Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

The Live Video Revolution

As the largest collection of live trucks my colleagues and I had ever witnessed beamed images of the horrifying massacre at Virginia Tech, a live TV revolution was quietly happening on the internet.
Prompted by “always on” Justin.tv, suddednly everyone’s video had to be live. Tech evangelist Chris Pirillo was live streaming on Ustream, when news of an earthquake in Mexico fell in his lap. His live stream then became a source of information and communication about the quake. I managed to catch a bit of Robert Scoble driving to the Web 2.0 conference on his live Ustream feed. Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan now have their own live show and Steve Garfield, on the cutting edge as always, has been going live via Comvu with his Nokia N95.
And now politicians have thrown their hats into the ring..so to speak. Ustream CEO Chris Yeh tells me that Senator Chris Dodd’s war room will be streamed live, using Ustream’s service, during the South Carolina Democratic Debates. So while Jeff Jarvis is miffed at NBC for “stealing” tonight’s debate, at least one of the candidates will provide a unique, behind-the scenes live view.

The current fascination with live video is very interesting to me. It is extremely empowering to be “live” in the “right now” of the moment. Live is a call to action. But what makes Ustream’s live video platform unique is the interactivity. It’s one to many and many to one. Here Chris Pirillo and Robert Scoble talk about how the audience interactivity is real value in live video. DISCLOSURE!!: I did NOT NOT shoot this video. It’s a wee bit shaky, but it’s the content that counts.


My first experience with transmitting live video was some 16 years ago, when I lofted the 60 foot aluminum mast of a WRC-TV live truck, while covering a grocery store shooting in Southeast DC. Flicking the switch on the 2Ghz transmitter from “standby” to “transmit” was enormously empowering…even magical. Since then I’ve transmitted live video, in the form of broadcast news, via microwave, satellite and fiber optics. I’m pretty jaded to being live at work (NBC News), and I grow restless being tied to a control room.

The notion of easy, live video, available to anyone with broadband and a camera, has really re-kindled that empowering feeling i first felt 16 years ago. I’ve been playing with Stickam for a few months now. It’s pretty cool but my live offerings are limited to video tours of my environs with an audience I’ve lured away from their Twittering.

I think the context of live is as important as the content. Frankly people sitting in front of webcams !!LIVE!! has a certain “so what” factor to it. Integrating the live video experience into real time events of significance is where this tecnhology will shine. Right now most of us are experimenting and doing it because we can (and that’s fun!). Where we’ll see growth and the real value of live is when it’s used in the proper context.

Earlier today I spoke with Ustream’s acting CEO, Chris Yeh, he agreed with me that the “always on” model of live internet TV would wain in favor of live in some type of context. Yeh believes Ustream wins, echoing the thoughts of Pirillo and Scoble, by its interactivity.

What’s special about Ustream is the interactivity. In traditional
broadcasting, even traditional live broadcasting, there is no interaction.
And in the end, people crave interaction. Just look how many telephone
votes are cast on American Idol each week. Ustream lets the viewers
interact with each other. Even more importantly, it lets them interact with
the broadcaster. This makes the viewers real participants in the broadcast,
and gives the broadcaster instant feedback to help improve the show.
-Chris Yeh

It will be interesting to see how the use of live web video evolves. It already has critics. Mathew Ingram asks: “how much is too much?” Brian Solis points out that, while on the surface it appears that “narcissism” is the driving factor of this technology, “live” has much more value beyond that. I believe we will see tremendous value from live streaming video. Imagine if Jamal Albarghouti had been able to stream live video from his phone during the Virginia Tech shootings. The potential for video journalism is huge, both for independant and mainstream media.

So fellow media makers, how does live video fit into your media toolkit?

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  • http://jonnygoldstein.com jonny goldstein

    Live video can be amazing. Doing it over the web is still pretty clunky, but it’s going to get better. Live is great if it’s a newsworthy event unfolding in real time and/or it allows for interactivity. I had a blast hosting a live web video talk show where interviewees could be present via their webcams. The production values we were able to get doing it over the web sucked, but the interactivity with our audience and our guests was gold. I’m excited momentum is building for live web and mobile video.

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  • Camilo Cuadra

    I have a question, how can you send feedback of whatever is being broadcast to the reporter from the switcher without using cellphones? Is there any method that I can use to talk to my reporter douring a live feed from a location to the studio and not to use my cell phone?

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