In an increasingly connected world, live streaming is an important and accessible method for reaching audiences and sharing your message. Media companies aren’t the only ones who should invest in live streaming. Retailers, marketing agencies, event producers, and content creators can also benefit from this technology.
In this ultimate guide to live streaming, you’ll learn:
- What live streaming is
- How live streaming works
- Why live streaming is important
- The current state of live streaming
- The future of live streaming
- Who could benefit from broadcasting via live streaming
What is live streaming?
Live streaming involves transmitting a video from one source to viewers in various locations over the internet in real time.
While live streaming and live broadcasting may seem the same to audiences, they differ in how a video is disseminated. Live broadcasting transmits one video signal to many viewers, while live streaming transmits unique video signals of the same footage to each viewer.
It’s important not to confuse live streaming with streaming. When you tune into a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, for example, you’re watching pre-recorded footage. When you watch a live stream, on the other hand, you’re watching footage that’s being filmed at virtually the same time as it’s being disseminated.
Examples of live streaming include a TV station sharing live election results via the station’s website, or an influencer sharing a makeup tutorial in real time via Facebook Live.
How live streaming works in 8 steps
You just got a high-level overview of what live streaming is. Now we’re diving deep into the technical side of how this technology works.
1. Recording: Lights, camera, action
The first step of live streaming is capturing live footage. To go live, you need to film the content you want to share with your audience through recording equipment. You don’t need expensive equipment to live stream. You can go live with anything from a webcam or smartphone to a professional camera.
2. Compression: Making the footage small enough to transmit
As your on-screen talent or production team works their magic, your live-streaming technology compresses the large video files it’s receiving from the recording device. Compression makes footage small enough to transmit by getting rid of unnecessary data. It does this by rendering only what’s new in the frame.
Let’s say you’re live streaming a news broadcast of a reporter talking into a microphone. Compression technology recognizes that the background stays the same over many frames and therefore renders only the moving image of the reporter.
3. Encoding: Converting the file for output
After live footage is compressed, it’s encoded. Encoding means converting the raw input video files into a standard digital format that’s compatible with various media players for output. Encoding makes it possible to share large video files. The file type you choose will affect the outgoing video’s quality and speed.
4. Segmentation: Breaking up the video into smaller pieces
Even after compression and encoding, the video footage you want to transmit will still be quite large. That’s where segmentation comes in handy. This critical step breaks the footage up into smaller sections to make it easier to disseminate.
5. CDN distribution: Sending footage closer to viewers
Another way live streaming technology sends footage to viewers efficiently is by using content delivery networks (CDN). CDNs are server networks located all around the world that temporarily save footage and transmit it to nearby audiences. This way, the video only has to go a few miles from the CDN to the local audience, instead of from the origin server to a viewer, who could be halfway around the world.
The closer a viewer is to a CDN, the less of lag there will be on the live stream they’re watching.
6. Caching: Temporarily saving footage
As we mentioned, CDNs temporarily save – or cache – segments of footage to its servers before transmitting it to viewers. Caching minimizes round-trip time (RTT): how long it takes from data to travel to and from the origin server. Similar to how compression reuses rendered frames that don’t change, caching reuses footage that’s already been retrieved to deliver it to viewers more efficiently.
7. Decoding: Sending footage to viewers
In the penultimate step of live streaming, the CDN sends the encoded and compressed segmented video files from its servers to viewers’ devices. These devices then decode and decompress the footage, opening the smaller files for optimal viewing in a higher-quality format.
8. Playback: Live streaming in action
Now viewers can watch the live footage on their devices through one of a number of media platforms. They can watch through software, such as QuickTime Player, or an in-browser video player, like JW Player or YouTube. The media player takes the decoded video data, converts the data into visual information, and then plays the video for viewers to enjoy.
Why live streaming is important
Live streaming makes it easier than ever to share visual information online in real time. This broadcasting medium helps you reach a global audience in an accessible way, and provides unprecedented opportunities for monetization.
