full video control: smooth-running and stable, crash-free apps and playback that operate on thousands of devices and reach millions of users. Our open APIs, software development kits, and embedded widgets simplify technical aspects of development, require less focus on infrastructure, and consume less of your systems’ resources and memory, all freeing you and your organization up to focus on experiences and deploying high-quality content and apps.


We offer a collection of APIs to enhance the online video experience, featuring functionality that includes Live Streaming and secure broadcasting for video events; Video Analytics that measure and optimize user engagement; Secure Workflows for ingesting, processing, distributing, and scaling video content; and Interactive Video, fueling video experiences that present user choices that drive engagement.


The Kaltura video streaming API is simple to use (if you’ll forgive us some “developer speak”); video can be uploaded from disk or specified as HTML format, and a jQuery upload widget is included for optimization. Additionally, other features like Thumbnail and ThumbAsset APIs allow dynamic creation of thumbnails to video entries, our User API simplifies keeping track of your users, search APIs facilitate searching and sorting data, and Kaltura Session authorization keeps actions in the APIs secure and makes sure only the correct users have access.


Video is becoming essential to today’s businesses and organizations; whatever the use case, we want to make sure that when you go with Kaltura we have you covered. For developers, we also have strong API documentation to help keep you on track, check it out.

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