The state of video and live streaming
I haven’t watched TV in years! TV is so dead to me.
It all happened when I was moving away from home and heading to college. Only had a bed, a laptop and a phone in my dorm and that’s when I lost all touch with the world of television. Don’t even remember the names of cool TV networks — other than MTV back when they were showing Eminem and System of a Down clips in a loop.
What did I do in my downtime? Well that’s when YouTube was “kinda” new and upcoming, “Leave Britney ALONE” was the hit viral video everyone talked about. Few years later Twitch became a thing after the demise of Own3dTV! That’s when my story starts!
I have been a big fan of streaming for a while now, I love having control of what I’ll be watching. Am I weird? With Youtube, Netflix and in more recent years, Twitch.tv — there’s always something to watch that keeps you entertained, sometimes for hours at a time.
And it feels good because I retain control! I choose what I watch (with some degree of bias based on suggested videos). Also, as streaming becomes more popular the platforms’ features become better.
Features I love about on-demand/live platforms.
I feel like Twitch and YouTube have created a great model where you can subscribe to the people you care about. Not only this helps creators monetise (more subs, better money for the publisher) but subscribing is a great mechanism to track success, a little bit like an email newsletter — the larger your email list, the more interested eyes you can capture.
I feel better as a viewer knowing that whatever I watch isn’t shoved down my throat by major networks. Here’s a soap-opera, followed by the news and the weather and half an hour of commercials between everything — No thanks. My way please!
Having a subscription model allows me to choose quickly between what I really enjoy and would like to watch again.
—Live Streaming (Twitch made it Huge)
So, story time, last week I went to a tech meetup where I heard directly from the mouth of some Twitch.tv’s employees a few of their “#wins” stories. Some numbers were thrown around the room to show the impact that twitch has had on people’s lives —some of which were rather mind-blowing. Making a living++ from streaming sounds like fun!
More importantly something struck my mind: How could anyone become a streamer, the weight on your conscience knowing that you are just another fish in the sea must be overwhelming and asphyxiating. How can anyone stream on Twitch but only the top 1% (possibly less?) of Twitch streamer are actually doing it for revenue? It’s like the gold rush, but the gold has been already found.
Apparently there are over 2M broadcasters on Twitch. Wow!
Building viewership isn’t for everyone, as other articles and blog posts have shown it takes years and years of hard work, daily or multi-weekly streaming to create an audience around your selected internet persona. Being original yet authentic is hard to combine and tie together.
Streamers and YouTubers starting becoming as famous as Hollywood stars, except they’re much more niche — so like debut Hollywood stars that played in some nice movie that has great reviews but not everyone knows about: You might be into arts and only watch art-related streams (there are a few..) or be into real-time-strategy video-games and therefore you will peak into the channel of your favorite streamer who is probably really into this or that game.
Some people watch streamers that are very calm and mature, other people like to watch angry shouty players shout at their computer.
Whatever your thing is, there is someone (streamer) for you out there and they’re all different in their own way. However…the streamers that make it to the top have one commonality:
They are entertaining, interact with their audience and are usually very knowledgeable of the games they’re playing.
Entertaining is an art or a sport, and if you train hard enough you become good at it, that’s why most big streams have been at it for years, refining their entertainment skills, thanks to technology and their personas. Around 2013 a lot of people understood that live-streaming was becoming big quickly and it could sustain your living expenses. As more people got into streaming so did the amount of viewers and that’s how Twitch grew into the giant acquired by Amazon for nearly $1.000.000.000. Just like in sports however, if you have some natural talent to entertain, or you’re a genuinely funny, interesting and nice person that can easily create connections with strangers through the web — it will help your streaming career multi-folds.
