Joicaster Review: A Simple Platform for Live Video Distribution

Joicaster is a web-based live streaming syndication platform that takes a single live stream and pushes it out to multiple services, including YouTube Live, Ustream, and Twitch, as well as commercial sites. Joicaster is affordable, straightforward to operate, and performed well in all my tests. If distributing to multiple live streaming platforms is a problem for you, Joicaster could very well be the solution.

Driving Joicaster

The “single-stream-in-with-distribution-to-many” paradigm is simple to understand, but the types of sites you can transfer to, and other features, vary significantly from plan to plan, which you can compare at joicaster.co. I mostly tested with the Enterprise plan, which provides access to multiple business-oriented and consumer sites (with Roku coming), and provides a generic RTMP preset that allows you to target any RTMP-compatible site; I used the preset to send a stream to webinar provider Onstream. If you’re on a lesser plan, you can only communicate with sites that the service supports directly. The number of sites is growing, but isn’t comprehensive.

Operating Joicaster involves two primary concepts: stream profiles and broadcasts. Stream profiles are the sites that you’ll redirect the video to, and broadcasts are scheduled (or impromptu) occasions on which you’ll transmit the streams to those sites. Joicaster does an excellent job of simplifying the operation, starting with an introductory tutorial that walks you through the main interface elements on the website.

Creating Stream Profiles

Once you’re ready to start streaming, you should start by creating stream profiles, or target sites, so you can include them easily in future broadcasts. This process, as you might expect, starts when you click Add Stream Profile, which initializes a wizard-driven process, the first phase of which is a dialog box that displays all the sites available for your subscription level. Figure 1 shows the dialog from a free account that I created; though you can access YouTube and DailyMotion, Ustream requires an upgraded account.

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Figure 1. Accessible targets vary with account level.

You add accounts one by one, clicking the check box to select the service, then Next on the lower right to start the configuration process. With some accounts—such as YouTube, where Joicaster has integrated with YouTube’s application programming interface (API)—you choose your YouTube account and allow access to Joicaster via simple menu options. With SideArm, you’ll have to enter in the RTMP Address and Stream Name, plus your login credentials. This is the exact same data you’ve had to enter into your live streaming encoder to connect to these sites before, so it should be familiar ground for most live streamers.

Creating Your Broadcasts

Once you’ve configured your stream profiles, it’s time to set up your broadcast. Though there is a Broadcast Now feature, you’ll probably want to plan ahead for most broadcasts and create them in advance. You start in Broadcasts page and click Add Broadcast, which starts another wizardlike process during which you input the event details (Figure 2), configure some options, schedule the event, and choose your target Stream Profiles. Options include the ability to promote the event via Facebook and Twitter, and to enable/disable YouTube Live features such as DVR and archival.

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Figure 2. Inserting basic metadata

How these broadcasts integrate with your target platforms depends upon multiple factors. With Ustream, among other sites, you broadcast to a fixed page, so you don’t have to do anything other than initialize the stream in Joicaster. However, the classic operation of YouTube Live is event-based (a Stream Now feature is in beta), which means you have to create an event to broadcast to it. Since Joicaster has integrated with YouTube’s API, the service creates the event for you, as it will for other API-integrated sites.

If your target site is event-based and isn’t supported directly via its API, you’ll have to set up the event manually beforehand. This is how I sent the stream to Onstream Webinars; first I created the event in Onstream, then I configured Joicaster for that event.

This description makes the operation sound more complicated than it is. Most sites are like Ustream, with fixed target and display pages; for these sites, you can start streaming from Joicaster at any time, without any extra set-up. On the other hand, if you’re distributing to many enterprise sites, you’ll probably have to set up the event or distribution point as normal, and supply the address, stream name, and credentials to Joicaster before the broadcast.

Back on our narrative, after you enter the broadcast information shown in Figure 2, you click Next to choose the date, time, and duration, and the sites to syndicate to (Figure 3). Click Submit, and Joicaster saves the broadcast and adds it to the Dashboard and Calendar.

