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HomeTechThe Rise of Live Streaming Services: A Comprehensive Guide

The Rise of Live Streaming Services: A Comprehensive Guide


An honorable mention goes to the precursor of today’s popular services: Ustream. Launched back in 2007, Ustream was one of a collection of live streaming services that managed to gain traction around the mid-2000s. I say collection because Twitch, today’s most popular live streaming platform for gaming, was actually an offshoot of Justin.tv. For those wondering, it was a 24/7 live streaming reality show that launched in 2007. So, the continuation of Twitch effectively solidified live streaming’s presence within online entertainment.

It’s easy to do a quick Google search and find a ton of services dedicated to live streaming, but are there any that have succeeded in bringing in mainstream appeal? The answer is yes. In fact, we were quite close to completely missing out on live streaming’s current dominance as it didn’t always have a home.

What is live streaming? First of all, what is live streaming? Live streaming technology allows you to watch, create and share videos in real time, a bit like live TV. All you need to be able to live stream is an internet-enabled device, like a smartphone or tablet, and a platform (such as a website or app) to live stream from. Current popular live streaming apps include Facebook Live, Instagram Live stories, Twitch TV, and Periscope, which is a live streaming service owned by Twitter. Live streaming is far more accessible than traditional methods of live broadcasting such as TV, and it’s safe to say the world has quickly taken notice.

What is live streaming?

The idea of live streaming has been crossing into everyday life over the past few years, with live streams covering major events such as the presidential campaign. This is mainly due to the advancement of smartphones to where they can handle HD video and fast enough internet to upload said videos. This opens up many possibilities for live streaming events in video form wherever a connection is available. Live streaming has also been used in emergencies for the general public to get a news source, for example, during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the shooting of Michael Brown. With live streaming becoming more prominent in everyday life, its consistency and automation are becoming more essential for video testing and monitoring.

Live streaming has become popular in recent years due to the popularity of Twitch. It is primarily used by gamers and programmers to live update their followers. Twitch has made it into the mainstream streaming market, allowing viewers to watch their favorite streamers live instead of watching a prerecorded video.

Live streaming is the procedure of transmitting continuous video or sound to a beneficiary over the internet. Widely used video platforms, such as YouTube, tend to use centralizing workers who re-encode the video and deliver it to reduce the transmission rate while increasing the stability of transmission. Recorded videos can be re-encoded and uploaded whenever. However, live streaming allows direct communication with the user as it is decoded at the customer’s PC and can be viewed as it appears. There is relatively little latency while transmitting these items. Any futile attempts to set up a direct connection result in a faltered or dropped video transfer.

Evolution of live streaming services

The evolution of live streaming and the general internet has always revolved around finding ways to monetize traffic. Webcasting was first introduced in 1990, then evolved to become a valuable tool for marketing and advertising that would increase brand awareness and site stickiness. Currently, in the age of viral media, live streaming has made its way as a new content and is also a great tool for marketing and encouraging user participation through giveaways.

Live streaming is an interactive and engaging way to reach and create a connection with a targeted audience. The technique was first utilized in the late 1990s through cutting-edge streaming technologies that evolved during the dot-com boom. Those involved in technology and internet browsers were the leading actors in the implementation of streaming technology and its applications. Today, technology has come a long way from the days of struggling with 14.4kbps modems, as more people now have broadband connections which provide superior quality of streaming media.

Benefits of live streaming

Playback control Playback control gives the viewer the ability to jump to any point in the video playback without delay. This is useful in many cases. For example, in an educational setting, it would allow a student to skip to any part of a lecture they may have missed. In an esports event, it can allow a viewer to jump to the live stream easily if they have only just decided to start watching. This feature is not available with traditional livestreams and has many similar implementations with live replays.

Low latency One of the primary benefits of live streaming is the potential for reducing the delay between the original event and its viewing on the stream. By having less delay, a brand or an influencer is able to respond more quickly to viewers and have a more interactive conversation. This can result in a higher quality interaction between the streamer and the viewers. For example, in a study done by ReelSEO, it was found that 87% of audiences would prefer to watch a game online if it meant they got to interact with the players.

Popular Live Streaming Platforms

Instagram Live is a feature on Instagram Stories that allows users to stream live video to followers and engage with them in real time. When a user starts a live stream, a “LIVE” badge is placed on the Instagram Stories bubble and users can view it by clicking on the bubble. Notifications are sent to all followers when a user starts a live stream, so users don’t have to actively check to see if a live stream is in progress.

