Companies that offer live-stream video have provided specialized services since late 2007. The market of viewers fluctuates wildly depending on events, but on average, roughly 150 million unique viewers worldwide watch live video streams each month. That viewership will more than double by 2014, to 321 million monthly viewers.
Raw viewership growth will be faster in the consumer segment, where individuals do the majority of the creating and viewing, and where the content features low per user revenue but very high growth and absolute numbers. Commercial streaming — entertainment content providers and business-to-business services — will see slow but steady growth, with higher per user revenue, but smaller absolute numbers of premium customers paying directly for the ability to create and view live content. Profoundly affecting the market and the technology basis for live streaming is the rapid growth of the mobile market.
Live-streaming companies have differing internal architectures for capturing and distributing streams, but common technological characteristics are the ability to receive live video from non-professional sources, like consumer video cameras and smartphones, and transcoding on the fly for a variety of output formats. A third characteristic is the ability to deliver high-quality video streams (some in HD) with minimal degradation (like latency and jitter).
Live-streaming companies have successfully delivered video of live events to audiences of more than 5 million viewers per hour. Those like Kyte, Livestream, Ustream and BitGravity serve both the consumer and commercial market segments. They are, however, primarily focused on offering a diverse platform of capabilities to commercial content providers seeking a mass audience, or to business-to-business customers. Others players, including Justin.tv and Qik, focus primarily on consumers as the content providers and viewers, and on the social media tools that prompt individuals to create, share and view each other’s live content. YouTube is just rolling out live- streaming capabilities. As the dominant online video service company, it straddles both market segments but has yet to deliver mass services.
The market will continue to be driven by sales of mobile devices, and advertising revenue will grow steadily as raw viewership increases sharply over the next few years. The plummeting costs of network services for content delivery will likely make it less expensive for live-streaming companies who pay for transport. And as the market grows, both in terms of viewers and of the number and type of content providers, it will support both companies with a diverse, one-stop-shop approach and those who specialize in particular content and audiences.