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Social networks and streaming: the race to online video

The race is on…

If you’ve been paying attention to web news in the last few months – and especially the last few weeks, you’ve inevitably noticed a trend. Social networks are going gaga for video. Behemoths and startups alike are announcing new video capabilities – live streaming, UHD, apps. Websites are scrambling to shore up their video capacities and offer new features. Companies that were never designed around video are making it a crux of their offering.

For good reason, it would seem. The Internet loves video – a lot. Video is captivating audiences everywhere, and on every device. On YouTube alone, over 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, and over 4 billion videos viewed every day. Video already accounts for over half of data exchanged over the Internet, and is set to represent 90% of traffic by 2018.

Video obviously has its perks. According to a recent Invodo study, retention rates reach 65% for visual information versus 10% for text only; shoppers who view a product video are almost twice as likely to purchase than non-viewers; over half of marketers esteem that video has the highest return on investment; video gets exponentially more clicks, shares and inbound links than text in general. The list goes on.

Video offers users a means to generate content and more actively interact with the website. It also offers brands the opportunity to create their own content, and even rival traditional media companies and video publishing platforms.

The lines are increasingly blurred, and industries are shifting focus.

Facebook will be video.

In the last few weeks, the Internet has been in a frenzy over recent acquisitions and features rolled out by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and newcomer Meerkat. In one way or another, they have all simplified video uploading and streaming directly within their platforms from any device.

Facebook has long been candid about its foray into video and intent to take on reigning video and ad kings YouTube and Google. Hitherto obliged to upload videos to a platform and then share them on Facebook, users can now upload videos directly to their timelines and even embed them in other websites, effectively cutting Google and YouTube out of both the viewer and advertisement circuit. Meanwhile, auto-play keeps viewers glued to the screen.

Not one to be outdone, YouTube announced just last week that it would once again focus its efforts on live streaming and experimenting with some pretty mind boggling UHD content.

Twitter, meanwhile, has been investing in video in 2012 with the acquisition of Vine. Today, however, the company is thinking bigger, with its own video platform for users to upload, edit and watch videos directly in their Twitter feeds. The real news, however, came this week, when the company disclosed that it had acquired Periscope in January to allow users to live stream directly to twitter feeds from a mobile phone.

And lest we forget the newcomer Meerkat – the live-streaming app that has spread immensely in under a month. With its new tool Katch, Meerkat users can upload any Meerkat stream to YouTube with a simple hashtag and tweet out the link instantly.

Meerkat will change the world.

(or at least the video landscape)

Platform politics and speculation on the live streaming craze aside, the implications are big.

Social networks have already revolutionized the way we communicate; they would now seem to be orchestrating a monumental shift in the way we consume news, video and even television.

Social networks and streaming: the race to online video
Photo: Anthony Quintano, Flickr

These platforms are creating a one-stop shop for all things online video. Live and uncut coverage of breaking news around the world – from both journalists and amateurs – in real-time in a Twitter feed? Concerts, sporting event and other experiences shared in the moment, from a cell phone to a friend’s computer screen? User-generated content is poised to change the way we consume news, with everyday Internet users becoming publishers and an entire community to inform, enjoy and fuel discussions in real time.

“Social networks have already revolutionized the way we communicate; they would now seem to be orchestrating a monumental shift in the way we consume news, video and even television.”

But it’s not just user content: social networks are also striking rights deals with big broadcasters. Twitter recently signed on for real-time ESPN highlights of NFL and college football games; Facebook picked up rights to NFL clips with ads from Verizon; Twitch will be streaming the Ultra Music Festival in Miami this spring. Platforms that once jealously guarded their content are now looking to these social media giants for cobranding opportunities and mutual ad revenues.

What will become of the streaming platform we know it? Why switch sites if sports or films or series are available right on Twitter or Facebook, for purchase with a single click? In the next few years, will the historic giants of online video have to fight to stay relevant? Could we even imagine a world without Netflix?

Investment, consolidation in the video ecosystem

In companies’ quest to switch to or ramp up online video services, we are seeing both huge investments and consolidation in the video ecosystem.

Those with the means are more and more eager to control as much of the experience as possible. To keep visitors on their sites, these networks are building their own platforms, rethinking video technology and leveraging the possibilities offered by state-of-the-art solutions along the value chain. Look no further than YouTube’s adoption of HTLM5 and WebRTC (which we talk about here) for adaptive streaming and in-browser communication capabilities – or to the Meerkat / Katch and Twitter / Periscope combinations for seamless live streaming.

In addition to video itself, these companies are also investing in related infrastructure to better control the processing, the ads, and the quality. Facebook has been notably busy in the last year, with the acquisition of the video advertising firm LiveRail and the infrastructure boost it got from the recent purchase of QuickFire, a startup specializing in compression technology. Consolidation is at work as giants gobble up smaller players and tighten their control over every aspect of their new media businesses.

But how are we going to deliver it?

Behind all of these changes to the way we consume media, the excitement over user-generated live streaming, and the creative ways platforms are heightening user experience, one goal remains clear: drive traffic.

For clicks, for shares, for visibility, for building advertisement profiles and predicting behavior, for generating revenue.

“Social networks will need innovative solutions if they hope to guarantee an acceptable quality of service.”

But what happens once we actually drive all this traffic? Video files are huge and only growing. While cellular carriers might look at apps like Meerkat and see dollar signs for their data packages, the influx of bandwidth-heavy traffic is a threat to already-strained networks. And as viewers have increasingly short attention spans, the buffering problems engendered by massive audiences may very well undermine the very goal they are there to achieve.

The next wave of innovation needs to be focused not on capturing video, but on handling it. Social networks will need innovative solutions if they hope to guarantee an acceptable quality of service. Video processing and compression are a good start, but will be for naught if they do not invest in delivery architecture capable of handling the video traffic they are working to bring in. Sustainable growth in video requires efficient solutions at traffic peaks and architectures designed to take advantage of an influx of viewers.

It’s an exciting time for video; we may very well be on the brink of the next big media revolution. Let’s not let video break the Internet.


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  1. Pingback: Media, Cable, Telecoms and the future of TV - Streamroot blog

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