Facebook Live is a feature of Facebook for mobile devices which allows users to broadcast live video to other users on their news feed. Facebook Live was announced on April 6, 2016, and was available only to public figures before its general release on January 28, 2016. For political use, including by the President of the United States, Facebook Live has been used by media outlets and higher education to live stream events.

YouTube Live is an extension of YouTube which serves as a platform for live streaming of videos. Several major series made their return to YouTube live streams as tournaments, vlogs, or live podcasts. On April 6, 2017, YouTube announced that it would rename YouTube Connect to YouTube Live and add the ability to live stream within its mobile app. YouTube Live is available on its mobile app with GoPro and DJI compatible drones.

Twitch is a leading live streaming platform that focuses largely on video game live streaming. Content creators on the site can earn affiliate or partner subscriptions from viewers and also sell originals and replicas of fan-purchased products via partner companies on the platform. In October 2017, Twitch claimed to have a market share of 17% of all internet traffic within the United States. In February 2014, Twitch came under fire when it was discovered that some users were hijacking other users’ streams and displaying pornography on the original streamer’s channel. Twitch legal and executive staff blamed the sabotage on anti-competitive business practices and accused the now-defunct nootropic design firm of sending users to crash Twitch’s site.


Launched in 2011, Twitch is a global online video streaming platform whose live and video on demand (VOD) service specializes in video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to music broadcasts, creative content, and more recently, “in real life” streams. Content on the site can be viewed either live or via video on demand. The popularity of Twitch eclipsed that of its general-interest counterpart. In October 2013, the website had 45 million unique viewers, and by February 2014, it was considered the fourth largest source of peak internet traffic in the United States. At the same time, Justin.tv’s parent company was rebranded as Twitch Interactive to represent the shift in focus – Justin.tv was shut down in August 2014. That same month, the media company The Verge ranked Twitch the fourth best gaming website in 2014. In 2015, Twitch announced it had more than 1.5 million broadcasters and 100 million visitors per month.

YouTube Live

The obvious difference between YouTube Live and its competitors is that YouTube Live is already integrated into the world’s most popular video sharing site. Anyone who has at least 100 subscribers is able to start a live stream and monetize from it using Google AdSense. This makes it really easy for people who have already established an audience with their YouTube videos to transition into live streaming games, vlogs, or any type of video content. The chat and moderation features allow YouTubers to easily manage their community and is a great way to introduce subscribers to a more interactive form of content. A feature similar to Twitch Clips is also available, allowing viewers to capture and share 60s highlights from a live stream or video.

YouTube launched its own live streaming service back in April 2011, when the entire live streaming industry was still in its fledgling stage. Thus, it’s no surprise if many people aren’t familiar with it. This is because YouTube Live is still relatively unknown compared to other platforms like Twitch. However, YouTube Live’s platform has far more features to offer.

Facebook Live

Live is used to publish and engage users through photos and videos in real-time. However, as studies suggest, users post 75% more videos than at the beginning of Live in 2016. It has been predicted that Live would be a considerable force for video publishers and advertisers. Through targeting, advertisers will be able to place ads on Live’s broadcast for a wider reach of the audience, and video publishers will be able to spend ad breaks on their longer videos, bringing a new form of engagement while providing monetization for publishers. In the future, Live plans to develop a place where video publishers and content creators could go live with a friend to share the screen and a feature for users to send invitations to friends, encouraging connections between users.

Developed in April 2016, Facebook Live is a widespread phenomenon that has gained a considerable following over the years, allowing registered users to connect with their audience through a live streaming service that could be accessed through a smartphone or the web. The feature is easy to operate, with live broadcasts often showing up on people’s newsfeeds, making it easily accessible for Facebook users. This service is particularly engaging, giving viewers the ability to comment on the broadcast. Meanwhile, the broadcaster can respond through audio or comments, giving it an interactive feel. After the broadcast has finished, the video could be saved onto their timeline or deleted, depending on the user’s discretion. This could be a viable option for businesses looking to promote their service or product or to raise brand awareness, as it would reach the user’s following with notifications indicating when the broadcast is live or when it starts.