Live streaming makes it possible to broadcast online in real time. By using CDNs, live streaming reduces lag time as much as possible. This real-time capability is critical for certain types of media, like news and sporting events.
Engage audiences all over the world
Live streaming connects people around the world like never before. Not only does live streaming increase reach, but it also bolsters engagement. According to Conviva’s State of Streaming 2021, audiences watch 27% more minutes of live content than on-demand video content. This translates to about 25 minutes of live streaming content per watching session, compared to 19 minutes per video-on-demand (VOD) session.
Due to technological advances, the time-sensitive nature of live streaming, and audience engagement, live streaming creates various opportunities for monetization. Media publishers and other content creators can make money from live streams in a number of ways, including paywalls with various pricing tiers, donations from viewers, advertising, affiliate commission from sales, and subscriptions.
Live streaming has led to unprecedented accessibility for media consumption. Viewers just need an internet connection and a mobile device to tune into a live stream. With 83% of the world’s population owning smartphones, live stream broadcasters can reach more people than past technologies have allowed.
Current state of live streaming
Let’s examine the state of live streaming today and understand how the technology reached this point.
Roots in broadcast TV
Before live streaming there was broadcast television. People had TVs and antennae or cable subscriptions and paid to watch live broadcasts of programs like the news, sports events, and live entertainment.
Cutting the cord
When antennae became outdated, cable and satellite became the main ways for people to consume live information and events. These services often came with inflexible and expensive contracts and forced consumers to buy packages of channels they didn’t need.
When streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu became mainstream, younger people began “cutting the cord” and unsubscribing from cable, or foregoing adoption altogether. They opted to watch pre-recorded videos on the internet instead.
Live streaming today
Streaming’s popularity set the stage for live streaming by popularizing watching videos online instead of on a TV. Today, live streaming has become an alternative to having a TV service. Viewers prefer catching news and other updates online instead of through cable or dish or antenna.
According to research by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, 44% of people watch television less because of how much live streaming content they consume. And, according to Conviva’s State of Streaming report, nearly a quarter of global viewing time is spent on live streams compared to VOD.
Future of live streaming
So, where exactly is live streaming headed?
You already know that about a quarter of global viewing time is spent watching live content. That figure represents a 13% increase from 2020 to 2021. The live streaming market will only continue to grow. It’s expected to reach more than $534 billion by the end of the decade, with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 30%, according to a report by Market Research Future.
Innovation through young audiences
Live streaming is most popular with younger demographics. In fact, most US live-streaming viewers are in the 18 to 34-year-old age range. Because of its younger viewership, live streaming will continue to develop, and consumers will turn into live stream content creators and technology innovators.
Twitch’s stronghold on live streaming
One of the most popular applications for live streaming among younger generations is broadcasting video game playing via interactive live streaming platform Twitch.
Three in four Twitch viewers are between 16 and 34 years old. Twitch was responsible for a whopping two-thirds of all live streaming content consumed in 2021. The influence of Twitch on live streaming and of young viewers on live streaming will continue to increase.
Monetization opportunities for influencers
Influencers and content creators who are experimenting with live streaming will find new ways to engage audiences via this medium. More importantly, live streaming will enable them to monetize their businesses through various means, including paywalls, memberships, donations, and affiliate sales.
Greater reach for media companies
Media broadcasters will continue to move away from an emphasis on traditional TV broadcasts and towards live streaming, because it’s a more accessible medium for viewers.
Lower barrier to entry for citizen journalists
And, as has been the trend since blogs, social media platforms, and other forms of self-publishing came on the scene, citizen journalists will overtake once-trusted media sources and disseminate their own news and information. The accessibility that live streaming enables will lower the bar to entry for these novice reporters.
Rise of live-streamed sports and music events
Sports live streaming started as a way for people without tickets or cable subscriptions to cheer for their favorite teams. Now it’s become a major force in the live-streaming world. ESPN, for example, offers live streams online to ESPN+ subscribers, while football fans can live stream their favorite games online via the NFL Network. Viewership for live-streamed sports grew 82% at the start of 2021, according to Stream Hatchet.
