Digital video’s next battleground: live, real-time broadcasting

Live-streaming apps like Twitter’s Periscope have touched off a new arms race among the technology giants

James Van Der Beek  uses Periscope prior to the Dodgers' Hollywood Stars Night Game at Dodger Stadium on June 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

James Van Der Beek uses Periscope prior to the Dodgers’ Hollywood Stars Night Game at Dodger Stadium on June 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

In its earliest incarnation, almost all television was live-to-air—a person talking into a camera. By a roundabout route, the Internet is rediscovering and overhauling that experience for the streaming age. Live, real-time streaming video is shaping up to be the next big arms race among the technology giants

Periscope, the livestreaming video app owned by Twitter that lets anyone broadcast live video for free, announced last Friday that it has 10 million users watching more than 40 years’ worth of video each day. Businesses can make use of Periscope for live product demos, tutorials, or behind-the-scenes look at their products to better market it. They can also show what it’s like around the office for customers to connect with the people behind the business, host Q&A webinars and make exciting announcements about a new product or an event.

“We recently started a Periscope account to do sort of a behind the scenes of a San Francisco startup,” says Emily Schuman, community manager at Roost, a self-storage and parking company. “We’re using it for things like chats with our CEO, live talks that our COO gave at 500 Startups, and sometimes just fun things we do around the office.”

Facebook launched its own live-streaming service for celebrities earlier this month, which allows celebrity users to broadcast an event and viewers to comment as they’re watching. Unlike other live video services like Periscope and Snapchat, viewers can still watch the video later it they miss the live version.

And YouTube, the biggest internet video platform out there, is also beginning to focus on livestreaming. YouTube’s competitors, the likes of Vine, Snapchat, Meerkat and Periscope, have already lodged themselves in the video broadcasting sector with success, but the video-sharing giant is catching up. The number of live events on YouTube is rising: from soccer games to the Teen Choice Awards and live shots of Felix Baumgardner diving from Earth’s orbit. Manual Bronstein, YouTube’s head of product for consumers, says live video offers “creators,” YouTube’s term for its 21st-century star system, with a different way to connect with fans. “When they go live and they stream live,” Bronstein says, “they can actually create a more intimate connection with their fans. Where they can actually ask questions real-time, or they can like what the person is doing in real-time.”

Live video streaming has become the alternative channel now to cover video game tournaments and sports games. Twitch, a website that allows gamers to watch live streams of video game tournaments, has surpassed Facebook in peak traffic rankings in 2014, according to ReelSEO, a news site about video marketing. Fox Sports, last Friday, broadcast the first game of the German soccer season on YouTube, for free, all over the world. Wired reported that 2,735 people were glued to the stream and typing in the running chat window simultaneously during the game. That’s not anywhere near broadcast TV numbers, of course—but it’s still early days for YouTube and live events. And with Facebook, Twitter and others moving aggressively into the space, the competition for viewers is only going to get more intense. Ready for your close-up?