It started with Youtube and Ustream but now we’ve taken recorded media to a whole new level – by not only shifting it from past events to real-time but by making it mobile. With the rise of Meerkat, Periscope, Blab, and now Facebook Live – what happens at your event doesn’t stay at your event. It’s being shared as it happens and that’s a good thing.
Today we’re taking a deep dive into the history and popularity of live streaming apps.
The Early Days of Live Video
If you go back far enough, live streaming’s origins exist in George O. Squier’s patent in the 1920s, “for a system for the transmission and distribution of signals over electrical lines which was the technical basis for what later became Muzak, a technology streaming continuous music to commercial customers without the use of radio” (Wikipedia). Jump ahead to the late 90s and early 2000s, when the Internet began to really establish itself as a vital commodity for the average consumer, and we began to see bands performing and sports teams playing live for ISP hosted and corporate sponsored events. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that we began to see individuals utilizing video streaming services, the most notable being Justin.tv, “a website created by Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt in 2007 that allowed anyone to broadcast video online” (Wikipedia). This was also the same year that Ustream went live (and just 2 years later would produce their first broadcast capable apps for IOS and Android).
Live streaming Goes Mobile
The biggest names hosting live streams in the mid-2000s included Youtube, Ustream, Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, and Roku. However, the content these sites shared was all pre-made and required creators and viewers alike to remain on their computers. But between 2009 and 2011, media creation and sharing began to shift towards mobile devices. Video enabled smart phones and tablets created a flood of video online. Multiple attempts were made by startups and entrepreneurs to get mobile live streaming off the ground but between slow networks, less refined mobile technologies, and possibly even some cultural hesitation, there hasn’t been much success – until recently.
Advancements in technology, the omnipresence of smartphones, and perhaps a cultural shift in our comfort level when it comes to sharing our lives have all played a role in the popularity of live streaming over the past few years. In a New York Times article last year, early Twitter investor and current chairman of Lowercase Capital, Chris Sacca said, “All of a sudden, the world’s pockets are full of good cameras and good screens with good data plans and good social platforms to let everyone know you’re broadcasting.”
In other words, the world is finally ready for live streaming – and everyone’s in a rush to catch up.
Meerkat, and Periscope, and Blab, Oh My!
Live streaming video started to slowly garner more interest around 2012 when it became clear that more and more people were interested in streaming content on their mobile devices. While content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, etc. were creating and shifting their existing services and content to mobile, others were looking to allow users to create and share their own content. Mobile video spawned social networks such as SocialCam, Mobil, and Yevvo which allowed users to shoot video custom filters and share them to live feeds (like Instagram but for video) – all of which are now defunct.
Luckily, these flops haven’t deterred investors or creators. In fact, the founder of Yevvo, Ben Rubin, went on to found the popular live streaming app, Meerkat which launched just last year. “Think of the selfie culture these days,” Mr. Rubin said in a New York Times article, “Culturally, we’ve reached the point where cameras are more familiar and people have started to feel comfortable with video.”
In addition to the wildly successful launch of Meerkat, 2015 also saw the launch of Periscope (Twitter’s own, approximately $100 million investment in live streaming) and Blab.im, another live streaming site that allows for up to 4 simultaneous video streams. And in just the past 9 months, both Facebook and Google have thrown their hats into the ring with Facebook Live and YouTube live mobile, respectively.
A Look at the Competition
Meerkat’s success was somewhat short lived, due to the successful launch of Twitter-backed Periscope just 2 months later, the service was overshadowed and overtaken in popularity. Recently, Meerkat’s team decided to pivot away from one-to-all live streams to one-to-few live streams (making it more like Skype or Google Hangouts). And at the moment, Blab.im is currently still in beta. The team at Blab hasn’t made quite as big of a splash and doesn’t have the financial backing of the other big players, but the service is somewhat unique in that it allows for simultaneous live video streams, unfortunately that may not be true for much longer with Facebook’s recent announcement of the ability to add a second live stream to a broadcast.
It should also be noted that there’s a new live streaming app that JUST came out (released on June 23rd, 2016) and has already shot to the top of Apple’s app rankings: live.ly. According to TechCrunch, the app (which was created by the same team that created the popular music app, musical.ly) has been downloaded over 500,000 times in just a week and a half. It’s too soon to say if the app will continue to see the same level of popularity but it’s sudden rise to the top over apps like Facebook Live, Snapchat, and Instagram is interesting.
(Twitter) Periscope – Periscope, which operates in a separate app from Twitter, has already exceeded a hundred million live broadcasts since it’s launch last year. The app carries advantages such as short lag times between the stream and viewer feedback, the ability to leverage your Twitter followers to build up a potential audience, and the ability to save videos for replay or to share later. And while users all seem to have a long list of features they would like to see included in the app, Periscope’s greatest advantage is the financial and technical backing from Twitter – which will allow for the future addition of such features in the future.
(Facebook) Facebook Live – Facebook’s answer to Periscope? Facebook Live, which has actually been on offer since late last year but is beginning to really increase in popularity. At first glance, it almost seems like an amalgamation of Periscope’s offerings and those of Snapchat. Facebook Live is built into the Facebook app and allows users to stream live video to friends, apply video filters, doodle on the video, and interact through live comments and reactions.
In a Fortune article last year, James Cakmak, an analyst with Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. said, “Live is going to be the next big battleground for social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat […] Periscope has a first mover advantage but if Facebook makes Live a priority such as boosting Live content in the newsfeed, that could change.”
Google) Youtube live – Just a few days ago, Google took aim at Periscope in its announcement of Youtube’s new mobile live streaming features. Integrated into the Youtube App itself, users will soon be able to broadcast via mobile. While the live streaming service isn’t available to all users just yet (it’s currently only available to select, high-profile Youtube users), based on screen shots, it will likely look quite similar to Periscope and boasts a greater ease of use than the production of a traditional Youtube video stream on desktop.
These apps are continuing to rise both in popularity as a means for sharing our lives and experiences but they are also increasing in value as as tools for sharing information, marketing, and even news reporting. For example, just a few days ago when United States Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives, they used Periscope and Facebook Live to live stream the event after C-SPAN’s live video and audio feeds were shut off.
Between the increasing interest in live streaming by large companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook and Mary Meeker’s recent prediction that, “by 2017, 74% of all internet traffic will be video,” it’s easy to see why live streaming is not only here to stay, but it’s going to make a huge impact in how we communicate, socialize, and market.
Featured Image credit: Anthony Quintano ©2015 under a Creative Commons License
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