Should you stream audio or video from your shared hosting account?

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Photo by Flickr user LRD615

It’s not a good idea to stream audio or video directly from your WordPress website.  Especially on shared hosting.  Uploading may be easy for you but can be glitchy for your users, and costly for mobile users on limited data plans.

On a Facebook group for new WordPress users someone asked

“Generic Website questions pertaining to downloads – so i have a series of video and audio and transcripts for sermons on my site – do people download much to their phones – instead of watching it online – why would they download it to their phone? I’m an old man i guess and I’ve never downloaded to my phone unless it was an app – other than that ??? thoughts…”

Relatively few people download raw video or audio to a folder on their phones. Some do but usually they’ll use an app for that — a music player like iTunes, a podcast app, etc.

Those who do download files have two main reasons.

  • So they can listen or watch when they’re offline or when they have really expensive data plans.
  • When their bandwidth or streaming quality is really low.

The second can happen when your phone signal is really low, but it can also happen when a website author uploads the audio or (especially) video files directly into their shared-hosting website (their WordPress media library, for instance) instead of uploading it to a streaming service (e.g. YouTube, SoundCloud, Vimeo) or just high-volume cloud storage (e.g. Amazon Web Services.)

The problem is that shared hosting often can’t stream fast enough to avoid glitching when more than one visitor is streaming at once. And unlike video streaming services that will radically compress and buffer video for phones and other low-resolution or low-bandwidth devices, if you upload a 4K video your site it will struggle to stream the entire 4K video even though the user’s phone may only be 400 pixels wide!  (In other words, streaming audio or video from your shared-hosting server can waste huge chunks of a user’s data plan.)

In those circumstances users wait till they’re on WiFi and download to watch or listen may be the only reasonable choice.

Incidentally, while they may not actively block you most shared hosting plans say right up front that their servers don’t support streaming audio or video.

Bottom line: use a 3rd-party streaming service if you want to share streaming content on your average WordPress website.


Extra bonus points: While this isn’t strictly related to performance, most SEO experts will remind you that YouTube is the #2 search engine in the world after Google!  For better or worse that makes uploading your videos to YouTube and embedding them on your own site can double your exposure.  That plus any references or links you add to your video or captions create inbound links to the rest of your site.

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David Innes, RealBasics.com

I've been building and maintaining websites since 1997 and building and supporting similar hypertext-driven software since 1987. I've done maintenance, support, and maintenance for physical and digital systems since 1981.