While some ask what took so long, others are celebrating YouTube's latest move: Live streaming. YouTube is experimenting with live streaming with four media partners in a trial that started Monday and could ripple through the site in the weeks ahead.
Of course, YouTube isn't completely unfamiliar with live streaming. YouTube has streamed some major events live, including broadcasts from U2, the Indian Premier League, the White House, and E3. Now YouTube is offering its viewers a front-row seat at live events that may be (but probably won't be) historic.
"YouTube is seeking to expand its services and content offerings as TV and online video evolve. Live events can be seen in the broader context of YouTube video rentals and the inclusion of Hollywood-produced TV and movies into its content library," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "YouTube clearly sees a future partly on the big screen in the living room or family room and wants to offer a broader range of programming to viewers, including longer-form content, professional content -- and maybe live events."
A More Interactive YouTube
Starting at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Monday, YouTube began what it calls a "limited trial of a new live-streaming platform" with partners Howcast, Next New Networks, Rocketboom and Young Hollywood. The experiment will end Tuesday night, and YouTube will make a decision about how to move forward with live streaming.
"This new platform integrates live streaming directly into YouTube channels. All broadcasters need is a webcam or external USB/FireWire camera," YouTube Product Manager Joshua Siegel and Product Marketing Manager Christopher Hamilton wrote in the official YouTube blog.
YouTube isn't stopping with live streaming. The site is also empowering users to leave real-time comments via a Live Comments module that lets them engage with the broadcaster and the YouTube community. That makes for not only a live experience, but an interactive one. One of the live streaming broadcasts Monday included an hour-long variety show from Rocketboom.
YouTube is responding to market demand. According to comScore, Americans are spending an increasing number of hours watching live video. In fact, the amount of time Americans spent viewing major live video publishers exploded 648 percent in the past year. This could open the door to new advertising revenue for Google, YouTube's parent company, because Americans watch live steaming videos an average of seven percent longer than the typical online video.
No Live Guarantees
YouTube warned that there may be some bugs, but this is clearly the first step toward taking on competitors like Ustream.tv, Livestream and Justin.tv. Ustream leads the live-streaming video revolution. comScore reports Ustream tallied 3.2 million unique viewers in July. But with YouTube's 143.2 million-member user base, it's not difficult to see how the Google-owned site could quickly outpace smaller competitors.
"This is a two-day test, as Google says. So there's no guarantee that this will roll out more broadly. There's also the question of how wide the appeal would be for something like this," Sterling said. "This is 'appointment viewing,' while most of the video world -- TV included -- is moving toward on-demand. Still, something like this could have broad appeal, depending on the nature of the event, or limited but intense appeal to specific communities. This is what Google is seeking to determine."