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HomeTechThe Future of Live Streaming Services: Trends to Watch

The Future of Live Streaming Services: Trends to Watch


The big TV broadcasting companies are going to eventually catch onto this and try to take advantage of live streaming services as the technology and quality become closer to what you get when watching their TV channels. When this happens, we can expect to see these live streaming services become platforms to host and watch anything that is currently on Cable or Satellite TV.

The service quality and the connections are going to get much better within the next 5-10 years. There’s already live streams in 4k quality, whereas a few years ago, 4k wasn’t even a thing yet. A recent upgrade in home internet that’s starting to become the new standard is DOCSIS 3.1, that allows speeds of 10 Gbit down and 1 Gbit up, where most homes were using 30 Mb down and 5 Mb up with the previous latest standard. Not only is this going to mean very high-quality streams with little to no delay, it will be very cheap for businesses. High-speed internet with very high data usage in the past often came with a price that most people couldn’t afford. But with these connections, it will become affordable for large events to have a very high-quality broadcast.

As of now, there are 3 big live streaming services: Twitch.tv, YouTube Live, and Facebook Live. All with a very similar concept but different markets and features. In recent years, many professionals and businesses have been using Facebook Live due to the fact that it’s very easy to use, and if you have a Facebook following, it’s very easy to get viewers. With these services becoming more popular, it’s only a matter of time before many smaller businesses try this as a new way to get a hold of their markets, due to the very low cost compared to traditional TV advertising.

Live streaming services have become immensely popular today, where people are able to stream live on the internet using a camera and an internet connection. In the past, it was mainly used for recreational purposes. Now, it’s becoming a widely popular way to conduct business and host events. This is beginning to become more popular in the e-learning and retail markets, where webinars, online classes, and product demonstrations can be held live. A few years ago, these services would have cost an outrageous amount of money with quality and service that couldn’t compare to traditional TV broadcast. Today, people can have a live broadcast and have okay quality for a cheap price, or a high-quality broadcast for a fraction of the cost of traditional broadcasting.

Current Landscape of Live Streaming Services

While there are many companies that have found success in live streaming, there have been many casualties along the way. Microsoft will be shutting down Mixer on July 22nd and will be transitioning partners to Facebook Gaming. This decision was made after Microsoft’s struggles to raise the market share of Mixer compared to its competitors. Mixer is regarded as a failure after their acquisition of key contracts with Shroud and Ninja did not reap the increase in viewership they were anticipating. These changes are a direct testament to the difficulty of sustaining success in a market dominated by large corporations. The presence of a few industry giants creates a need for up-and-coming businesses to attempt to distinguish themselves with new innovative ideas rather than competing head-on.

There are many service providers that currently offer live streaming capabilities, with many of them being tailored to specific audience platforms. YouTube remains a top contender in online streaming services. In 2018, YouTube rebranded its gaming.youtube domain to move towards a more unified streaming platform. Facebook similarly has been acquiring contracts with gaming content creators and companies. Earlier this year in May, Facebook acquired exclusive rights to stream the CS:GO ESL Pro League. This acquisition of contracts is a direct contrast to Amazon’s nine hundred million dollar deal to take the Twitch streaming rights of three prime eSports games.

The year 2020 brought significant changes to the daily lives of millions of people with the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many individuals in quarantine turned to online platforms to stay in contact with friends and family. Facebook recorded a 50% surge in website traffic and a 70% increase in the usage of their stand-alone messaging app. Due to these changes, Facebook has made the prediction that the ramp of live streaming growth is going to be at a faster rate than before.

The original surge in live streaming growth began with gaming services such as Twitch and Live, providing platforms for gamers to easily broadcast their gameplay to viewers. Online viewership of gaming rapidly outgrew television viewership in the US in 2018. Gamers in total watched more hours of other gamers playing games than they did watching broadcasted sporting events. Due to the split between gaming and other live-streamed content categories in the past few years, there has been a migration of many content creators off of gaming platforms onto more generalized service providers. An example of this is Ninja’s move from Twitch to Mixer and then to YouTube.

