It's Real: YouTube Debuts Live Streaming Platform With Two-Day Test

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The rumors were true: after months — years, even — of speculation, YouTube is preparing to launch a full-fledged live streaming platform, enabling its content parters to stream their video directly to users in real-time. This will put the service in direct competition with the likes of Ustream, Justin.tv, and Livestream.  We recently caught screenshots of a live streaming option in the wild that YouTube only made available to its politics-oriented channel CitizenTube. Obviously it has much bigger plans for the feature.

Beginning Monday morning and running through Tuesday night, four select YouTube partners — Next New Networks, Howcast, Young Hollywood, and Rocketboom — will be streaming live footage on YouTube (you can see a full listing of what they’re broadcasting in the widget above. But don’t get too excited just yet: this is only an alpha test, and YouTube will be taking the live streaming functionality down after the two-day trial. However, the company has confirmed that it plans to eventually offer live streaming to all of its content partners (it may just take a while to get there).

Live streams will only be available on YouTube proper (you can’t embed it in widgets yet), and YouTube won’t be archiving the footage, either. But it sounds like both of these features will be coming down the line. One key feature that will be active are comments — the four content providers will be able to respond to user feedback in real-time.

One important thing to note: YouTube’s language throughout the briefing was all about Partners, not the millions of ‘normal’ YouTube users. This isn’t surprising — there’s obviously a big infrastructure hurdle involved with streaming content from so many people, but, more importantly, there’s also a greater risk that someone will stream a suicide or something similarly awful.

The news has been a long time coming. Way back in February 2008 YouTube cofounder Steve Chen said that live video was on its way, and that it was slated to launch late in 2008. Obviously that didn’t happen, but the company has gradually been ramping up its live streaming efforts. In November 2008 it streamed a special concert to 700,000 concurrent viewers, but it relied on third-party CDN Akamai.

YouTube further bolstered its live-streaming efforts throughout 2009 and this year, with streams of a U2 concert, Presidential speeches, and the Indian Premiere League. YouTube’s political blog/channel CitizenTube has also featured live streaming.

However, with the exception of CitizenTube, all of these live streams have been one-off events — the new platform will eventually be available to all partners, presumably whenever they want to use it. Another key change involves the platform’s infrastructure. For at least some of these live-streamed events, YouTube has relied on third party CDNs (it won’t confirm which ones). Conversely, YouTube Live will be running on YouTube’s own CDN network. The company says that this two day test isn’t a load-test per se (they’ve been running those internally), but that it wants to make sure things run smoothly in the wild.

I spoke with the producers of Rocketboom, one of the four partners involved with this week’s test, to see what they thought about the platform’s debut. They’re obviously excited, with three shows planned: two tomorrow and one Tuesday evening. One show will be mimicking the morning shows seen on ‘regular’ TV, and another will be similar to a typical evening talk show.  The web TV company has prepared multiple cameras, video switchers, and other equipment that it doesn’t typically need on a day-to-day basis — and they also say that getting prepared for a live show involves much more work than their typical web clips. Still, despite the increased workload associated with Live, Rocketboom says that it hopes to continuing offer live content in the future, likely on a weekly basis.

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