Live Streaming Services: Bringing Communities Together in Real Time

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The current market for real-time streaming services is driven by a multitude of factors such as increasing (and more affordable) consumer bandwidth, traditional services moving to online execution of their services, higher education institutions using this technology for remote students, and delivery of real-time next value medical consultation. Live streamed events are becoming more and more of a thematic landmark like blockbuster movies or TV sitcoms. The types of events being streamed are virtually limitless. Broadcasters can continue to be available for breaking news as events unfold (a practice known as “solo-casting”), camera views can be switched, and servers can be shared, making multiple participants possible in one game. High video quality and continuous audio require a large amount of proprietary software such as Adobe Flash media server and Wowza. Acquiring this type of software is often a complex decision with budget analysis, as open-source software such as XSplit offers greater functionality free of charge. Live audio over the internet is a simple sequence of captures and encodes of audio signals, as time delay is still present due to hardware buffers. Support for other types of data, such as XML, can widely vary and has a further impact on the complexity of the project.

Live streaming has grown significantly with ever-increasing bandwidth and a seemingly endless array of modern devices. The 2010 launch of a commercial streaming service by Nintendo of America and other providers has also given live streaming an excellent boost. Once a big player in the video game streaming sub-industry, streaming of live interactive events has attracted mass media attention. Sites such as Twitter’s Periscope, Facebook Live, and Instagram Live have all been upgraded currently to mean users’ primary pages in their app UI. YouTube launched a live streaming service in association with 40 premium cable and satellite channels covering live TV and DVR.

Advantages of Live Streaming Services

Global reach and cost-effective solution – By using live streaming services and an internet connection, anyone can watch a live stream from anywhere in the world. This unlimited access is a surefire way to increase the visibility of your event or broadcast, growing your audience and broadening your horizons. More often than not, viewers of your content will experience scheduling conflicts or might be in a different time zone from your event. A video recording of your event is not enough to capture these viewers. Live streaming supports these viewers with real-time content, preventing the loss of potential viewers due to time constraints. And being able to watch an event without the added cost of travel and accommodations is an enticing prospect to anyone. Live streaming makes it affordable for these viewers to still experience your content. And because live streaming is so cost-efficient, you can provide this real-time content without placing a burden on your budget.

Real-time online interaction – The feature that live streaming provides has made it easy for people to communicate and connect with each other through the internet, eliminating the barriers of time and space. With the help of live streaming, people are able to communicate and interact with the other person without being physically present. In addition, this can be particularly useful for organizations as it can be used for online in-house training and online meetings, which will help them in saving both time and money.

Real-time Interaction

Cognitive presence can be a major component of sustained communication and can be described as the ability to project one’s inner state into the shared environment. Cognitive presence has strong ties with the constructivist theory of education, where learners are not seen as vessels to be filled with knowledge but instead as active participants in the process of learning. Higher levels of cognitive presence in educational communication can result in increased perception of learning effectiveness, greater satisfaction, and even improved learning outcomes. An experiment by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer created a model for cognitive presence with indicators being resolution of an issue, exploration of an issue, integration of learning, and finding of new meaning. Using this model in a case study with an MBA program, findings showed that all levels of cognitive presence were present and that the most importance was placed on finding new meaning. With cognitive presence being strongly tied to communication and exchange of ideas, discourse and sustained communication may find a new home in live streaming services for a future generation of global learners.

