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September 3, 2010

Live Streaming Video Jumps 600% in Past Year

By: Andres Palmiter

Nearly a decade before anyone had heard of YouTube, the first viral video spread among snickering teens and procrastinating college students. Discovered via direct download links and embedded QuickTime players, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “The Spirit of Christmas” not only launched what would soon become the popular animated series “South Park”, but also reinvigorated an entire cable network. What I remember most about “The Spirit of Christmas” was not the story (or the salty language), but the size and quality of the video. The file was huge! And it took close to a day to download! Even after the download bar clicked through to 100%, the video quality was still a fraction of what you’d experience on TV.

A lot has changed in last 10+ years. YouTube, once maligned for its streaming quality, can now pump out videos in 4K (for the uninitiated, that’s 4x the pixels of broadcast/cable HD), most online TV programming can be found in HD, and even the cheapest camcorders have the capability to upload a HD video. All those extra pixels require bandwidth and computing muscle; and fortunately, over the past two years publishers and portals have made the necessary technology investments to create a significantly better viewing experience. Live streaming video, however, with its own pernicious set of tech requirements, has lagged behind the larger Video-On-Demand portals and publishers in terms of consumer experience.

Now more than ever, live online video sites are willing to build out their technology infrastructure to provide a better user experience. For instance, Justin.tv recently announced mobile applications for Android and iOS, the former allowing users to live stream from their mobile device. The growth of broadband (both through regular and cellular networks) has made features unthinkable two years ago a reality today. What’s the payoff? Over the past year, the amount of time American audiences spent watching video for the major live video publishers (Justin.tv, USTREAM, Livestream, LiveVideo, and Stickam) has grown 648% to more than 1.4 billion minutes. By comparison, the amount of time American audiences spent watching YouTube and Hulu increased 68% and 75%, respectively, over the same time period. Though the amount of time spent watching live video is still only a small fraction of the total time spent watching online video, its sharp growth indicates viewers’ growing comfort with the content.

Live online video sites have not only been successful in building audience, but also in keeping that audience tuned-in. For instance, the average live streamed video view is 7% longer than the average online video view. If you narrow the audience to a specific demographic, though, live video really begins to prove its advertising value to media planners. Live video sites are 72% more likely to deliver the elusive demographic, males age 18-34, than the average online video site. In fact, males age 18-34 comprise almost 30% of the total live video viewing audience in our sample sites. Even without the same brand recognition as other portals and publishers, live video sites are able to retain viewers’ attention and deliver desirable audiences for advertisers.

In particular, Justin.tv, USTREAM, and Livestream have exhibited tremendous growth over the past year and are vying for supremacy as the leading live video publisher. In July, USTREAM reached more than 3.2 million unique viewers, with Justin.tv reaching 2.6 million and Livestream 2.4 million. Livestream, though, served more than 160 million videos, compared to roughly 130 million from Justin.tv and 20 million from USTREAM. Those 20 million videos on USTREAM, however, were viewed eight minutes longer on average than videos on Justin.tv and 17 minutes more than those on Livestream. In terms of total minutes, viewers logged nearly 900 million minutes watching Justin.tv in July, outpacing the other two sites.

Although live video sites may not have the cachet or visitor base of more established broadcast brands or larger video portals, they do provide a savvy planner with the tools to reach valuable targeted audiences. As live-streaming technology moves more mainstream, I believe content creators will increasingly realize the importance of mirroring their live TV strategy with live online video as well.

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