Instagram Live

Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, launched Instagram Live in December 2016. Instagram Live gained notoriety quickly due to the existing popularity of the Instagram app. The immediate access to stories and live content from a single application has led many creators to select Instagram Live as their streaming platform of choice. Live broadcasts are available in the stories bar along with regular story content but are now also immediately accessible from the landing page. Notifications are sent out to every follower when a user goes live, effectively meaning broadcasters are able to reach all their followers at once on an unprecedented scale. Instagram Live brings the versatility and power of live streaming directly into the hands of over 1 billion users without the need for a separate app or account. With the size and scope of the Instagram platform and the capabilities of the live feature, Instagram Live stands as a major contender in the market and a viable option for new and experienced creators looking to get into live content.

Live Streaming Equipment and Setup

For the absolutely simplest form of live streaming from your computer, Flash Media Encoder is the most basic and necessary component. In order to broadcast a live stream from your computer to a web server, you need to install the application that is capable of taking your input and converting it into a streaming format. This will allow you to send the data to a server. There are many different types of live streaming software available, such as Flash Media Encoder and webcam video in Windows Movie Maker. However, stick to the software that gives the best quality. This will generally save your files onto your hard drive in a high-quality format, thus making the actual stream from your on-demand saved file more efficient and of good quality. A Windows-based encoder is easy to use with Microsoft servers and Windows Media formats. Additionally, there are standalone hardware encoders that can take video from a camcorder and convert it to an internet format. In turn, this connects to a USB port on your computer, providing a very simple plug-and-play solution. Audio and video sources connect to the device, and then a network connection is plugged in and used to configure the device. Configuration will be done with a web-based GUI using a computer or handheld device.

Cameras and webcams

Action cameras can be used as an alternative to webcams. It is possible to use an HDMI card like the Elgato to capture from the device. However, the cost-to-benefit ratio is generally not as good as a regular webcam.

Webcams are the easiest form of camera to capture video input from. They are designed to work with a PC or laptop and require no convoluted setup or capture method. It is also possible to use multiple webcams or capture cards to get video from multiple sources. For example, a streamer could have a face cam and a separate cam showing inputs from a game console.

When considering using a handheld camcorder or a DSLR for streaming, it is important to consider how the device is going to capture the input. Most camcorders and DSLR cameras have HDMI output. This is useful because the capture card can capture the HDMI signal to your PC. Cameras can be connected to a PC via USB, but it is preferred to use HDMI, as using a USB to connect a camcorder or DSLR might be problematic because the USB mode on most camcorders is used for file transfer, and not all DSLRs can be used as webcams.

Having a good quality camera or webcam is essential for creating a visually stimulating stream. There are many options to consider, including high-end camcorders, webcams, DSLRs, and even action cameras like the GoPro.

Microphones and audio equipment

Step into a music or art stream, and you will see another method of capturing sound, through the use of a clip-on lapel mic. Lapel mics are great if you need to make a lot of movement as they clip on to you and provide a hands-free method of capturing your voice. Their quality varies, but a good lapel mic can be obtained for around $50. Finally, if you play acoustic instruments or sing, you may need to capture their sound in addition to your voice. This can be done using a music microphone. The differences between these and other microphones are beyond the scope of this article, suffice to say that if you have experience with instruments and audio, you will likely already know how to record them.

Similar to webcams, and perhaps even more so, there is a staggering amount of choice when it comes to selecting a microphone. At a very basic level, you can spend as little as $20 to get a microphone that is light-years ahead of any built-in webcam microphone. Generally though, if you are serious about achieving high production quality, you will be looking to spend at least $100. At this price point, you can get studio-quality USB microphones that will more than suffice for streaming purposes. If you want to go a step further, you can spend several hundred or even a thousand on XLR microphones. This cost can be quite daunting, but if you are serious about quality, XLR mics will provide an unrivaled level of clarity and richness in your voice. Be careful though, as XLR microphones pick up a lot of background noise, so they are not ideal if you have a loud environment that you cannot soundproof.

There’s a saying in the music world that goes “the music never lies.” No truer does this saying mean when it comes to streaming qualities. Nothing will give away the fact that someone has low production quality more than poor audio. Your viewers can forgive you for having a less than professional looking stream, but having poor audio quality will drive them away like no other factor can. The most basic set up for capturing sound is simply a microphone hooked up to your PC. Most webcams these days come with a built-in mic, but there is a substantial difference in sound quality when using a separate microphone.

