OTT going live

Live-event streaming is not new. Companies like Ustream and Livestream have been at it since 2007 and major sports leagues have been offering live streaming of out-of-market games for nearly as long. But at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas this week video streaming service providers were clearly preparing for a major expansion in the breadth and volume of content broadcast over-the-top.

“It’s the fastest growing part of our business,” thePlatform’s senior VP of sales and marketing Marty Roberts told me. “The Super Bowl and the Sochi Olympics were really proofs points for a lot of people. There’s also a lot of interest coming from regional sports networks who want to offer their games online.”

Roberts identified three key factors driving interest in live-event streaming.

“Rights are finally being cleared,” as part of broadcast deals, he said, giving broadcasters an incentive to offer over-the-top access. “We’re also now able to insert ad cues in sync with the broadcast breaks so you can insert ads directly into the stream that are different from the broadcast ads,” he added. “That means you can really monetize now against that stream.”

Success with events like the Super Bowl and Sochi have also helped overcome skepticism “that you could handle that kind of scale against a complex workflow,” he said.

Microsoft’s newly rebranded Azure Media Services (formerly Windows Media Services) also touted its live-streaming capabilties at NAB.

“Building on the success of live streaming the 2014 Winter Olympics to millions of customers in 22 countries, we will soon be opening up the underlying technology that made this possible in preview to our customers,” Microsoft said in a press release issued at the show. “Media Services customers will have access to the tools and services needed to handle everything from ingest to processing, and distribution of on-demand video content or streaming live events at Olympic scale, to nearly any device.”

As part of that effort, Microsoft also announced a series of strategic partnerships with streaming service providers including Ooyala and iStreamPlanet to support its live-streaming push.

“We think we have the right stack,” Bob De Haven, general manager of Microsoft’s Worldwide Communications & Media Enterprise & Partner Group said.

Verizon Digital Media Services, now bolstered by the acquisitions last year of EdgeCast and UpLynk, is also preparing for a major expansion in the volume of live content streamed online.

“Being able to do it at scale is obviously the key piece of it because the demand [for over-the-top access to live events] is insatiable,” VDMS’ chief revenue office Ralf Jacob said. Jacob, the former CEO of UpLynk, joined Verizon with the acquisition.

Like thePlatform’s Roberts, Jacob also pointed to ability to insert targeted, online-only ads dynamically as a critical capability. “You now have new viewing models that can be directly monetized, and if you can do that at scale that’s a very attractive model,” Jacob said.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the times was the appearance at NAB of Cleeng, a Netherlands-based startup that wants to become the Eventbrite for live-streamed events. It’s software allows event organizers to set up a ticketing page with a few clicks and accept payments using over 150 integrated payment methods, including SMS payments. Cleeng has also integrated its service with Brighcove’s and Kaltura’s streaming platforms, but can be used with Livestream, Ustream, YouTube and others as well.

“Right now, sports is the biggest part of our business because it has the highest volume at the highest average ticket price,” Cleeng CEO Gilles Domartini told me. “Sports can range anywhere from $10 to $50 for a major boxing event.” Live music concerts range from $5 to $20, he said.

Another rapidly growing category for Cleeng is religious events. “They’re really big in Asia and South America,” Domartini said.

Live-event streaming could soon be big everywhere.