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A Buyer’s Guide to Live Streaming Services

My article, A Buyer’s Guide to Live Streaming Services, from the fabulous 2014 Streaming Media Sourcebook, is up on the Streaming Media webiste. Here’s the intro, designed to grab you by the throat (metaphorically, of course) and force you to read the balance. Well, if you’re interested in live streaming, you might find it worth a read. 

So, you’ve decided to stream a live event, and you’re considering your options. You definitely need a streaming server to reach your target viewers. You could buy and install your own server (or rent a cloud instance), but then you’d have to create the player and configure and manage the server yourself, which requires lots of technical expertise that you may or may not have. Or, you can use a service provider to supply this functionality.

There are multiple classes of service providers that can get the job done. For example, if you’re currently using an online video platform (OVP), it’s likely that it has support for live streaming (or soon will). If so, you can use the player and all other features you’ve created for your on-demand video and your existing analytics, and your live events are converted to on-demand streams and added to your library right after the event. This level of convenience is tough to beat.

If you don’t have an OVP, another class of services called live streaming services might be the best option. You can start streaming live at no cost, with various trade-offs in terms of resolution (HD or SD), third-party advertising, branding, and scalability that vary among the service providers. As your live streaming activities flourish, you can opt for different levels of service that remove these limitations and provide much more control over security, monetization, and branding. Since most of these services, which include popular sites such as Livestream, Ustream,, and most recently YouTube, are popular sites with many viewers looking for content, these sites may also deliver viewers that you wouldn’t reach if you only displayed the video on your own website.

Though most of these companies are only about 6 years old, the market is fairly mature, and you’ll find more similarities than disparities among the contenders. For example, they all work similarly. You use a live encoder to send a stream (or streams) to the service provider, who displays the video on a dedicated page in the service, which I’ll call the channel page. Depending upon the vendor and the plan you’ve selected, you may also be able to embed the live stream into a page on your own website. After the event, you can usually trim frames from the start or finish (if necessary), create highlights, and download the video so you can deploy it elsewhere. You can also check viewing analytics to see how many viewers tuned in and for how long.

By this point, most services are very social media-aware, with easy links so viewers can tweet and like and otherwise spread the word. They also recognize that viewer interactivity is key, so most enable comments and chat to some degree. Otherwise, with all this similarity, how do you choose the best service for your live events? By focusing on the topics identified here, starting with what you want most from the service.

You can read the rest of the article here on Streaming Media. 

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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