The Future of Live Video (Facebook Live, Periscope, YouTube Live, Snapchat)

As a follow-up to my last Periscope vs. Facebook Live post, I decided to look a little more in-depth at each platform’s strategy and culture, seeing where each stands now and where they might be headed in the future. Just for fun I decided to add Snapchat into the table too, since they technically do have a few features that support live video as well. Here’s an expanded version of the chart:

As of July 2016.

The user numbers are rough estimations but it does give a sense of scale between the different platforms out there — Periscope is competing against giants much larger than itself at the moment. But it does have the advantage of being exclusively focused on live streaming, which could prove to be advantageous if they can manage to retain their users for the long-term. (And try to convert a few users from its parent company Twitter as well, who currently has about 150 million daily active users.)

The live video teams of Facebook and YouTube on the other hand will be focusing more on trying to get their existing user-base to use their new feature; just one thing out of many that their site has to offer. Given the numbers of current Periscope users, however, if they can get even just 1% of their user-base to use the live stream feature fairly regularly they could probably call it a resounding success since it can be interpreted as having been met a certain need. (It did for me, anyway.)

The mobile-live-stream market is something new and largely unproven at this point, but given the fact that these tools let you connect to people on a much more intimate level (some might even call it, “raw”) I do think that there’s a lot of potential there, both as a commercial product and a new form of artistic expression. In the end, live streaming is just improv, after all. There’s a certain directness and sincerity in live broadcasting that has been missing from the internet for a while, and I do think that this kind of authenticity is something that a lot of people are inherently drawn to. (As long as it’s in the right context, of course.)

This time, instead of doing side-by-side comparisons I’ll be reviewing each platform one at a time, since I’d like to talk about each of them more in depth. And a video jam example from each one as well!

Facebook Live

Supposedly horizontal video support will be out some time this month for FB Live. Hooray!

As mentioned in the last post, Facebook Live is a very well-made product, both from a technical and design standpoint. The UI/UX is intuitive, the streams are smooth (haven’t had complaints from any of my viewers yet), and the feature is so well-integrated into the Facebook system itself that it hardly feels any different than making a regular status update or post. It’s been a great way to connect up with people I haven’t talked to in a while, as well as providing a platform for my friends of family as to what sorts of things I’ve been doing as a musician as of the late. (Pics and pre-recorded videos just doesn’t cut it, unfortunately.)

As also mentioned in my previous post, however, there’s currently not much of a discovery layer where doing these things would lead to more followers or friends. During one of my first runs, I had a random person view my feed and gave me some nice comments about my playing — but the only reason why she was there was because I was in Hawaii at the time (my home) and she just so happened to see a little blue blip floating in the middle of the ocean of the FB Live map!

You could make the argument that discovery isn’t really the point of Facebook (it’s only for personal use), therefore it’s not necessary for them to build out something like this — but I do think that at the very least, a basic categorization scheme would be in order. Just have the option of the user being able to tag or select a few things about what they’re currently doing, then map that into a “currently streaming” list for viewers based on topics of interest/activities, relationships (people, entities), and geographical location.

Ok, maybe actually building out something like this would be more complicated than I made it initially sound, but it seems like a pretty natural path for Facebook to take anyway…it’s not going to be long before you start seeing “suggested live feeds” in your news feed once they tweak the algorithm to include interests and activities as part of live feed’s curatorial process. But that would be just the start.

Facebook has long been criticized for its “insularity”, since what you get as “news” is basically a reflection of what people you already know are already talking about. This could be either a good or bad thing depending on who you talk to — there’s a certain comfort and familiarity to that that makes the platform feel like “home” — why the site has retained its popularity even after all these years.

As seen in the #blacklivesmatter incident, however, the power of live video (note: the original footage that sparked the recent media storm was shot on Facebook Live) has proven itself to be a very real thing. The question is largely how far Facebook is willing to push in the “open and connected world” idea that Mark Zuckerberg always talks about, since “open”…well, also means exposing the users to potentially ugly, “real” things.

I think that the future for Facebook Live is going to be an exciting one, for better or worse! (Hopefully, though, for the better.) It’s a nice addition to the site that gives the platform more demension and depth.

Periscope

As a strictly live-video-streaming-only app, I’ve had the most success getting follows and likes from strangers using the Periscope live streaming app. Unlike Facebook or YouTube, it’s probably because people use the app for the sole reason of finding live streams, which makes sense that they would be more receptive to what’s going on in these types of videos.

There are a few technical issues with the app — a lot of which probably has to do with Periscope being a much newer and smaller company. (I may have just gotten spoiled by Facebook and YouTube, to be honest.) The stream feels somewhat lo-fi and the UI/UX a little rough around the edges, but nothing too damning that would stop you from using it entirely. (There are a few issues with stuttering in real-time streaming, however, which are fairly noticeable.)

Periscope has a hashtag-based tagging system (#music, #travel, #food) that helps with basic categorizations but beyond that the process is pretty much a free-for-all, similar to how hashtags work on Twitter. As a user, I was able to pick up on a few feeds based on the #music hashtag but the search was so broad that I couldn’t really find anything I was really interested in. It was a jumbled mix of musicians playing at a concert, home jams, people showing off their new gear, live music lessons (pretty cool idea though), people listening at a concert, etc. etc…in every conceivable genre, location, instrumentation and talent-level possible.

