YouTube is testing out live video streaming with a few video partners today such as RocketBoom, Howcast, and Young Hollywood. Gathering a live audience on the Web to watch video is hard because there are no schedules and people are used to clicking on videos on their own schedule. But if anyone can make live video a mass market experience, it should be YouTube, right? Throw in a celebrity like skateboarder Tony Hawk and that should be a recipe for tens of thousands of viewers or more.
Well, Tony Hawk just finished an appearance on Young Hollywood right now, and the number of viewers never went above 500, according to the view counter at the bottom of the player. For most of the segment, it was much less—at one point I saw 9 viewers, then 81. As a point of reference, when we livestream TechCrunch events, we often get 2,000 to 3,000 concurrent viewers, and that is without being promoted on YouTube’s homepage. So 500 viewers for Tony Hawk is really nothing.
Young Hollywood wasn’t the only show that seemingly got an underwhelming number of live viewers. I asked Andrew Baron from RocketBoom how many people watched his first show today. He says: “We sat in the 850’s almost the whole time, I noticed. But when I saw Howcast, they had like “1 viewer” so I was thinking maybe it wasnt the true count?”
A call into YouTube confirms this theory. A spokesman confirms there is a bug with the counter and the engineers are trying to figure it out. He also emphasizes that this is only a test so that YouTube can find and fix issues just like this one. But he can’t say by how much the viewership is being undercounted. Let me repeat that: YouTube doesn’t know right now how many people are watching YouTube Live.
It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to get the live viewer counter to work. Startups like Justin.tv, Ustream, and Livestream can show accurate viewer counts in their live players.
It is definitely possible to bring together millions of video viewers on the Web for the right event with the right promotion. YouTube has done live concerts and other events which attracted millions of live viewers, but the reality for most producers is going to be quite different. Live video is hard, and the Web is not built for appointment viewing. Even if the true number was 5,000 viewers for the Tony Hawk segment, that is still a fraction of how many people would see him on a third-rate cable channel. Maybe young Hollywood didn’t promote the appearance enough, although there was lots of press earlier today about the YouTube initiative, which is testing out live streaming shows today and tomorrow. To be fair, none of the video partners were allowed to promote their live shows ahead of time, but again, you’d think the YouTube homepage would drive more traffic. (You can click on the schedule below to watch the next show).