The future of broadcast media is up in the air. Many are cutting the cable and opting for new streaming offerings. The convenience of services like Netflix and Hulu empower viewers to choose when they want to watch their favorite shows, and on which device.
Hollywood isn’t the only one taking advantage of internet streaming. The real excitement about IP streaming is that it also offers a new level of availability to all content producers. You don’t have to be a network studio with a multimillion dollar budget to create a show and share it with millions of viewers. Anyone can create streaming content for the internet.
When it comes to recorded content, YouTube is king. The massive existing content library, the huge user base, and the ease of use for uploading, sharing, and embedding videos keeps YouTube on top. The live streaming market, on the other hand, is open to large number of vendors and several various approaches. Let’s break them down here.
The Traditional Webinar Model: This covers services like On24, GoToWebinar, Zoom Webinars, and BlueJeans Primetime. Broadcasters pay a service fee to stream to a smaller, more targeted, audience generally consisting of pre-registered attendees.
Personal Broadcasts or Social Streaming: This covers services like Periscope, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Twitch. These services offer free live streaming, opening them up to a far larger number of potential broadcasters. As a result, this is where we see a lot of innovation and creativity in online streaming. These platforms are also extremely interactive as massive audiences can share their thoughts with the broadcasters in real time via integrated chat.
Social streaming has been particularly popular in the videogaming community. Professional videogamers need to practice 8-10 hours per day. By streaming live for donations or advertising sponsorships, they are able to monetize this practice time. As a result, there is a ton of great live content being streamed every day by the world’s top e-athletes. Twitch (and YouTube Gaming) host and organize these streams, making it easy for viewers to find their favorite game, and then select their favorite streamer.
The Twitch streaming dynamic is very interesting. It is similar to a high end broadcast in that it supports streaming to massive audiences in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions. It is also similar to the traditional webinar model in that it supports interactivity between streamer and viewer in the form of text chat. Arguably it is the most interactive form of online streaming, as the viewers don’t simply use the chat for Q&A with the broadcasters, but to share and discuss their opinions with other viewers. In other words, sometimes Twitch chat takes on a life of its own.
As successful as the Twitch model has been with videogamers, we have failed to see the same kind of traction with other streamers. If videogamers tune in to watch other people play games, wouldn’t other hobbyists tune in to watch streams of their hobbies? Wouldn’t painting, cooking, sewing, music, and other hobbies be able to support a streaming community?
Twitch has tried to answer this question with a little experiment they are calling Twitch Creative. This newer area of the site features non-videogame related streams. As I write this, there are hundreds of people watching a professional glass artist making marbles and other glass items. In the food section a home cook is preparing an upside-down cake while in the digital art section several streamers are showing off their photoshop skills. Guitar players are rocking out in the music section and there are even people sewing up costumes in the cosplay section.
While Twitch Creative does have a large and stable viewer base, it is still a tiny percentage of Twitch’s overall audience. Videogames still dominate the platform, but I see potential for this model. It fills a need that is otherwise not really being met. Everyone’s an expert at something, and should have a way to share that expertise. You can probably find streams of hobbyists on Facebook Live or Periscope, but I think the Twitch model of categorizing the streams provides a better viewer experience. It is also appealing to the streamer. From personal experience, when I stream myself playing guitar over Facebook my friends see it. When I stream it over Periscope I get completely random viewers. When I stream it in the Twitch Creative music section, I get viewers who came there looking to watch guitarists. Twitch viewers are interested viewers.
In some ways, the internet streaming world is like the wild wild west. Everything is new and we haven’t yet figured out the “right way” to do things. New platforms and services are supporting countless new streamers every day. These users face a choice of traditional paid streaming services for targeted audiences, or free platforms for sharing streams over social media. The Twitch Creative platform is a nice hybrid of those two approaches. It offers a free and easy way for broadcasters to set up a stream, while providing the structure and context needed to draw new viewers. I will be keeping an eye on Twitch Creative, but I will also be looking to see if other players in the video space find a way to replicate this approach in the business community.