— Advertising considerations
In most recent times streaming platforms that allow their content to be viewed for free have started injecting advertising into the streams. Most recently and notably with the transition to their HTML player Twitch.tv has managed to make their advertising harder to ignore. Unlike YouTube where adblocking has worked for years and YouTube content creators have had to inject promotional and sponsored content into the videos natively, which means they’ve been doing partnerships themselves with the advertisers and included promotional material at edit time. More work required, but better ROI for advertisers who know their messages will be seen.
— Platform considerations
I watch my content on a laptop, connected to a big screen. Some of my friends have a smart TV and use that (but the awkward typing on a smart tv is still laughable). I know of people who watch videos through their phones/tablets. Personally I love streaming Netflix from an airport WiFi and with the newly acquired ability to download content onto the device (albeit its only temporarily stored) I can watch anything available even during those long flights.
4G is still not cheap and providers love to throttle speeds and data so we still have a long way to go before we will be able to enjoy a lag-less, real-time, full HD experience as we can enjoy it from the comfort of our WiFi covered areas.
The ability to choose the quality and resolution of the stream is definitely super important — as time advances and better compression algorithms are introduced things will get better and better: one day we could also benefit from intelligent pixel reconstruction methodology, that would work on the client and give us the ability to claim those extra pixels/resolution while maintaining a low data transferral rate (very big question mark as to whether this will ever be possible to achieve in real-time, but Google is working on it already it seems..)
— What’s next in streaming and on-demand video?
As APIs become more mature and people start getting more and more into streaming we can see how more third party tools will be created to allow many beautiful things to happen to the world of video. Particularly exciting would be seeing more development in a set of tools for content producers — a great example is the YouTube editor that I have used numerous times to edit on the fly clips.
Translation is a big one, as more people start streaming it would only make sense to have near real-time translation to go with live streaming.
Watching can be fun but interacting with a streamer can be a daunting experience, especially when there are thousands of viewers wanting to get a little bit of attention. Rolling out feature that allow users to reply or ask questions asynchronously and getting noticed is something that I see booming as we become more real-time aware. Today we rely much on the sense of community and on helpers/moderators to achieve that. Try asking a question in a channel with 20.000 concurrent users and see if you ever get a reply.
Periscope has added its famous hearts (that viewers can send to the streamer when they like what is happening) and live commenting to their real-time streams, Twitch has the famous Twitch chat and an array of features such as interactive emotes, personalised emoticons and many intelligent bots to complement the chatpocalypse experience.
I would love to go a step further: have the ability to interact with what is being streamed directly. If it’s a video-game, have the ability to interact with how the game proceeds in real-time. I feel that being part of the experience and being able to influence it (even if by 0.1%) would be a major step towards higher interactivity. A good example of this has been the famous “Twitch Plays Pokemon” and a few more. Placing wagers on the outcome of an action taken by the streamer sounds like a cool thing to have.
If I’m looking at more static content, I would love to have the ability to interact with whatever is being discussed a little bit like YouTube does with annotations, but in a slicker and less obtrusive way.
This is probably the hardest thing, the way algorithms work nowadays is that only a tiny percentage of the content put out there gets to the front-page. This happens on YouTube, on Twitch, on NetFlix, on Spotify (I know it’s not video but you get the idea) — It’s hard to find fresh content.
It would be super exciting to be able to discover new content based on what we like, for example if I like to watch streamers that don’t cosplay but have a webcam showing their face who speak french, I should be able to find these streamers. Same concept applies for YouTube content and Netflix — indexing video isn’t a hard thing to do with the technology, you could even just do it with review — when we look for very particular things and we can’t find it because the technology isn’t there it’s really upsetting. It could be even done manually by allowing the streamers/producers to add their details in a few more input fields.
Final thoughts: Virtual Reality?
As we approach the time where virtual reality headset and 360 cameras become cheaper and cheaper we could see some streamers starting to stream 360 content. It would be definitely way more engaging than a static camera positioned and pointing to someone’s face. I know that some people have been advocating to watch 360 movies for a while now…
Ultimately who knows what the next big trend will be — but I’ll be here watching…