Because the usage and meanings of hashtag systems are so unstable, it would be extremely difficult to build an effective categorization system around it since the meaning of every word would always be in flux. The self-organizing hashtag culture sort of works for Twitter because of its 140 character limit: since you’re only asking for 1 or 2 seconds of the person’s time, whether that time was wasted or not doesn’t really matter all that much. Watching a video stream, on the other hand, is a much higher commitment and may require something more organized and robust for a categorization scheme to really work.

Given that Periscope has the most experience in the mobile-live-streaming space, however, they have the most data about user behavior that could potentially become the golden standard for how live-stream-discovery is done. But are they going to create a more search-friendly categorization system, or stick to Twitter’s user-generated free-for-all approach? In theory there’s no reason why you can’t do both, but given the size of the company they may have to focus on one to really do it well.

In some ways, since Twitter is struggling to retain users right now, integrating their platform with a live streaming component may be just what they need in order to stay relevant for the next couple of years. But it’s not likely that slapping on the old hashtag system onto a new format and calling it “searching for stuff…live!” is really going to work. Either way, some experimentation will have to be done on their end, I think.

YouTube Live

My most recent jam that was streamed directly onto YouTube. This was done through a 3rd-party app called Emoze.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable about YouTube Live’s mobile app is that it doesn’t exist. I had to use a 3rd party program to write this review, so please keep that in mind while reading the next few sections. (There is a beta version available for the latest versions of Android if you get the “YouTube Gaming” app.)

YouTube has been doing live streaming for years, arguably longer than any of the other companies have, but its focus has been mostly on gaming so the way it’s currently designed is mostly geared towards those causes. They’re used to working with gamers and gaming events that have their schedules set ahead of time and operate under those rules and customs.

YouTube’s focus is more on its content rather than social networking so the idea that you could make live streaming a spontaneous, social activity honestly may not have been high on their priority list — until recently, anyway.

Is YouTube really a social network, though? Fans of certain channels and YouTubers would certainly argue that it is — but most of the actual interaction between the hardcore fans tends to happen off site. Spam, abuse, and scamming is an everyday part of the YouTube comments section, which has annoyed and irritated even the most popular of its users, so people tend to go elsewhere when they want to interact with each other more in-depth.

But maybe that just comes with the territory when there’s money and fame involved. From a content producer’s point of view, YouTube will always be the most attractive option since it has the option to monetize your videos and one of the best search system around. Since YouTube already has a discovery system in place, now it’s just a matter of creating a mobile version of their live-streaming platform and integrate it with their main site. (Which should be possible, since there are 3rd-party apps that do this already.)

Although YouTube has been somewhat lagging behind in the mobile-live-streaming game, they may actually be in the best position to capture the market for the long term if they can use their robust discovery system to their advantage. Since many YouTubers do livestreams and casual vlogs already, adding a feature like this won’t seem too out of the ordinary for what they’re doing on a daily basis anyway. And even if the chances of happening as such is very small — even the hint of the possibility of earning some money and recognition from doing live streams will always be a pretty strong incentive for most.

YouTube has already announced that they’re working on a feature that will compete directly with Facebook Live and Periscope, so we’ll probably see them get into the game more aggressively in the near future.

Snapchat

Having trouble streaming this video? Good!

I originally wasn’t going to review Snapchat as part of this series, but thought it might be interesting to include it anyway just to show what else is going on in the social web in general. Snapchat has a “live video” feature similar to Facebook Live that lets you broadcast live streams of whatever you happen to be doing at the time. As most people know by now, though, the platform deletes everything you do on there by default, so it’s not really made for anyone interested in creating content for public audiences.

In a lot of ways Snapchat is philosophically opposed to the idea of “leaving a digital footprint”, which is both its weakness and its strength. The company makes most of its money by selling “filters” to high-profile clients on a temporary basis (ex. the X-Men movie in the runner-up to its release) so in theory, as long as it can keep its users happy there would be no need to monetize them directly with targeted ads and content. A fundamentally different approach to social networking that may also have a place in the world of live streaming, as long as they can keep their clients happy as well.

But honestly, nobody really knows what’s goes on in Snapchat: what goes on in Snapchat, stays in Snapchat. Even the finances of the company is kind of a mystery and we’re not likely to find out much until they make their first IPO.

From the point of view of an improviser like myself, Snapchat’s service is actually the purest, most “in-the-moment” of them all, since it leaves nothing behind except for the experience of the performance itself. And in an odd way that’s something I can actually respect and appreciate on a lot of levels. Even in my musical endeavors (and life in general) some of the best moments I’ve had were ones that were never recorded and never heard again…and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And maybe, that’s the point.

Conclusion

Broadcast-ception?

After doing this review, it was interesting to see how each platform’s strengths and weaknesses sort of mirrored each other in terms of what they had to offer, where they were headed, and what they needed to improve. Facebook has the strongest social connections but is weaker in discovery, whereas YouTube has a good search system but needs improvement in its community moderation methodologies. (Spam-bots are already a problem in live streams and this will only get worse when the feature becomes available to the public.)

The smaller contenders, Periscope and Snapchat are wildcards at this point, and it’s not really clear what strategy they’ll be taking next in order to stay relevant in the live-streaming game. It’ll be interesting to see what sorts of experiments they’ll be running in the near future since they’re the ones more likely to be taking bigger risks.

Either way, live streaming is no longer a thing just for sports, news, and gamers anymore — it’s a method of broadcast that’s available to anyone and everyone now. It takes the decentralization of information to a whole new level, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s going to change how a lot of things work both on the internet and the world at large.

Happy Streaming! And if you’re interested in the ambient music I’ve been making as of the late, everything’s available on my YouTube channel for free.