There are two distinguishable forms of real-time interaction in the context of multimedia communication: coordinated and sustained. The former has been the focus of much experimental work, with results already evolving into a range of robust tools for synchronous collaboration (such as online meetings and video conferencing). We are far more interested in the spontaneous, ad-hoc interaction that occurs during sustained communication. A prime example can be found in Twitch TV, where live stream viewers have the ability to chat with the content provider and others in what feels like a single, persistent environment. This is distinctly different from YouTube, where users can comment on videos, but the disjointed experience makes it feel far less interactive. With live streaming, viewers also have the opportunity to directly affect the content they are consuming. An experiment conducted by Dachner and Mauthe on the influence of delay in multimedia systems showed that a longer delay between user interaction and system reaction can degrade the perceived quality of interaction. With streaming services aiming for delays of 10 seconds or less between the viewer and the content provider, this type of interaction is highly feasible. Step-changes in technology can also revolutionize the way streamed content is commonly interacted with. For example, the increasing popularity of live eSports events is now being watched in the same way as traditional sports on platforms such as Twitch TV. Here, viewers have the ability to bet on outcomes of events, with potential for online gambling integration in the future. With a rapidly expanding feature set to facilitate interaction, live streaming platforms are becoming rich environments for a variety of internet communities.

Global Reach

By deriving a worldwide audience, live streaming allows for a global reach. Due to geographical restrictions, an event can be unavailable for some audiences to attend. Live streaming removes these restrictions and allows anyone and everyone to watch your event from anywhere in the world. This opens up huge opportunities for events such as music festivals or sporting events to increase their audience and expose the event to people who may not have been able to attend in person. An increased audience also increases revenue from pay-per-view access, sponsorships, and ad revenue. An example of this is advertising opportunities for events such as music festivals and gaming conventions that are live-streamed. With a global reach and unlimited advertising opportunities, it is a viable solution for these event organizers to fund future events or maintain their live streaming services. This is a great advantage to businesses or anyone wanting to monetize their live-streamed event.

Cost-effective Solution

Another cost-effective feature can be attributed to its minimal requirements. One will not have to purchase any add-on hardware or additional capital equipment. With bad economic times, organizations would feel the burden and would be forced to cut costs and their marketing and advertising budgets. Live streaming solves this problem by providing marketing free of cost. Now lead generation can be increased and sales potential can be heightened without cutting costs. In fact, one could say it would actually save money!

The finance-related points to this incredible facility can be showcased within this sub-category. Live streaming meets conservative budgets, even though the quality of the broadcast has vastly improved over the years. In the earlier days, one could only assume streaming videos would be of shoddy quality due to the extensive buffering and lengthy loading times. However, due to the cost-effective solution of live streaming, its quality has made outstanding improvements, often making it comparable to a television broadcast.

Applications of Live Streaming Services

Live streaming services are useful in a wide variety of applications, which broadens their attraction for many people and interests. The first and most obvious use is for live events and concerts, where audiences can still experience the atmosphere and excitement of being at the event even when they aren’t physically able to. Coachella, the yearly two-weekend music and arts festival, has been live-streamed since 2011. Coachella’s YouTube channel provides two different live stream channels during the festival. If you’re interested in watching a specific act, you can select whose live stream channel you prefer to view. Viewers can find the live stream schedule underneath the recorded video player. When a channel is streaming live, you will see the video playing above this box. This is especially useful when viewers are looking for set times for a band they want to watch. Viewers will have the ability to pause, rewind, and replay the live stream video. This is especially useful for viewers who may have missed the beginning of the stream or want to replay an awesome performance. By offering DVR options, YouTube is pioneering in the realm of live stream video technology. As one of the pioneers of live streaming festivals, Coachella has set the bar high for music and arts festivals around the world. Since their first live stream, they have added more features and have made the user’s experience even better. With festivals taking note of Coachella’s success, live streaming could soon become a staple for most large-scale events.

Live Events and Concerts

Live streaming plays a very significant role in promoting and broadcasting live events and concerts. With the help of live streaming services, people who could not attend a particular event due to some critical reasons can now view it right from their homes, live through the internet. This has proven to be a great savior for college students and the youth who follow music artists. In most cases, entry for concerts can be on a first-come, first-serve basis. There might not be enough space to accommodate everyone who loves that music. Also, tickets can be sold out due to high demand. In such cases, live streaming can be a very good alternative for those people. Also, at times, event venues can be at a long distance from some major city, making it inconvenient for some people to travel. Live streaming can be a cost-effective way to resolve this problem. Musicians and event organizers get a wider audience, eventually increasing the popularity of the event or the artist. This can be very beneficial for the promotion of events such as charity shows. The event can be live-streamed and people who watch it can donate on the internet. This could be a huge success as viewers can donate from any part of the world, and the artist gets a very wide audience. Paid live streaming can also be used for various events. For example, a professional tennis match is being conducted at a place where it is not so well known. The match can be live-streamed and viewed through the internet on a pay-per-view basis. Viewers can see the match at the convenience of their homes and they only have to pay for that particular match as compared to a sports channel subscription.

