In this industry, we’ve traditionally had three different kinds of video solutions: videoconferencing, webcasting, and social streaming. Videoconferencing has been used for meeting with a small group of people. Webcasting has been used to give formal presentations to registered viewers. While social streaming has been used as an informal broadcast to people who can join on the fly. As video technology has become more powerful and flexible, the line between these solutions blurred.
We began to see hybrid solutions popping up. These combined characteristics from two or more of the types of video solutions listed above. While these solutions have had some innovative uses, some have struggled to find their place and a workable business model.
The Rise of Blab
One such hybrid was Blab, a solution that allowed up to four people to join in a live videoconference while streaming it to a viewing audience. What was particularly exciting was the interactivity, as the audience could text chat with the broadcasters and switch places. In other words, the moderator could “promote” any audience member to replace one of the four broadcasters. In addition, the entire session could be recorded and downloaded, making it great tool for content creation.
Blab took the best of Google Hangouts and Periscope, two very successful platforms in their own rights. They created an innovative platform and, more importantly, a community. Quickly, many people found business uses for it, such as yoga classes, cooking shows, and dating shows. At one point, Blab was even embedded on the UFC.com homepage, a huge success for a social platform.
With such a promising future, it came as a real shock when Blab announced that it was shutting down. So what happened?
What Went Wrong
According to Shaan Puri, Blab’s founder, he believed they suffered from a content quality problem. “Most live streams suck,” according to Puri. This explanation seems curious to me, as their community vocally and continually proclaimed love for Blab content. Furthermore, no other social media platform seems to tie their success to the quality of their user-generated content. YouTube, Persicope, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook have always operated under the assumption that if the platform is appealing to content creators and users the platform will be a success. There is nothing inherent about these other platforms that lends itself to quality content compared to Blab. In fact, there is a massive amount of terrible content out there! However, there are some gems out there as well, simply because the platforms make it easy to host and share. Theoretically, the same could be said about Blab.
A Failed Business Model
A more likely explanation is a business model failure. As this excellent blog piece explains, Blab was leveraging a product called TokBox, which charged them per minute viewed. Therefore, the more popular a Blab broadcaster was, the more it would cost Blab to host it. In other words, Blab may have been a victim of its own success. These costs may have offset if the community grew large enough to support ad-based revenue, following the Facebook model. Unfortunately, the community was never close to achieving that size and even if it did gain that kind of traction, the TokBox model would have made it cost prohibitive before it reached critical mass.
Today, the Blab team is pivoting by focusing on a new offering called Bebo, which will be based on what worked best for Blab. According to Puri, towards the end most of their users weren’t engaging in content creation, but instead just using it to hang out with friends. Bebo will be geared toward supporting this dynamic. If this is the case, the new offering will have a hard road to distinguish itself from all the other hangout-like offerings, including Google Hangouts itself.
Another Hybrid Follows Suit
Unfortunately for the industry, this coincides with the announcement that another hybrid, Google Hangouts On Air, is also shuttering its doors. In some ways this was expected. The success of YouTube Live (owned by Google) raised the question of whether Google really needs two streaming platforms. Moving forward, Google will be trying to push it’s current users of Hangouts On Air to utilize the YouTube Live service.
You may argue that we do have some form of hybrids. Zoom Webinars and BlueJeans Primetime are both great hybrids of VC and webinar platforms, both allowing audience members to be “promoted” to presenter status. However, they are both geared towards the traditional rehearsed performance and pre-registration dynamic where you sign up beforehand so the presenters can capture your information for their sales teams. They are not geared for the kind of sessions seen on Blab and Google Hangouts On Air where a spontaneous session could be quickly shared on Twitter/Facebook and audiences can join on the fly with no registration. They are also not free, as was Blab and Google Hangouts On Air.
What Comes Next
Today, it seems like hybrids are still struggling to find their place and a workable business model. The user base behind Blab and Google Hangouts On Air show us that there’s an obvious demand for these solutions. Perhaps the next generation will be able to learn from the failures and fill this gap, this time with a scalable business model.
Know of another great hybrid out there? Tell me in the comments below.