Streaming Comes Alive With Music

Mar 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Troops serving in Kuwait became a part of the latest red-hot trend in online video last week when MySpace streamed a live concert from their location that featured Jessica Simpson, the Pussycat Dolls and other artists.
Live Web streaming has become one of the trendy new offshoots of the online video revolution, particularly in the music genre. DeepRock Drive.com offers live online concerts, the new Web show “Live@FYI” carries live performances from musicians and Woozyfly.com streams music performances on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Live streaming is gaining traction for other types of Web video, too. Online comedy duo Rhett and Link produce music videos for the Web and also host two live weekly shows online. Web reporter Andy Plesser, who produces Beet.tv, occasionally stream interviews with media executives on his site. Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton streams his recording sessions on a Ustream.tv channel. Videoblogger Steve Garfield often streams live reports from conferences.
Companies including Justin.tv, UStream.tv, Kyte.tv and Mogulus have cropped up to serve the demand for live streaming technology.
Live streaming generates revenue in a number of ways. First, the cachet of live streaming can help a Web site or Web show attract more viewers, and in turn more ads. For companies that power live streaming, most rely on an ad-revenue split and also offer the technology for a license fee. Most of these tech firms are newer, so they aren’t yet profitable.
While the Web-video business has been built on the on-demand philosophy of watch-when-you-want, there’s evidence that Internet consumers are willing to embrace the appointment-viewing strategy of live Web video.
Mogulus CEO Max Haot said usage of the service has more than doubled in two months. In February, Mogulus served up 50 million viewer minutes of live streaming content, up from 36 million in January. The site served 20 million viewer minutes in December.
But not every Internet viewer watches streamed videos in real time. Most sites and services that offer live streaming also post the videos in their archives for on-demand viewing. About 15% of viewers watch “Live@FYI” in real time, while the rest watch it on-demand, said Paul Kontonis, CEO of For Your Imagination, the Web studio that produces the show.
Mr. Haot said users who watch videos powered by Mogulus watch them live half the time and on-demand the other half.
“We want to let Web producers mix cameras from around the world and go live from different locations like a TV station does,” Mr. Haot said. “Our vision is to let people do everything a linear station does.”
For example, Mogulus powered live streaming feeds for Web show “The Uptake” for its coverage of the Super Tuesday primary elections last month.
Live streaming is not new. AOL was one of the first Web properties to experiment with the technology back in 2002. And in 2005, AOL put on the Live8 concerts around the world. The company has since pulled back its efforts in live video and is focusing on video search and its video portal.
Still, live streaming has surged in the last several months because costs have dropped dramatically.
“The ability to embed a live show just like you would a YouTube video is a very big technological advance and makes it the first time ever that you can distribute a live show without having to deal with media server (Real or Windows Media) issues,” said Mr. Kontonis.
Mogulus uses Web hosting services from Amazon.com that cost about 10% of what it could cost if Mogulus were to stream videos using a traditional content-delivery network, Mr. Haot said.
“There is no way we could make this model work without such a dramatic cost reduction,” he said.
Also making the MySpace concert in Kuwait were recent technological advances. The News Corp. unit partnered with technology company Kulabyte to stream the concert in high-definition.
Hi-def streaming requires four to six times the bandwidth of a standard-definition stream. But Kulabyte’s encoding technology enables MySpace to use 30% less bandwidth than a regular hi-def stream, the company said.
“This becomes even more challenging because of the intensive processing power required to encode such a large amount of data in real time,” said Jim Benedetto, senior VP of technology for MySpace. “We are taking a live, uncompressed HD video and audio stream in Kuwait, uplinking it by satellite, downlinking on the East Coast, and then re-uplinking by satellite back to Los Angeles. This sounds difficult, but it’s somewhat standard for live streams in the television industry.”
The MySpace concert is not available on-demand because it will be broadcast April 12 on cable network FX.
Delivery of live video is becoming a commodity, said Jonathan Bomser, CEO of WoozyFly.com.
Mogulus has been offering its service for free to Web video producers for the last year. In the coming months Mogulus will transition to offer both an ad-supported model, in which it shares revenue with Web producers, and a premium model, under which producers will pay a fee for the service.
Some companies aren’t big believers in live streaming. Despite the success of Live8, AOL delivered nearly 10 times the usage for the on-demand videos after the concert than 5 million streams it served on the day of the concerts itself.
“For these reasons, AOL is investing less in creating and producing live event programming,” said Fred McIntyre, senior VP for AOL Video. “We are watching the space closely, and if we see the new user behavior around personal broadcasting start to get traction, then we have a strong array of assets to leverage.”
Others believe live streaming is the future.
“You have events happening all over the planet being accessible to people all over the planet,” said Jeff Henshaw, CEO of online concert company DeepRockDrive. “You are no longer inhibited by an event happening in your hometown and you are no longer limited to where you can still drive to.”
To be successful, live streaming should include user participation, he said. During the DeepRockDrive concerts, Web viewers can send messages about the songs they want performers to play, and the musicians respond, Mr. Henshaw said. “Live@FYI” lets viewers submit questions during the show that the musician answers.


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