Live streaming services have continued to grow in popularity over the last decade. The total hours live streamed has increased yearly since 2012 in the US and reached a total of 208.5 billion hours in 2020. A significant part of this growth can be linked to the rapid increase of high-speed internet availability and transfer. Streaming providers have been able to quickly increase video bitrates to near 4k quality. This is of notable importance since the advancement of higher bitrate video has been a long-time aspiration to exceed television quality.

Increasing Popularity of Live Streaming

Live streaming is expected to continue increasing in popularity over the next decade. There are several factors contributing to this. The successful launch of the Google Stadia gaming platform may lead to gaming shifting to a mostly cloud-based system. The massive popularity of Netflix has shown that entertainment media consumers are happy with the convenience of at-home content consumption. A recent eMarketer report stated that 63% of people aged 18-34 have watched live content and in 2018 that demographic makes up 1/3 of the US population. Revenue from interactive, live video will exceed $12 billion in 2020. This presents a large growth opportunity and high revenue potential for companies that excel in delivering live content. High-speed internet continues to become cheaper and more prevalent worldwide, making content delivery more feasible. With the release of 5G, in theory, internet speeds may become so fast that there is very little delay between the creation of content and delivery. This will be important in creating more seamless, high-quality live content.

Major Players in the Live Streaming Market

Further to the recent success of specific streaming services, major companies have now begun to invest in live streaming overhauls of their plethora of pre-existing media services. These include notable changes to interface and accessibility of online content libraries, digital TV services, and alternative sports coverage that cater toward a diverse range of consumers. An exceptionally relevant example in today’s age is the launch of the ‘HBO Now’ service. Due to the recent and stark decrease in cable television viewership, HBO has decided to tap into the vastly diverse consumer base and increase the accessibility of their extensive media library by making it available to stream live. This shift in focus is backed by a large marketing campaign and a free month-long trial of the new service. This will lead to diverse and accessible content similar to what Yahoo has been producing, and will increase consumer interest and acceptance of live streaming as an alternative to traditional media services.

Successful sports leagues have proven effective in using their established product to create effective OTT services aimed at increasing engagement by providing new and inventive ways to view the games. For example, Yahoo purchased the rights to the first ever exclusively streamed NFL game. Yahoo diversified the methods in which consumers could view the game, allowing it to be viewed from almost any location or device. This game achieved around 33.6 million views in total, with just an average of 2.36 million people watching at any given time. This proves consumer interest, and Yahoo’s ability as a major player in streaming services, to provide effective ways of viewing content. As a result of this interest, Yahoo has now acquired NBA league pass rights. This marks a very recent development from traditional TV to live stream, so it is unclear exactly what the product will look like, but given Yahoo’s recent history it’s fair to guess that it will be a diverse and easily accessible experience.

Challenges Faced by Live Streaming Services

An important distinction should be made between the different types of live streaming content, and there should be an easier way for users to find event-type content. This problem is shared with the video on-demand service, but it has caused many live streaming providers to also lack confidence because on-demand content has a better chance of being found through search, even when one is searching for a live event.

YouTube has made some progress through testing new APIs to develop new features to help users find live events. Currently, there is no easy way to sort between live and on-demand content while the user is browsing. Another method is to have content removed from search algorithms. This behavior of removing live content from search has affected Blizzard’s World Championship Series stream, where users were unable to find it through the Google search engine.

The most relevant challenge is achieving visibility and discoverability. With billions of video hours available, how can a live stream of a public event fight against, let’s say, countless hours of video game play-through videos? This is exactly what happened to the live stream of the video game competition between two universities in the US. They expected higher viewers, but many could not find the stream among the other video game content.

Emerging Trends in Live Streaming Services

One challenge is streaming VR/AR content to various devices while maintaining performance and quality. A recent study showed that there is low awareness of VR devices among US consumers, with only 13% familiarity with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR combined. These devices are mainly used by early adopters, so content producers are also targeting smartphone users. Smartphone-based VR platforms like Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR can bridge the gap to the mass market, but there may be limitations in available content due to hardware restrictions. Another option is streaming VR content to a PC for rendering and re-encoding with a software codec before delivering it as a standard 2D video stream. GPU manufacturer NVIDIA has announced their new lineup of VR-ready PC GPUs, indicating that this area will see significant development in the coming years.

