Streaming is big. Stream host Twitch recently became the number one video service overall by the amount of video served and users can’t seem to get enough live video content. Ustream weighed in at number 3. Big names in music and entertainment are now streaming live to their audience, either pay per view or ad served. Even politicians who don’t want to be left behind the technology curve are now live streaming to their potential voters. One thing that is universal is the desire to increase the reach of media to the millions of potential viewers that reside on the Internet.
If you are just starting out, there are a lot of options and many of them only require that you have a webcam and something to say to the world. Twitch focuses on gaming, while Justin.tv, Ustream, YouTube and LiveStream will take all comers. There’s even self hosted options if none of these options seem to work for you. There are many others jumping into the game with various features all trying to take advantage of the next wave of media on the Internet. Which is the best for your purposes? How can you make the right choice? I’ll go over the top choices for live streaming on the Internet and highlight some of the unique qualities of each while setting up for a comparison chart of common features at the end.
Twitch has become a force to be reckoned with in live content. They have grown to be one of the largest media hosting services on the internet as a whole, all by focusing on their niche and doing it better than anyone else. Their dedication to the content has created their own audience which is something the generalist sites cannot do. You automatically tap into that audience whenever you stream to twitch and you know that your content is reaching the eyes that want to see it. If you are streaming any kind of gaming content (even board games) Twitch is the first place you should look, but if your content is anything else, look elsewhere. All content other than gaming content is not allowed on Twitch.
Twitch has become so popular for gaming content that the newest game consoles come off the shelf with Twitch apps installed so you can stream your games straightaway and a plethora of products have emerged to help home streamers get started. There are simple configuration applications that will stream your PC games and even allow you to include and position and picture in picture of yourself. Small affordable USB capture devices are numerous, enabling a legion of video game fans to stream their gaming conquests.
Twitch has some drawbacks, but not many, they are still a scrappy start-up and continue to develop features that appeal to live stream creators big and small and appear to have a very bright future ahead of them.
Once again, if you are producing video game or gaming related content, you should start here.
YouTube Live is the newest offering at the video giant. They have seen the future and launched into the live space with gusto, albeit with their usual white paged black box simplicity. Recently decoupled from Google+, YouTube is becoming the stand out leader in all things Internet video. Live was recently rolled out to all users (provided you are in good standing and have cleared the basic hurdles for your channel) and it is a great offering that has some features that no other have. Multiple cameras, instant recording to youtube and the ability to go back in time for people just joining the live broadcast make it a formidable competitor in this space. My only fear here is that the audience is just as fragmented as the rest of YouTube, which is the main strength of a niche player like Twitch. When you target everyone and anyone, you end up diluting your promotional efforts whereas promoting to your niche nets you better results.
A major issue with YouTube is the copyright system. In the case of copyrighted media that has been registered with their automated system, a flag can be automatically generated. They do have a human review a takedown before it occurs, but YouTube has had issues with their takedown system in the past. This could cause some broadcasters to run into issues, especially if they actually have the cleared rights to top shelf copyrighted materials. While there is a system in place to declare that you hold rights, if you miss this on something, there is the possibility you will run into this overeager rights enforcement. That makes me a little gun-shy with YouTube, but beyond that, the service is marvelous is many other ways.
Ustream.tv is one of the earliest live video sites alongside Justin.tv. They have a solid white label service and pay per view options as well as chat and Facebook integration. They are lenient to a degree on copyright but are mysterious as to how to pre-approve content for broadcast. They are one of the most approachable live stream services with all kinds of software options and can stream your webcam with a few clicks from their dashboard. They really are very easy to use. With Android and iOS apps, you can broadcast from just about anywhere using only your phone, if that’s enough for you. In fact, while streaming the Sausalito Art Festival, we had some visitors making their own streaming content at the same time using the apps. It really is amazing what you can do with just a phone in your pocket these days.
Ustream is just all around decent and to be honest pretty vanilla. Like “livestream” the service is pretty much what you expect when you think generic live streaming. The problem here is that if you are a content creator, there are no ad revenue sharing options. Twitch and YouTube both have monetization options as features, which is important to a creator. Ustream allows you to pay to play and run your own ads, as well as a robust pay per view option, but nothing to help the bootstrapper. If you already have these things initiated in house, Ustream is a good option, but if you are looking for a way to make money from your content initially, you might want to look elsewhere.
Ustream’s coolest feature is the Ustream Producer software. There’s a free option and a paid option with pro features. It only works WITH Ustream, but it means they have one of the best interfaces to their service available in the industry.
Justin TV is the venerable first to market of the pack. Back in 2007 a Justin Kan and Emmet Shear created a website to live video stream Justin’s life. The initial offering was delivered via webcam from Justin’s hat and computers. They streamed 24/7 and people flocked to watch for some reason. Following that, Justin.tv pretty much invented the features and set the baseline for what a stream host should be. Twitch was a gaming niche spinoff. Justin has had it’s ups and downs but it remains one of the best for newcomers to the broadcasting space. You can pretty much expect the same features as Twitch and the same support ethic, as the teams are shared, but the audience is different here. You won’t have the rabid devotion to your content out of the box, like you do on Twitch, but that is not always a bad thing.
Livestream is another sort of “plain” offering. With great white label offerings and the ability to simply use it as a cloud service that overlays on top of your own delivery, Livestream is a great option for high end productions and established media outfits that do not self host. They tend to host a lot of high end productions and seem to be the “name brand” choice in entertainment productions. The biggest drawback here is the support ethic. Just about everything other than a basic SD stream is pay to play, they do not have a free HD option, nor do they have a revenue sharing option. This makes them awesome for high end users but not so appealing to the small shop.
Self hosting is a long discussion, but you can do just about anything that is possible with stream delivery if you are doing it yourself. You want to have ads served only to people in mississippi? Do it. You want to run multiple cameras and have some of them password protected? Do it. Want to make up some feature that no one has seen before? Do it. The caveat is that you have to do EVERYTHING yourself and I do mean everything. No one will sell your ads for you, no one will worry about the servers or how much bandwidth you are using. No one to call if your stream isn’t working, or answer the phone for your viewers when they can’t see anything. This is generally the option of the established distribution company, like Netflix, Hulu, CrunchyRoll and others. Anything is possible, but everything is on your shoulders.
The chart below has some of my picks for most important features when deciding which stream host you want to use, but in some cases features may have changed or been added since research. In other cases, while there may be some kind of feature that fits the description, it may essentially be inconsequential or unusable or not what you’d expect it to be (such as the case of social in YouTube’s offering). In all, they are all good for one reason or another and great starting points in online broadcasting. If you are new to broadcasting, welcome to the club, jump in with both feet, grab a webcam and get started. Basic accounts are free all around and all you need is something to say.