Broadcasting live music events is nothing new (check out facts about Live Aid’s global broadcast in 1985). Major music festivals, like the UK’s Glastonbury Festival and Reading and Leeds Festivals, are broadcast to the public by the BBC. Live streaming is making major music events even more accessible. Many festivals offer live streams to both attendees and to the public via online platforms.
This year, Hulu got the live streaming rights for popular music festivals Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits. Other streaming services are predicted to follow suit and offer live streams of major events to keep subscribers entertained, and expand the reach of these festivals.
Live streaming for sports and music events will no longer be a nice-to-have element but will be expected in the very near future.
Who could benefit from broadcasting through live streaming
Broadcasters immediately come to mind when live streaming use cases are under discussion. However, they aren’t the only entities who could benefit from implementing live streaming and understanding how it works. The following industries have a lot to gain from this video dissemination tactic:
- Media-driven organizations
- Event organizers
- Marketing agencies and ad networks
With more and more people cutting the cord, broadcasters need to offer live streaming functionality to keep up with viewers. By offering live-streaming packages as alternatives to traditional packages, broadcasters can future-proof their businesses and meet viewers everywhere they are.
Publishers, including media companies, content creators, and influencers, can greatly benefit from live streaming. Live streaming engages audiences and gives publishers a number of ways to monetize their influence.
Social media algorithms favor videos, especially live streams. TikTok pays creators for producing popular live streams.
Live streaming platforms, like Twitch, also help creators get rewarded for attracting audiences. In fact, 70% of people donate to Twitch streamers whose content they enjoy.
Enterprises and companies can greatly benefit from utilizing live streaming (and not just Zoom). Live streaming is ideal for broadcasting in-person events, like town halls, workshops, and company-wide announcements, to employees who are unable to attend the event. Remote attendance options increase employee engagement and your event’s impact.
About 55% of companies already use live streaming to share internal information, according to a survey by Haivision.
Live streaming is ideal for sharing live events like conferences, music festivals, and sports games. Live streaming makes your event more accessible by making it available to people who aren’t physically present. With live streaming, you can share what’s going on in real time to engage viewers. This cutting-edge technology gives those tuning in at home an equitable experience to in-person attendees.
Selling access to event live streams is also a notable revenue stream. According to a survey by Livestream and New York Magazine, 45% of people would pay to watch a live stream of an entertainer or sports team they enjoy.
For retailers looking to engage audiences and sell things online, live streaming is a smart solution. Take inspiration from Amazon, who partners with influencers on QVC-style live streams in which they show off their favorite products.
It’s predicted that in 2023, live stream shopping events will generate $25 billion in revenue for retailers on the cutting edge of this sales channel.
For marketing agencies and ad networks, live streaming videos are a new tactic to use to get your clients’ brands out there. It’s proven that live streaming is a more engaging and effective way to market than long standing strategies.
Research shows that four in five people would rather watch a live video from a brand than read the brand’s blog, while 82% of people would rather watch a live video from a brand than see a social media post from it.
Gyms and fitness studios can live stream classes and workshops to give existing members a new way to join in and attract new customers. With live streaming, fitness brands can expand their reach without having to spend more on studio space.
And, live streaming gives fitness enthusiasts a way to participate in classes all over the world, without leaving the comfort of home.
Schools, universities, and education-focused companies can fulfill their missions while keeping students engaged by live streaming classes. Live streaming platforms transmit videos in real time to send the classroom experience anywhere.
Educational institutions can even integrate live streams into iOS and Android apps to support mobile learning and increase student access.
A hybrid model isn’t just for work. Congregations can offer both in-person and live streamed services to deepen community connections and accessibility. You can configure live streams to make them easy for community members of all ages to use. And, built-in analytics help you understand which part of services viewers found most engaging.
Wrapping up: Live streaming guide
Live streaming is here to stay. No matter what industry you’re in, live streaming can help you reach and engage broader audiences and monetize the content you’re producing. How will you incorporate live streaming into your organization’s strategy?
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