Subscription-based live streaming services need more than just a “make and pray” approach to stay competitive in the market. They are realizing that it’s not just about exclusive content, but also about enhancing the viewing experience through user interaction. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are seen as the next step for these platforms to differentiate themselves. Unlike Second Life’s unsuccessful attempt to make VR a “first life” platform, live streaming already provides a framework to build VR and AR services with less investment.

Integration of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

As we move forward, we can expect a better synthesis of these technologies into mainstream games and streaming platforms. For AR, as smartphone and tablet technology improves, so will the ability to track and ‘overlay’ live data into streamed content. Imagine being able to view in-depth statistics of a sports game by holding your phone up to the screen, or by clicking on individual players to get live updates of their performance all within the game being viewed. This creates a far more immersive experience for the user and provides potential for more interactive methods of content advertisement and promotion.

VR and AR are similar in their intent to alter reality or create a ‘fake’ portrayal of the truth. VR does this by creating a unique environment the user can interact with, and AR does this by ‘layering’ new information over existing data. This can already be seen with Twitch’s implementation of the face and body tracking VR game ‘VRChat’, which has become a popular method of streaming and content creation for a number of Twitch users.

When predicting the future of streaming services in their venture, Ellis and Watkinson state, “In the year 2025, we expect to see the integration of VR and AR into live streaming video in both places and events, creating immersive experiences for viewers.” These are exciting times, and while many might relate AR and VR to the likes of Pokemon Go or Oculus Rift, the future of AR/VR integration with streaming appears to be much more intricate and interesting.

Personalization and Interactive Features

An extreme example of this kind of feature can be seen from a Dota 2 plugin developed by one of our staff and a few others. The plugin attempts to gather data from the Steam API to determine a given viewer’s MMR and places them in a fake betting pool using the viewer’s imaginary points. The game would be much harder to create, but any feature tightening the bond between viewer and player would be a huge step forward for using streamed media to bring people together.

Take for example a live streaming gaming community, where a user is as much of a spectator as they are a participant. With interactive elements, viewers can vote on in-game events, helping to make decisions for the player. This can act as a simple form of data which can affect what the viewer sees in the future. If the data is saved, the next time this viewer visits the stream they may see the game being played in a way that better reflects their vote, helping to keep them engaged.

Personalization has always been a key factor for providing quality in the digital experience. Hundreds of online services are trying to provide a fully personalized experience with the data they are gathering from their users. But live streaming platforms are the first services which are actually capable of doing so in real time.

Monetization Strategies for Live Streaming Platforms

Compared to other mediums of entertainment, live events are consumed as they happen, creating a sense of urgency and a great marketing tool. This is an attractive feature for content providers because it provides them with an opportunity to generate revenue by charging viewers a premium to access the live events. With an estimation that sponsored event revenue will reach $35 billion in 2017, there is a scramble to find ways to monetize live event and on-demand video content. This has created a high demand for live streaming platforms with a variety of different business models.

Live streaming services are increasing in popularity due to the wide variety of content available for individuals to watch. Through live streaming services, individuals can watch live coverage of their favorite games, events, music performances, cooking shows, etc. (content varies by IPTV provider), and this is a very attractive feature to many. This is especially true in a world where individuals are seeking ways to do things faster and more efficiently to accommodate their lifestyles.

Future Outlook for Live Streaming Services

The recent development of virtual reality devices, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, will also be a significant driver for the live streaming market, although at this stage, it is difficult to predict to what extent. Currently, the pricing and high system requirements make these prohibitively expensive for the average consumer, but assuming the cost falls to more affordable levels, it is highly probable that these devices will become common household items within the next 10 years. This, in turn, will drive the need for high-speed internet connections as previously mentioned, and the market overall may shift towards more bandwidth-intensive content as VR users seek increasingly immersive experiences. This represents an opportunity for an “upper echelon” of live streaming services serving a niche but lucrative market.