Education and Training

Another positive for e-learning via live streaming is the significant cost reduction in travel and accommodation. A common scenario employed in the building and construction industry is to fly workers to a central professional development point, and often these workers are field managers who are hands-on and not used to a classroom setting or taking in information from a presenter. Such an exercise can be extremely costly and not overly effective, so a supervisor or manager live streaming an event such as this to his dispersed employees would find that the message is being better received and it is not costing the company excessive money in downtime and travel. Management can also monitor that employees are completing the training, as most live streaming software has the ability to record who watched the stream and for how long.

While e-learning has become an established component of many organizations’ training and development programs, there are companies that have been slow to adopt web-based learning. The reason for such reluctance varies, but some are skeptical about the effectiveness of e-learning relative to more traditional forms of training. Live streaming can effectively erase such doubt. By providing interactive, real-time information, many educators are finding that they are able to get their point across much more effectively than with traditional, static online forms of learning. Additionally, real-time group activities such as webinars are also being done much more effectively in a live-streamed environment. An example of this would be an employee attempting to complete a CPA certification. Usually, the best method for study is hiring a tutor to provide lectures and group study sessions, and a live-streamed private group session captures the same essence, with the added benefit of being able to replay the session as many times as possible and being able to access the session from anywhere with internet access.

Business Presentations and Webinars

Finally, internal communications at a strategic or tactical level within a large organization can be a good potential use case for live streaming. Many large companies struggle to take a unified approach in disseminating important information to employees working on different shifts or in distant locations. Live streaming offers a way to engage a widespread workforce with minimal disruption as presentations can be viewed at the employees’ convenience and archived for future viewing.

In addition, a good live presentation behind a product demonstration can help to move a customer through the buying cycle. Using a live stream could add a new level of interactivity to a product demo and entice prospective customers who are evaluating the offering. A more interactive version of the traditional focus group can also be achievable using live streaming with a moderated discussion among participants giving real-time feedback on concepts, ideas, or products.

Undoubtedly, the most straightforward application of live streaming technology to business lies in the employment of webinars for sales and marketing purposes. Using webinars with live and/or archived presentations can be a viable solution for a number of marketing activities. Webinars are a cost-effective alternative to in-person events, allowing businesses to engage with new audiences and can be leveraged to repurpose old content.

Social Media Engagement

For the first time, Facebook is actually prioritizing content with lower third-party links to external websites and more visuals directly from your brand page. In order to compete against services like Periscope or Twitch, Facebook has implemented a video metric system for live streams. In addition to making it easier for viewers to be aware of live streaming content, fan page subscription and notifications are now available. Due to the updated video algorithms, live streaming from a Facebook fan page is the most effective way to engage with fans.

The recent surge in the popularity of Facebook Live (and other live streaming services introduced from other social media platforms) has given us a closer look into the consumer behavior and trends marketers have yet to be aware of. The nature of live streaming content and its current uses in social media are best described as high impact, short-form engagement. This shift in dynamics from long-form video content to short-form streams has many implications on content production, brand engagement, and influencer opportunities.

