The growth of Youtube and its subsequent $1.65 billion buyout left behind a bevy of competing video sites. Since then competitors have been seeking to differentiate themselves by focusing on longer videos, higher (bitrate) quality videos, professional content, and paying their users. However, one of the more unique approaches to differentiation has been streaming live video over the internet. If social live video gets big traction down the road, it's most likely going to be led by one of these startups:
- The oldest of the bunch, launching back in February of 2006, Stickam lets you host your own live show stream and chat on their site or embedded in your own. When your show isn't live, you can show a pictures, audio, or recorded shows on a MySpace-like profile page. The front page of the site features the most recent show and their number of live viewers, which currently is floating around 3,000.Launched back in May, BlogTv also lets you start your own live show and chat. Every show you record is broadcasted live and then archived. You can subscribe to each show on your account, embed, rate, and recommend them. Live shows are shown on the front page, but you can also review the archived footage in their library. They just launched a new live embeddable player that lets you and a co-host stream a show with live chat directly from your blog.Yet to get out of private beta, Mogulus is focused on live video production tools. Using their tools, you can see how many viewers are waiting for your broadcast and storyboard the show you're about to broadcast on your own Mogulus URL. With storyboarding, you can drop recorded videos into your feed at cue and even overlay graphics such as logos or titles. You can even collaborate with another producer and cooperatively shape the storyboard.The oddest of the bunch, Justin.tvlaunched with a splash and then again when police raided their apartment. The novelty of the site centered around one of the co-founders, Justin Kan, streaming his life 24/7 from a head cam. Justin.tv has yet to launch an open network, and has instead opted to expand slowly by adding a select number of dedicated “lifecasters”. Each caster gets a live feed, video archive, and chat channel. Instead of just featuring what's live on the front page, they've also developed a “tips” service that lets users dig up key moments.Launched back in March, Ustream is another lifecasting network letting anyone plug in and start streaming, similar to Stickam. It's caught on in the tech crowd with people like Robert Scoble and Chris Pirillo streaming their own shows from offices or on the road at conventions. Each caster gets a profile page where they can post their videos, photos, and thoughts. The player comes with live chat, the ability to archive footage, and embed it on your site. They feature the archived versions on their front page along with the live feeds.
Live flash video is a different animal than the recorded videos you see on all over Youtube. These sites require more accurate distribution networks because, like FedEx, their packages always have to arrive on time. Back in March, Youtube delivered over 1.1 billion streams to 53.5 million unique users. That's an unheard of number for live video on the web. You can see a comparison of the above site's traffic on Alexa here, but be warned that streaming sites don't need to be refreshed to consume more content and therefore don't generate as many pageviews as non streaming sites.
Live video also complicates the trend toward time shifted video. The serendipity of live video makes it engaging to watch, but at the same time hard to bubble interesting content to the top. Sites have reacted to the problem by archiving and rating the videos, or more interestingly, voting up individual clips.
One final problem is the accessibility of live video production for consumers. Anyone with any kind of camera can upload to one of the social video site, but with live video, producers have to be more committed if they're going to produce quality content. To avoid the hum drum of being chained to a webcam, users have to either be very talented, or construct their own mobile cameras. Advancement in mobile phones may change that, but right now it's a significant limitation.
Live video has one great strength, however, the ability to directly engage the audience, be they friends or admirers. This is why I think if we see tremendous success in live video casting, it will come from sites that focus on building a community around a few top new media stars that can captivate their audience and drive the bulk of the traffic to the site.