Lighting setup

Lighting is an important aspect of any production, and it can make or break your live stream. We’re all familiar with the notion of actors being “badly lit”, and the same is true of live streaming. Viewers need to clearly see what’s going on; if they can’t, they’ll quickly become disinterested and move on to another stream. A stable, well-lit image that doesn’t flicker, strobe or cut out is crucial. The best way to achieve this is with professional video lighting equipment, but these are often expensive and can be overkill unless you’re doing a high-end studio production. More budget-friendly are standard photo light stands with umbrellas or soft-boxes, which are usually around 250W and can be bought as a kit with two lights and stands for around £100. Any lower and you may struggle to get enough light. Light colour is also important; some people operate on a single light in a room, which can be an unflattering yellow or green colour. Ambient light is also important to provide the best, distraction-free experience for the viewer. Note that this will only work if the source of the ambient light remains constant. Changing outdoor lighting conditions will adversely affect cameras with fixed exposure settings.

Software and streaming platforms

There are also many free software packages available. This ranges from basic webcam/capture software bundled with video input hardware, to the more advanced streaming/recording software such as Windows Media Encoder or the Real Producer series. Windows Media Encoder can be used to broadcast live audio and video content to a Windows Media server. With its support for multiple codecs, this would be suitable for a variety of setups from a basic webcam to an S-Video input from a digital camcorder. Real Producer is a powerful tool for creating VOD, but its free version (Real Producer Basic) can do a simple live stream to the Helix Server.

For the absolute beginner or those with a tight budget, video input cards often come bundled with basic video capture/editing software. An example of this is the Pinnacle PCTV package that comes with a basic capture module. Webcams may also come bundled with software, typically a more advanced version of video capture software (like the Logitech Quickcam software).

There is a wealth of software available for broadcasting live over the internet. The specification of your setup, available funds, personal preference, and somewhat your technical knowledge will dictate what software you can use.

Tips for Successful Live Streaming

Although it is clear that live streaming has its benefits and is a potentially more efficient platform than uploading videos, ill-preparedness can lead to a poor stream. Making sure you are fully prepared for streaming and how to effectively execute that will be an impactful article for the future of content creators who wish to try streaming.

To secure a viewer’s return is all about the impression. Viewers are more likely to return to a streamer that has provided an enjoyable experience, and the way to gauge the quality of a viewer’s experience is the retention rate. A high retention rate means that viewers are staying around for the majority of the stream and are likely to return for future streams. Gathering feedback about your stream from consistent viewers will be useful in finding strengths and weaknesses, but the quality of the stream can also be objectively measured through technical statistics. High quality and performance should be seen through viewer statistics. If the number of viewers suddenly drops, it is likely that they are having issues viewing the stream. A comprehensive guide on refining and defining viewer experience based on viewer counts, stream quality, and playback issues can be found here.

Familiarity is also important. People are more likely to stick around if they find something familiar to them, and whether it be good or bad, people will always remember something that is different from the norm. This can be a key point in building a loyal fan base because more often than not, those who hold similar interests will stick around.

Remember that if people are taking the time to watch your stream as opposed to a video, they want to be entertained. Tailoring your stream to suit the needs of your viewers will ensure that they stick around. This can be anything from taking part in challenges and playing games with viewers, to providing insightful commentary on a game or topic. The viewer wants a more personal experience than a standard video, and that can be achieved by interacting with them. A good way to manage viewer interaction is a live Q&A to get to know your viewers or answering questions from the comments section, but remember to be respectful and responsible with how you are behaving because everything you do is public, and nobody is going to want to watch or support a streamer who conducts themselves inappropriately.

The first thing at making a successful live stream, just like any video that goes online, is promotion. If nobody knows it’s there, nobody will watch it. Social networking websites are a good way to promote your stream and can be done so for free. Twitter is a very useful tool for notifying people when you are about to go live, as you can post regular updates and then a tweet just before you are about to start. YouTube now has a community tab where you can share updates about the future of your channel with your subscribers, or you can just make a post that will appear on the notifications board for your subscribers to see. Instagram and Facebook can also be useful because you can share more visual content that will be linked to the live stream, but it may be more difficult to reach potential viewers if you are not an established influencer of those platforms.

