We’ve been following the evolving live streaming space for some time now. The success of recorded social video on the net (read YouTube acquisition) spurred on many more video startups, including a host of video sites hoping to find an equally large demand for live content. There are a bunch of them out there, including Ustream.tv, Stickam, Blogtv.com, Operator11, Mogulus, Veodia, and Justin.tv.
Justin.tv, the first mobile lifecasting site, remained closed over the past couple of months as they experimented with the model. Today they’ve finally opened the site to anyone and partnered with On2 technologies for improved video compression. The new codec is supposed to deliver superior performance that yields higher quality video on a lower quality connection. On2′s benchmarks say their codec has a 30% performance improvement over the Sorenson video codec (commonly used in Flash and Quicktime) and it looks like Justin.tv’s streams are benefiting from it.
So why the wait? Justin.tv originally started with a rather elaborate lifecasting model where anyone could stream their life on the go with a webcam and a laptop in their backpack. It did a great job of getting them a lot of press and into a great deal of mischief, but the hardware turned out to be too costly for the average user.
Since then, the model has switched into kind of a MySpace for video casters. The site features an Apple “coverflow-style” directory of all the casters and list of top clips. Each caster gets an individually-stylized channel page with their own live cast, chat room, profile, twitter, and top highlights. They’ve also started adding professional content, like a behind the scenes cast of “One Tree Hill”. Viewers play judge and jury of the video streams, voting content for the clips they like to the front page of the site and casters seem happy to play along.
As I’ve said before, I think the live streaming model has a lot of growing up to do before we see any stand out successes. There are several hurdles to mass consumption of the medium. User generated content is often not of the highest quality. Also, live streaming doesn’t lend itself to the same embeddable distribution model that made YouTube so successful since you don’t know what live content will show up (most sites have since tied in recorded video clips). Live streaming does shine when it comes to user interaction, which has led many startups to focus on shows and events. Ustream has embraced the tech community with a host of shows and event casts. While not “live” video, Kyte.tv’s community around recently-live video is another strategy. However, Stickam, which launched in 2005, also has a MySpace look and feel and appears to be flat yet leading the pack according to Compete and Alexa. We have yet to see whether an open Justin.tv will have more success with the model.