Everyone’s a Broadcaster (Part 1)

Live-Streaming Video: How to Get Started and Keep It Interesting

I’m old enough to remember when home video-game consoles began to become popular. The first was the Magnavox Odyssey, but I didn’t really have access to any video games until the second generation of consoles hit the market. Among them was the glorious Atari 2600, which offered the opportunity to play Space Invaders in the comfort of your own home. Life could not get any better.

Today, gamers have become millionaires simply by playing video games while others watch.

OK, it could be better if you were privileged enough to own your own console. For the rest of us, we shared with other family members and friends—which meant waiting to play. I mean, who wants to watch someone else play video games when you can play yourself? Well, according to Twitch.tv, 100 million unique monthly viewers do. And I’m guessing that a lot of them own their own consoles.

Hey, Ma, Watch This!

That’s right—watching people play video games has become a sustainable, lucrative form of entertainment. The more amazing aspect of this fact is that it’s barely newsworthy unless you’re over the age of 60. Mention this to a digital native and you’ll get the same look as if you were extolling the virtues of the brand-new technology of television. The fact is that gamers have been broadcasting themselves for several years now, both via on-demand platforms like YouTube and live-streaming platforms such as Twitch. Over the years, as video games evolved from casual pastime to full-time obsession, the dream of the hardcore gamer was to land a job “testing” video games. Today, gamers have become millionaires simply by playing video games while others watch. Like I said, life could not get any better.

Live streaming video

Even though the live-video-streaming fire has been burning for a while, the introduction of Meerkat and Twitter-owned Periscope in early 2015 fanned the flames by allowing budding broadcasters to utilize their smartphones to stream live video. And while Meerkat and Periscope are catching the attention of individuals and brands alike, veteran Web-streaming service YouNow has a firm grasp of the teen market and likewise offers a mobile option. YouNow has proven that given the right audience, virtually anything can be entertaining, including watching someone sleep. YouNow also offers a peer-to-peer monetization model through “gift” giving and tipping. Yep, you can get paid to have others watch you sleep. I wonder if sleepwalkers have a higher earning potential?

Just Justin, 24/7

Although mobile live-video-streaming platforms have been in the limelight lately, broadcasting from desktop and laptop computers has been the dominant platform for several years. One of the leading pioneers of user-generated live-streaming broadcasts was Justin.tv, which launched in 2007. Originally only featuring a single “lifecast” of co-founder Justin Kan, this website blossomed into a community of millions. When streaming games began to dominate Justin.tv, the parent company spun off that category to Twitch.tv, which skyrocketed in popularity.

YouNow has proven that given the right audience, virtually anything can be entertaining, including watching someone sleep

So popular, that the parent company rebranded as Twitch Interactive and shuttered Justin.tv (and then eventually sold to Amazon in 2014). Fortunately for broadcasting hopefuls, there are dozens of other live-streaming platforms available.

Pick a Platform, Any Platform

Live-streaming seems to fall into two camps: those that have a business-related need and those that do not. Therefore, the various live-streaming platforms will offer features that might better meet the needs of a business versus an individual, but some serve both groups equally well. For those that want to broadcast an event, a meeting, a presentation, or a product demo, there are several companies that offer business-class video-streaming services.

They are broadcasting themselves—why shouldn’t you?

First, there are the online video platform (OVP) providers, such as Brightcove, Kaltura, and Ooyala. These are major providers that offer enterprise-class solutions for corporations and media companies that are trying to manage thousands of videos—perhaps trying to monetize them as well. While the primary use is to upload, convert, store, and play back on-demand videos, many offer live-streaming services, too.

Channels - Tv Streaming

The next tier of companies, such as Ustream and Livestream, specialize in offering video live-streaming services. Both are based on a freemium model, offering free plans with limited options and paid plans with more features. However, Google is disrupting the marketplace by offering services such as Google Hangouts On Air and live-streaming on YouTube, both of which are free to use and have robust communities already established. So why use a service like Ustream or Livestream when Hangouts On Air and YouTube are free? Again, based on your specific needs, Ustream or Livestream might be a better choice. Both claim to offer better reliability and can be viewed in any country, whereas YouTube is restricted in Germany. Both have streamlined their services to make them easy to use, and Livestream offers turnkey production services that range from single camera to multicamera shows.

Everyone Can Afford Free

Despite the number of live-streaming services that cater specifically to businesses, many companies turn to free-to-use, popular platforms such as Hangouts On Air, YouTube, Periscope, Meerkat, and the recently released Facebook Live. First, they’re free to use, which means they can fit into anyone’s budget (ignoring labor and equipment costs—those pesky minor expenses). Second, they are typically easy to use as well, with the exception being YouTube, which offers the option of using a third-party encoder to broadcast directly to your YouTube channel. And yes, it’s as complicated as it sounds—not for the faint of heart. Third, all of these platforms are where your fans and customers already live. They are broadcasting themselves—why shouldn’t you?

Streaming and Mobile - camera

As mentioned before, jumping into live-streaming video is relatively painless and affordable. For mobile platforms such as Meerkat and Periscope, all you technically need is a mobile device and an account for the respective services. For Hangouts On Air, you need a computer, a camera, a microphone, and an account. If you own a laptop, chances are you already have a camera and microphone built in. You also have the option of linking your Google Plus account to your YouTube account, which then lets you upload your Hangouts On Air stream to your YouTube channel. If you decide to use YouTube as the origin of your live-stream video, you have two options: to use the Hangouts On Air interface or, as previously mentioned, use a third-party encoder. Third-party encoders are essentially software that controls and converts your video, audio, and graphics into a video stream that YouTube can read. While this option provides a greater amount of control, it also requires a steeper learning curve.

When Niclas Hulting, Britton Marketing & Design Group’s social media and content strategist, decided to do a live broadcast series called, the Content Exploration Sessions, we tested Hangouts On Air and YouTube. While Hangouts On Air is much easier to use and allows for multiple remote guests to participate in the presentation, it offered limited control for our production. We wanted to be able to switch seamlessly between the external live camera and the Google Slides presentation, but also have the ability for multiple audio sources if we had local guests. It was possible to do all of this with Hangouts On Air, but it wasn’t without a few shortcomings. We decided to then try streaming live directly to YouTube, which required an encoder. We chose Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) because it worked on a Mac, was highly recommended, and it was free (bonus). It provides much more control between all of our production elements and feels more akin to the power you’d have in the control room of a television station.

In Part 2 I’ll offer some live-streaming tips and ideas for your next broadcast, and I’ll speculate about the future of personal broadcasting.

Photos: Shutterstock, Prathan Chorruangsak / Shutterstock.com

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy is a serial career changer: audio recording, product development, marketing communications, IT, research, video production, web development, and writing—and, oh, yeah, there was that time he flipped hamburgers.

Meet Dennis Balgavy