The previous section about the quality of live streams explained the main differences and what will make a live stream better or worse. This section will give you some tips and tricks for when you are streaming. It will cover what you can do to increase the popularity of your live stream, how to keep an audience, and dealing with problems and improving the stream for the future.

Planning and promoting your live stream

Social media is the most effective tool when it comes to promoting your live stream. Post content on a regular basis on the platforms that your brand is most active on. Make sure to mention your live stream when appropriate and post about a week before your live stream, begin to post regularly. This will build up anticipation for your live stream. It’s important to note that if your brand is seen as unattractive, you are told not to promote your live stream too much. Your content should pique the interests of your audience and lead them to your live stream—so be sure to save some of your best material for the live stream itself!

When you’re first starting out with live streaming, it’s essential to plan your live stream ahead of time. Choose a specific time and date for your live stream. This will give your viewers plenty of notice, and it will give you time to adequately promote your live stream. Create a content schedule to give your live stream some direction and organization. Viewers will be more attracted to a live stream when they know what to expect. You should also plan out some content to use as promotional material. This could be anything from creating images for social media to pre-recorded video to build hype.

Engaging with your audience

An effective way to manage audience interaction is to have a second monitor set up for your live stream dashboard, which has your stream and a chat box. This will allow you to quickly glance at the chat while it is still fresh and not have to constantly alt-tab out of your game or other content.

The most important step in engaging your audience is to read the chat frequently and respond to viewers. If a viewer asks a question or makes a comment and it is ignored, they will likely feel unappreciated and may be less inclined to interact in the future. However, if they see that you respond to their comment, it can create a significant positive experience for that viewer and they are more likely to become a repeat viewer. This concept may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often streamers miss this point.

Live streaming represents an entirely new opportunity for audience engagement, as it is very different from recorded video content like YouTube. Live streaming can involve your audience in your content in much more personal and immediate ways, and this can create a much stronger sense of community around your channel. But if your viewers don’t feel involved in your content, they may quickly become disinterested. Therefore, it is crucial to actively engage your viewers throughout your live streams.

Managing technical issues

There are many causes for a stream to fail: hardware failure, the service you’re using could be down, or there could be a problem with your internet connection. The best way to quickly diagnose the source of the problem is to use a diagnostic program like PingPlotter to ping the server you’re streaming to. If you’re dropping a large amount of packets at your end, this usually indicates a fault at your ISP. Contact them with the information from your test to get it resolved. If the problem is at the hosting end, there’s not a lot you can do but wait for it to be fixed. Make sure you’re in contact with the support team for the service to keep on top of the issue. We’ll talk further about what to do in the worst-case scenario later.

When you analyze the problems, what you have to deal with in your workplace and those technical issues that hamper your ability to deliver information, it is best to be prepared. As unpredictable as technology can be at times, there’s always a likelihood technical issues will occur in your live stream despite your prior planning. Those involved with larger scale streaming using dedicated servers are more likely to encounter serious issues, but even the most basic set ups can be affected. We should divide the potential problems into two categories: those which will stop the stream and those which the viewer will notice. Issues which stop the stream are the most detrimental to the success of your broadcast.

Analyzing and improving your live streams

A smaller investment type stream such as a webinar or small event broadcast may seek to evaluate whether the time and funds spent were justifiable for the audience reached. A company looking to reach an industry niche with limited funds may find that a trade show booth and transport for 3 people can be emulated with a web seminar reaching a similar number of leads, and the seminar may cost less overall. In these cases, Google Analytics can provide invaluable data on whether internet traffic was increased by the stream, and whether that traffic was sustained. High traffic with a view duration of over five seconds is more likely to be potential customers, and the stream can be evaluated based on how many conversions resulted from the increased traffic.

Monetized events have the added bonus of being able to make some return on investment through a pay-per-view setup, increasing ROI being a goal of future promotions. PPV event can be evaluated based on the number of available streams versus the number of purchases. If a significant portion of purchases are the result of light viewers deciding impulsively, it implies that a strong pre-event advertising push can be more effective.

Evaluating a live stream can be somewhat complex, depending on your goal in broadcasting it. A multi-camera concert or other live event for mass consumption will have a fairly straightforward method of evaluation – viewer numbers. Were more people watching at the midpoint than the start? Did the numbers decline during a particular song? These indicators can help content producers see what kind of content keeps the viewer’s attention, and perhaps more importantly, what drives them away.

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