The news: Anyone thinking the Wild West mentality of the online video space is fading hasn't looked very closely at the emerging live streaming video segment. Despite the technology being available for more than two decades, with Real Networks among the first to test it in a consumer-focused format, live streaming didn't catch the industry's attention until mid-2014 when then-Justin.TV owned game-streaming website Twitch emerged as the fastest-growing video site in the U.S.
Major buyers began circling Twitch -- ultimately, Amazon swooped in with a nearly $1 billion offer for the service -- and other top online video industry players began exploring whether to launch their own live-streaming units. One of the fruits of those labors appeared in mid-2015 with the launch of YouTube Gaming.
In the midst of that development, another angle struck the live-streaming initiative: startup Meerkat launched its mobile app, a free, easy to use streaming service that was immediately accessible to any consumer with a smartphone. Meerkat was quickly body-checked by Periscope, a similar live-streaming app; Twitter snapped that up ahead of its launch and blocked the nascent Meerkat app from using its API.
Why it matters: At the moment, Meerkat and Periscope have mainly gimmick value as users continue to discover the service and its uses. Both services have dealt with copyright-violation issues as some users attempted to stream popular events like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. But marketers are continuing to experiment with the live-streaming apps -- they're cost effective vehicles for brand marketing, and feedback from viewers is instantaneous thanks to a sidebar chat function.
What drove the rise of live streaming was a confluence of open-source innovation, user demand, and the vast improvements in broadband network capacity and online video streaming technology. Put more simply, the capability to stream live video smoothly wasn't quite there -- and users weren't sure what to use it for. All that changed over the past couple of years.
For example, Twitch originally was one channel among several, separated by genre, on Justin.TV. Users had the option of watching sports, hobbies like sewing or kit-building, any one of several live events. Live-streaming video games, however, caught on and exploded in popularity, prompting Justin.TV to split the category out into a separate website. The site's instant-feedback element, thanks to an always-up chat window that ran alongside each live video stream, made watching video games a participatory experience -- similar to watching over someone's shoulder as they played games at a party and shouting instructions to them.
The strength of those two elements combined-- live-streamed video and live chat – bears out. It's not a coincidence that YouTube Gaming, Periscope and Meerkat all have a user interface layout similar to that designed by Twitch.
In other genres, particularly sports, Yahoo, AOL and others are trialing live streaming. Yahoo, for example, was the only place that U.S. viewers could watch the regular-season game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. The game was played in London and live-streamed via Yahoo.
Wowza's Chris Knowlton said in an interview with FierceOnlineVideo to expect live streaming to continue to grow, in various forms, in the coming month. At his Streaming Media West panels, which discussed the best ways to implement live streaming in an online video delivery platform, "interest was really high. ... In my sessions there were standing room only crowds." It wasn't just casual interest either: most attendees wanted to learn more about live-streaming workflows. And from the caliber of the questions he received from the audience, "Basic knowledge (about live streaming technology) was up across the board."