When we founded the mobile live video broadcasting service Bambuser several years ago, we embarked on a mission to democratize live video broadcasting — something that was available only to a select few, like BBC, CNN and other media giants with multi-million dollar budgets.
One of our fundamental ideas was that, given the pace and scope of smartphone development and distribution, not even these global brands would eventually be able to compete with hundreds of millions of eye-witnesses all over the world.
Democratizing technology is all about lowering the cost of production and distribution to a point where it’s affordable to anyone on the planet. The world had already seen it happen with text, where the likes of Twitter and Blogger allow anyone to reach a global audience immediately. The same was realized with photos through the likes of Flickr and Facebook, and moving images through the rise of YouTube. These services spawned the individualization of broadcasting, from a content creation and content consumption perspective.
Still, when it came to live video broadcasting, the costs were at a level where only very well-funded organizations could afford to produce and distribute it. High production and distribution costs mean you’ll need a large audience to make ends meet. As a result, you need to produce content for the lowest common denominator; this is why you won’t see regular-season Little League Baseball being broadcast live — yet.
Democratizing technology is all about lowering the cost of production and distribution to a point where it’s affordable to anyone on the planet.
The introduction of mobile live video broadcasting was going to change that. If costs could be brought down to the expense of having a smartphone and an Internet connection, what would people broadcast and what would people choose to watch? Fast-forward seven years, with an increasing number of services offering easy-to-use live video broadcasting services; we see people sharing everything from cute puppies to coffee mugs, to — well — other things, like the Decorah Eagles bird’s nest live stream on Ustream that’s been viewed 325 million times. Or when viewers tuned in to watch “Twitch plays Pokémon” and spent more than a billion minutes in total watching the stream.
But the world also is witnessing an increasing number of live broadcasts of inconvenient truths, breaking news situations and angles that were never previously available. Even war is streamed live. Traditional media companies are running to keep up with an entire demographic that consists of individuals who are able to create their own news and share it globally, with the world as their audience.
Since the advent of consumer live streaming, broadcasters and publishers have had an interest in mining live video streaming platforms for content they could never have captured themselves. This is content created by people like you and me, shared around the world in real-time via new mobile consumer tech — not only in 140 characters, but as interactive video.
Nevertheless, some reluctance remains among professional news-gatherers and broadcasters to fully embrace mobile live video technology and user-generated live video as part of their professional news-gathering toolbox and workflow.
This scepticism, of course, reflects years of huge investments in highly specialized broadcasting equipment, so it is understandable to some extent. When Bambuser, alongside Qik, debuted the first mobile live streaming app for iPhone at the end of 2009, it boasted a mere 320p as maximum resolution. And in all honesty, that was more or less only achievable in places like Sweden, where Ericsson was quick to test higher-speed 3G networks.
Concurrently, many broadcasters were busy investing tens of millions of dollars in the introduction of HD newsrooms, so the appeal of the small-screen smartphone appeared limited in comparison.
However, most technologies arrive in two waves. The first wave makes the technology available to use and is often considered to have the potential to be revolutionizing. But the product designs are often dictated and restricted by technology itself, and actual impact is initially on a limited scale.
The first wave rides on a promise of the capabilities of the technology, and it lives off a promise of what’s to come. The second wave makes real use of the technology and an ecosystem (in terms of mobile live video broadcasting: processing power, mobile networks, data cost and distribution) that’s matured and has the ability to cater to a mainstream audience and demand. Products are designed to enable actual outcome, and not to showcase technology itself. This is when technology truly has the capability to be fundamentally disruptive.
The rise of Meerkat and Periscope has sparked a second wave of mobile live streaming services. This is also reflected in the world of professional news-gathering, where an increasing number of broadcasters and publishers are now keen to incorporate mobile and user-generated live video as a natural part of their news reporting. Live video is inherently exclusive at the source and is, currently, the most immediately verifiable and direct way of breaking news.
By involving the general public in the news curation and creation process, media companies are able not only to build stronger engagement with their audience, but also to generate real value through a stronger and more flexible mobile news gathering infrastructure, combining real-time user-generated content with expert journalistic curation and contextualization.
The mission to democratize live video broadcasting is about so much more than making technology available and affordable — it is also about cherishing and empowering democracy itself.
When Fiji was struck by a severe earthquake in May 2015, BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Nick Garnett was using his mobile phone and Twitter-owned live video app Periscope to broadcast live video form the village of Sindhupalchok, in the middle of a disaster zone with very limited accessibility. Garnett was able to broadcast to the world, using his phone, even before military rescue forces arrived. While the video had limited viewership on the Periscope platform, it highlighted the potential of marrying consumer technology with professional news gathering.
When the Damascus suburbs of Moadamiyah and Ein Tarma were victims of artillery attacks by the Assad-led Syrian military in August 2013, The Associated Press was able to use content generated by users on the ground to break some significant stories. Using mobile live video evidence and collaboration with medical experts, the AP was able to confirm that the symptoms were clearly consistent with injuries caused by nerve gas. The AP broke this story a full two weeks before the UN’s monitors on the ground were able to offer confirmation.
When then-president Mubarak of Egypt decided to shut Bambuser down to prevent the world from seeing what was happening on Tahrir Square in Cairo during the spring of 2011, we understood that the mission to democratize live video broadcasting is about so much more than making technology available and affordable — it is also about cherishing and empowering democracy itself.
We’re thrilled to see how news media companies are increasingly embracing mobile live video as a participatory medium to co-create the news of tomorrow with and for their audiences.