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Everything comes together in the Dashboard, which is the site’s main interface (Figure 4). Click the broadcast that you scheduled on the right, and the broadcast information goes live on the page. Click Encoder Settings on the middle left to access the server URL and stream name to insert into your live encoder. Next, click Advanced Broadcast Settings on the middle right to adjust any of these options set when you create the broadcast.

Assuming that all login and server information input into your live encoder is correct, once you start your encoder, you should see video in the confidence monitor shown in Figure 4. Click Broadcast Now on the upper right to start streaming. Note that you can drive all these operations on a smartphone or tablet, except that you won’t see the confidence stream, which is Flash-based. Joicaster plans to convert that to HTML5 during the first half of 2016.

While the concept is relatively simple, Joicaster adds many nice touches to the mix. For example, you can add, start, stop, and delete stream profiles during the broadcast, and many sites will display the number of viewers watching on that site. Again, this is an integration thing; some target sites make it easy to retrieve viewer data, which Joicaster captures and displays, while others don’t.

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Figure 4. Your broadcast comes together in the Dashboard page.

Joicaster has its own embeddable player (Figure 5) that displays all live sources in the upper right-hand corner. Technically, Joicaster aggregates the embed codes of all target sites into a single code. As viewers join the event from the embedded player, Joicaster assigns the services in a round-robin function, distributing the load among the providers. If the viewer prefers one player over another, he or she can click to change to that player. If service gets sketchy or stops from one provider, the viewer can simply switch to another, which is a nice redundancy feature.

Joicaster also aggregates chats from some supported sites, including YouTube (but not Ustream) into the Dashboard, so you have one location to check for these chats. Joicaster will support more sites over time. The service also provides an embeddable chat wizard that allows viewers to comment and see comments coming in from other viewers using the supported sites. If a specific target site isn’t supported, you’ll have to monitor comments directly on that site.

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Figure 5. The embeddable player allows the user to watch from different sites selected on the upper right (two YouTube accounts, and one Ustream).

Operation

I tested Joicaster using a Matrox Monarch HDX to push a stream to Joicaster, which syndicated the stream to two YouTube accounts, a Ustream account, and an Onstream Media Webinar account. Today, Joicaster doesn’t process the stream in any way, it simply routes it to those various locations. In the future, Joicaster plans to add cloud transcoding capabilities that would let you feed a high-bandwidth stream in, and direct lower-quality streams to some providers.

To explain, YouTube Live and Onstream convert the input stream into multiple outputs for serving viewers on a variety of connections, so a single high-quality input works well for these sites. However, other sites simply redistribute the input stream without transcoding, so a high-quality stream might not reach viewers watching on slower connections. In the future, Joicaster will let you customize stream input by target platform, but that isn’t available yet.

In my tests, the latency from the source to the Joicaster confidence monitor was only about 4 seconds, to which Ustream added an additional 11 seconds (15 seconds total latency) while YouTube added 14 seconds (18 total). The encoder-to-Joicaster latency is pretty low, while Ustream and YouTube Live were about the same as you would expect when transmitting directly to the service.

At this point, Joicaster can send only a single stream to a service, so it works best with services, such as YouTube, Ustream, and Brightcove/Zencoder, that transmix the single input stream into multiple outputs for adaptive streaming. The only significant destination site that Joicaster doesn’t support is Livestream, which traditionally has been very picky when choosing its partners. Joicaster is working to add Livestream and other targets.

Regarding analytics, as mentioned, Joicaster can display the number of viewers on many supporting platforms, but that’s about it. Otherwise, Joicaster can pull viewership and related data from YouTube, but that’s only available to enterprise customers.

Overall, my impressions were extremely positive. Joicaster is a Techstars cloud-funded company that I first ran into at Streaming Media East in 2015. It’s done a great job making its site and service simple to use and engaging, while performing a valuable function very well. After all, with so many live streaming outlets available, why not support more than one? Joicaster makes it simple and affordable.

This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Review: Joicaster.”


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