Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Streaming Consciousness

Posted on | June 12, 2009 | No Comments

Summary: Hardware and software technology has matured sufficiently to bring streaming live video to the desktop. Platforms are emerging that people and companies need to examine if they’re interested in exploring the modern world of broadcasting and its implications for communications.

I haven’t made a batch of beer in a few months and I’m getting antsy about that. Now is the perfect time to crank out a quick summer brew, lager that bad boy in the fridge for a month of so and then swill it in the dog days of August. That would be perfect.

But no.

Instead I (the evil genius I am) brew counter-cyclically. I make stouts in November that are ready by spring and lagers that are ready by Christmas. This way I have beer that pairs with nothing seasonal. The brewer’s term for this is “stupidity.”

At this moment, I’m distracted by something completely different: streaming video. I’ve been involved with video broadcasting for three decades, beginning with spot TV stints in Indiana, Rhode Island and San Jose and then having enjoyed a long stretch doing technology interviews with my brother Kirk (Fuller Digital Media) for kicks and for EE Times.

You’re On

Live-streaming technology is here now, and the $64,000 question is “who cares?” We’ve had video on demand from YouTube for years. Video production is cheap and easy; plop it up on your site and you’re good to go. So why bother with streaming?

Perhaps for two reasons: It’s here now and it’s easy. And, two, you can create an immediacy that has its own cache. Through that immediacy you can interact with the participants via chat, via Skype calls to participate in the interviews or the event. Live also is dangerous. You never quite know what might happen, which adds entertainment value (“Saturday Night Live” still believes in it).

That said, there’s an opportunity for companies to adopt the technology for training, for broadcasting thought leadership, for collaborative work, for branding. There’s a value there. How much has yet to be quantified.

I’ve played around or previewed several streaming technologies recently not only to understand them but select one to use for a show I want to do.

Here’s what I’ve come across so far:

  • TokBox: This platform is largely for video chat in a community of friends and colleagues or to send video mail. It’s a really lovely interface, simple to set up and use. It has public and private settings, and its user settings aren’t overly complicated like some other platforms. If you have a built-in Web cam and speaker or even a USB-enabled Web cam, you’re set to broadcast. It allows you to embed the video player as well on a blog or another site. It’s free.
  • livestream-logoLiveStream: The newly renamed Mogulus is a powerful platform for video broadcasters. You can invite people to watch your stream in this environment or embed a player elsewhere. The good news: The editing capabilities are the most robust of any of the free platforms I’ve come across. The bad news: The editing capabilities are the most robust of any of the free platforms I’ve come across. The interface is complicated for the average person. It requires you to set up story boards and import graphics, text and video to produce a really cool show. I have no doubt that once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be the coolest streaming broadcaster on your block, but it will take a long time to get there. It’s free, but you can get really serious for a monthly fee.
  • UStream: This free platform has the same live broadcasting, archiving capabilities of some of the other platforms and allows you to drop in titles and other cool features, but its interface is much easier to use, although the end product might not be as slick as, say, a LiveStream. As with LiveStream, if you’re doing this alone, you need to be able not only to do your program (say, an interview) but play around with the control panel to pop up an interviewee’s name for a time and then take it down. It doesn’t appear that these titles can be automated in UStream. Another issue, at least for me, is archiving. Some of these platforms archive (record) at the touch of a button, but they don’t record your graphics or titles. I prefer to have a “permanent” show archived somewhere such as YouTube (which UStream exports to automatically), but I want people who view the show later to see an intro, outro and titles. That requires a bit of editing. Since UStream captures the streaming broadcast in .flv (flash) format, you need to convert that file to .avi and edit in that before posting you’re polished product to a YouTube or your corporate site. There doesn’t appear to be any way to repost an edited version to UStream to be included among your videos.
  • Vpype: You probably haven’t heard of this company because they’re still in stealth mode. They’re a streaming video technology as well, coming out (at least initially) as a Facebook application. The interface is very straightforward and easy to use. The upside is you can invite a large audience of Facebook, your friend list on Facebook or just a subset of that list, so the audience is user-selected. However, the current version doesn’t export to other platforms, such as YouTube. In addition, Vpype has an Achilles Heel (in my opinion) that the other platforms don’t: To use it as a broadcaster you must pay. That model I doubt will work in a world in which other streaming video platforms (that can tie nicely into Facebook) are free and paid for by inserting text ads in the video streams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the founders re-assess this model.

So the next big thing is upon us, streaming video. Moore’s Law has again brought the cost of technology to essentially zero. The trick, as always with digital communications, is to marry the message with the medium.

I’d be really interested in hearing from people who’ve used any of these platforms, why you’ve used them, what you’ve learned, what works, what doesn’t.

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