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Thinking of Getting Into Live Video Streaming? Here's Where to Start

This post is part of a series called How to Broadcast Live Video.
Live Video: What's Keeping You From Hitting Record?

While live streaming over the internet has been around since the mid-2000s, it’s only in the last few years that access to speedy internet connections and affordable broadcast technology has become accessible enough for the idea of do-it-yourself video broadcasting to really take off.

Now it’s possible for anyone with a smartphone to broadcast their day to day life. Huge companies use the internet to live stream massive events. And millions of people watch gamers play live online every day. Live streaming is officially here.

With live streaming taking off so quickly, it’s hard to know what each service does and how they’re different to the others. In this article I’m going to look at some of the major players in the industry right now and explain where they fit into the big picture. If you’re looking to start live streaming, this tutorial will help you decide which platform is right for you.

Periscope (and Meercat): Mobile Broadcasting

Periscope is the main mobile live streaming app. Although Meercat, which has very similar features, was launched first and initially attracted a lot of press, Periscope has one out. It was acquired by Twitter and benefited from integration with the massive social network. Meercat is basically dead in the water.

the periscope website
A screenshot of the Periscope website showing a phone watching a live broadcast.

With both apps, anyone can use their smartphone to broadcast video at any time. Anyone else with the app can watch live. 

Periscope is still quite new and hasn’t really settled into itself or developed a huge community. From my experience, most Periscope streamers are people involved or interested in the San Francisco start-up scene. The immediate nature of the app makes it hard to build an audience.

With that said, it’s by far the most casual and easiest of the platforms to get started with. Download the app for your smartphone and you can start live streaming straight away. Whether anyone watches or not is a different question.

Twitch: Gaming (and More)

Twitch is a live streaming site dedicated to video games. It’s now owned by Amazon. Gamers use it to live stream their playing sessions while hundreds of people watch—or at least, watch the successful channels.

Twitch is incredibly popular. More than 1.7 million people lives stream their games every month while over 100 million others watch on. It’s a cultural institution in the gaming community.

twitch
A Twitch streamers plays Heartstone.

Twitch isn’t just for casual streaming; some gamers make significant amounts of money—thousands of dollars a month for the most popular players. There’s three ways they do this: first, all Twitch users can take donations while they play; second, Twitch Partners receive a share of ad revenue from their channel; and third, Twitch Partners can have subscribers who pay five dollars a month for some extra features. 

Despite the success stories, making money on Twitch isn’t easy. Gamers need to be running popular channels and streaming regularly before they can become a partner. Out of close to two million streamers, only around 12,000 are partners. 

Most people, though, don’t use Twitch to make money. It’s about community and sharing a love for video games. Unfortunately, like a lot of video game communities some members—especially women—get a lot of abuse. 

While Twitch is mostly for streaming games, some artists live stream while they work. There are a couple of digital artists and retouchers with channels. Twitch as a company has also experimented with different things; last year, the entirety of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting was streamed on Twitch.

If you’re a gamer and want to live stream as you play. Twitch is the only platform worth seriously considering. There are artists using it although they are only a small part of a very large community. Depending on what you want to achieve with live streaming, it still may be worth using.

Facebook Live Video: A Free-for-All

Although a little late to the party, Facebook's Live Video has quickly become one of the biggest players. People as diverse as Vin Diesel, Ricky Gervais and Barrack Obama have run Facebook Live broadcasts.

whitehouse live stream
One of The White House's live streams.

Anyone with a Facebook Profile or Page can broadcast live video from it. While broadcasting from your profile will reach your friends, broadcasting from a page has a lot more potential to reach a large audience. The Tuts+ network has hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans; we could, in theory, use Facebook Live Video to broadcast tutorials as we record them.

Facebook Live videos are saved to the page once the broadcast finishes so even fans who aren’t online when it goes live can check it out.

The tone and community that surrounds Facebook Live videos is dependent on who’s recording them: The White House broadcasts Obama’s scripted speeches while photographers like Chase Jarvis do live Q&As. The President of the United States doesn’t get asked “what the Rock is cooking?” but nor does the Rock take questions on the finer points of Middle Eastern foreign policy.

With more than a billion Facebook users, Facebook Live video has the greatest potential reach. It’s built on top of an already incredibly popular network. If you were to choose one place to live stream video, your Facebook page is probably the best bet. Your fans are already there and you don’t have to fight to create a new audience.

YouTube Live Streaming: TV-Like Broadcasts

YouTube has done live streaming for a few years, however, it’s mainly been geared towards professional organisations rather than consumers. For example, the UFC live streams their pay-per-view cards on YouTube.

ufc youtube page
The UFC live stream their events through YouTube.

YouTube live streaming is more of a replacement for traditional broadcast TV than a casual service for consumers like Periscope or Meerkat. You can’t just go live and find viewers through your social media profiles.

If you’re planning a professional broadcast, YouTube live may be the service to use. You can schedule it in advance, set up multiple cameras and treat it like a live TV show. You just need to make sure people know when it will be on.

Google Hangouts: Conversations

Although Google Hangouts was launched as a competitor to Skype, it’s developed a much broader scope. As well as Skype-like video conferencing between people, you can broadcast your conversations live on the internet.

google hangouts splash
A Google Hangouts splash screen.

Trey Ratcliff became famous partly because of his Google Hangouts. He’d interview other photographers, teach and generally just hang with his fans.

Hangouts is also popular with podcasters who use it to record their podcasts live. 

Ustream and Livestream: Enterprise Platforms

Ustream and Livestream are two of the earliest successful live streaming sites. Over time, the focus of both companies has switched focus from consumers to businesses. They've also expanded to offer dedicated hardware and software, like video encoding boxes and production switchers. These platforms are often used to power live broadcasts on other sites. If you watch a live stream embedded on any larger commercial website, there’s a good chance it’s running through Ustream or Livestream.

ustream pro
Ustream is a more professional solution.

NASA, the Discovery Channel, Sony and countless other companies all use Ustream. The plans and pricing reflect this professional focus: a Pro subscription costs at least $100 a month. There’s a free plan but your live stream will get interrupted by ads.

If you’re looking for the ultimate live streaming solution, Ustream and Livestream are worth considering. They are, however, about providing technology and service more than delivering a ready-made  viewing community. This strategy requires a lot more investment of time and money to use correctly.

What Else is Out There

In this article I’ve outlined some of the major players in live streaming. It’s a rapidly growing technology and the companies that are leading now may not be the leaders in two or three years. There are also hundreds of other companies competing for users and attention (including plenty of decidedly adult-oriented sites). Some, like Snapchat, blur the line of what live really means. Others, like Blab.im, are targeting very specific people—in this case podcasters who want to record live. 

If you know of any live streaming sites, and in particular, live streaming communities, I’ve missed please share them in the comments.

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