Challenges and Considerations for Live Streaming

For some live or linear programming, a short video-on-demand window may be added to the streaming. In other cases, programming will go directly to a streaming service. The emergence of live-streaming services like Facebook Live and YouTube Live has further blurred the line between live and on-demand content. High-profile sporting events like the Olympics and NFL Super Bowl attract large audiences and have a profound cultural impact. These are can’t-miss events, but they are also complex multimedia experiences with supplemental data and interactive apps. This new era of application and game-centric media is something that the younger generation has grown up with. They have expectations for rich media experiences that can be accessed anywhere. OTT and streaming services may be the only viable way to reach younger demographics.

The growth in online gaming and esports is already inspiring traditional broadcasters to move away from pure-play TV Everywhere offerings to ones more focused on direct-to-consumer models. Turner SBX, ELEAGUE, and the UFC are all examples of this trend. Online gaming is also contributing to the growing commercial importance of live and linear OTT video services. High production quality is critical in order to attract and retain an audience. Live video, as opposed to video on demand, adds further cost and complexity to video workflows. Live content must be encoded/transcoded, managed, and then transcoded again for distribution to multiple devices.

Bandwidth and Connectivity

In addition to the people watching your event, the bit-rate that they watch the event at may vary. A viewer who is on an LTE connection may not be able to watch the same stream as someone who’s on a fiber connection. Cloud-based encoding software, just like Livebox, can detect the varying bit-rate of the viewers and automatically configure the event stream to various bit-rates. This lets everyone watch the same stream but at a bit-rate that accommodates their connection.

When an event organizer decides to broadcast an event, they know how many people they expect to show up. The live audience isn’t comprised of people who live close to the event. Recent statistics show that 25% of your online viewers are from the same city as the event, 30% will be international, and 45% will be national. When you consider segmenting out your event viewers, the total viewers may very well be 100 times what it is on location.

Content Security and Copyright Issues

Online entertainment and broadcasting businesses have significantly burgeoned over the past several years. With the advent of new technology, burgeoning entrepreneurs have effectively utilized this concept to start their own businesses, e.g. internet radio stations, podcasters, and individuals who run audio and video streaming services, all of which require some form of “broadcasting”. The principal reasoning for this growth is the willingness to work from anywhere combined with the surge of available and affordable broadband internet access. As content delivery becomes more prevalent in everyday lives, the plethora of services on hand increases the chance of copyright infringement and the prospect of potential litigation against copyright violators. Failure to address copyright violations may result in legal proceedings and judgments that significantly impact your company’s bottom line.

Technical Requirements and Equipment

Quality audio is just as important as video, if not more. Bad video can sometimes be tolerated with good audio, but people will rarely watch a stream with good video and bad audio. Consider the fact that many viewers will be listening to your stream. How many times have you listened to a radio broadcast at work, in the car, or while doing something else? People often listen to live streams in the same manner. They may not always be staring directly at the video.

We cannot stress enough the importance of a wired internet connection when live streaming. While it is possible to stream over a wireless connection, wired connections provide better speed and reliability. Live streaming consumes a high amount of bandwidth and requires a stable upload speed, and a wired connection is the best way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your internet service. High bitrate video and audio may require 5-10 Mbps of upload bandwidth, and unless you are the only user on your network, this may be difficult to achieve with a wireless connection.

Regardless of the quality of content you are producing, a successful live stream requires solid audio and video equipment as well as a basic knowledge of how to use and troubleshoot it on the fly. As a content creator, you may possess different levels of A/V knowledge, and depending on your resources, you could have a simple or complex setup. At the end of the day, the quality of your stream is dictated by your viewers, and studies have shown that most viewers will leave a stream if the video quality is poor. High viewership is dependent not only on the quality of your content, but its A/V delivery and ability to create an enjoyable viewing experience. High-quality streams can be achieved with the basic equipment that you might already own, but for the best possible A/V experience, the following is recommended:

Developing your technical skills, building the best quality audio and video content, and providing the best live streaming experience is a challenge but an investment in time and learning that is becoming a necessity in this ever-evolving digital age. The topic of audio and video production for live streaming could be its own article, or even its own book! For the sake of keeping this article concise yet informative, this section will act as an overview for the A/V production aspects of your live stream.

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