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Live video is a category to watch

We’re about to witness a renaissance in live internet video thanks to a convergence of factors, both technological and social. Although live video streaming has been possible for almost 20 years, early live content was largely limited to broadcasting sporting events, where much of the fun is seeing the action as it unfolds.

For most other content, on-demand was a more suitable model, and viewing recorded programming was a familiar consumption model based on the precedent of TV content (other than news and sports). The latency imposed by bandwidth and processor limitations and the tethered nature of internet access, tended to steer content providers towards on-demand.

So what’s changed? In 2016 where mobile internet devices abound, most of us have a camera with us at all times (in our phones), and 4G networks are able to deliver real time video that’s good enough for people to want to watch. Beyond the technical evolution, the way we communicate has fundamentally changed. User generated content and social media have led to new attitudes about the role of real time information and experiences.

Who’s who in live streaming video apps

The release of the Meerkat live streaming video app in early 2015 drew a lot of tech media attention to the live streaming category. The app made it simple to broadcast live video from your smartphone to your Twitter followers. AdWeek credited Meerkat with making ‘the biggest splash in years’ at South by Southwest. Yet, its day in the sun was short-lived. Weeks after Meerkat’s launch, Twitter hobbled the upstart app by severing access to Twitter’s social graph (i.e., Meerkat uses couldn’t automatically connect to people they already followed on Twitter). Almost simultaneously, Twitter finalised the acquisition of Meerkat competitor Periscope.

Live video on smartphones ()

Periscope, like Meerkat, is a social media app that makes it easy to broadcast your life to your Twitter followers. However, it adds the useful option of saving streams to replay them later. Periscope has been integrated so deeply with Twitter that you don’t have to open or even have the app to view Periscope videos from within a Twitter feed. Viewers with the app can tap their screen to ‘like’ the content, which places heart icons along the edge of the video stream.

On Twitter’s February 2016 earnings call, CEO Jack Dorsey attested to the central role of live content by asserting, ‘Twitter is live: live commentary, live conversations, and live connections.’

Meanwhile, Facebook is rallying around their own live streaming solution, with the not-so-inspired name Live. Facebook Live was originally introduced in 2010 as a channel for Facebook staff and celebrities to post videos. It took until this year for Facebook to enable all users to share live video on the social media platform. During a February Townhall Q&A in Berlin, Mark Zuckerberg said, ‘live video is one of the things I am most excited about because it’s so raw and so visceral,’ and he’s backing up that statement by marshalling internal resources for the Live development team. Early reviews suggest the service will require additional development to satisfy consumers. According to The New York Times, ‘[Facebook] Live is about interruption — sometimes annoying, sometimes welcome, always attention grabbing.’

It probably won’t be a surprise that YouTube owner Google has plans of its own in the live streaming space. According to N4BB, YouTube Connect is Google’s response to Facebook Live and Twitter Periscope. Early reports suggest that streams will be available in a standalone app as well as on YouTube. It’s not yet known if the new app will offer integration with popular social media platforms.

Live video isn’t just for streaming millennials 

The implications for live video reach much farther than millennials who want to share details of their daily routines. Brands and publishers are experimenting with live video too. They already know that video advertising is far more engaging that standard ads (Millennial Media measured mobile video as five times more engaging). But, there isn’t consensus on the return on investment for developing live video content. While social media live video can be produced at little or no cost, commercial content that mirrors the production quality of TV programming can be pricey.

Forbes Tech contributor Steven Rosenbaum, who participated in an expert panel at CES on the future of video observed, ‘One thing that was clear was live streaming is going to be controlled by brands and be high-quality, or controlled by individuals and be about community, or maybe both.’  The reality is the future of live video is up for grabs. How it evolves will partially be shaped by the business models around who’s willing to pay for it and what content audiences want to consume.

A new live streaming capture device is about to ship which was designed to make professional quality live content creation more affordable. The Movi camera is hoping to do for live events what GoPro did for extreme-sport videography. The makers claim the $399 device (only $299 for those who preorder) will enable professional quality video to be editing from an iPhone.

Live video with speakers ()

As a sobering epilogue, Meerkat, briefly the darling of the live streaming category, recently announced plans to seek a new business model. Competing with the likes of Twitter Periscope and Facebook Live was proving to be an un-winnable battle. Maybe the live streaming business isn’t for the faint of heart (or undercapitalised), but for some it’s going to be huge. Internet infrastructure provider Cisco predicts mobile video will increase 1000 per cent from 2015 to 2020, when three-quarters of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video. Who the winners in live streaming will be hasn’t been determined but, one thing is for sure, this revolution will be televised.

Live video chart ()

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