The future of live streaming services will no doubt continue to be impacted by rapidly advancing technologies and infrastructures. The need for high-speed, low-latency connections has driven ISPs in the US and other developed nations towards fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) infrastructure, an advancement which greatly improves last-mile connections. Concurrently, the progression of IPv6 in the coming years will help mitigate the problem of IPv4 address exhaustion, reducing the cost and availability of IP addressing and bringing about a new era of always-connected devices, including consumer electronics. This matches a trend towards a global society that is always online and increasingly “on-the-go” through the use of smartphones and other mobile devices. The recently established HTML5 standard is reflective of this, enabling compatible web browsers to utilize geolocation features, local storage, high-quality multimedia, and audiovisual elements – all the ingredients necessary for a rich internet TV experience.

Advancements in Technology and Infrastructure

Data from the same study suggests that growing consumer awareness of the cost and speed benefits of new TV technologies can have a significant impact. Around 45% of US respondents indicated that the presence of 4K content would make them more likely to cut the cord on pay TV services. If the industry can unify on standards for Ultra High Definition content, and consumer awareness of 4K benefits grows, there is potential for an accelerated migration of TV advertising and viewing audiences to online channels, including live. This may also be accelerated by the increasing provision of the latest TV technologies in mid to high-range smartphones, making it easier for consumers to watch video on mobile devices.

Several advancements in technology and infrastructure have the potential to reshape the video and TV industries and could augment the adoption of livestreaming further. Respondents to a recent study pointed to a number of technological improvements that have yet to impact the market but have the potential to do so in the next few years. These include the development of high-quality, low-latency video streaming; better user interfaces for navigating through live content; and more widespread integration of live content within social media platforms. These developments are likely to bring more consumer attention to live content and increase viewing frequency.

Impact of 5G on Live Streaming Quality and Experience

Hoch and Dhanik define triumph through the lens of the platform providers, live streaming services, and the end user. If live streaming with 5G is successful, platform providers will likely spend less on technology-related expenses while having the capability to reach a greater and more diverse audience of end users. The specific advantages for each kind of service (online video games, sports, events/music, peer-to-peer chat, and social media) are far-reaching in a prospective sense and often revolve around providing higher quality services to the end user. Mobile esports could see further expansion into Asia, physical and e-sports games could benefit from extended mobile viewing of consumer micro-events, peer-to-peer chat can become an alternative to voice calls and a means of sharing in-person activities with larger groups, and social media can use live streaming as a means of compelling user-generated content which attracts more visitors to the site.

A major factor that will contribute to the ongoing success of live streaming is that the technology should become cheaper to operate and more universal to the potential consumers. This is particularly directed to the widespread adoption of broadband internet services and the progression of mobile computing devices. It is predicted that mobile consumers will account for half of the overall audience and this will only be made possible through high-speed, reliable internet access from their devices. The next generation of mobile internet is 5G, and it is forecast to make its mainstream debut in around 2020. 5G can be considered a unified, more capable air interface. It has been specifically developed to allow for a consistent and efficient delivery of services, and it will enable significantly faster and more responsive mobile broadband experiences. If it meets its proposed potential, live streaming will have a lot to gain from 5G. An example of how this could be beneficial is in the rights to stream NFL games reaching mobile phones, as it is predicted that deals for this content could hit a figure of $21.4 billion.

Potential Disruption from New Entrants in the Market

A specific example of a new entrant to the market that presents a threat to the standard live streaming services is games developer Blizzard. They have recently announced plans for an online gaming platform that will give subscribers access to time-restricted game demos, bonus content, and the full online versions of Blizzard games. CEO Mike Morhaime stated at the platform announcement, “We are going to be making a lot of content available as part of this service, for all Blizzard games new and old. I feel it is also very likely that the internet will be a primary platform for the distribution of many forms of entertainment in the future, including live TV shows, and we want to be well positioned to take advantage of that.”

A potential disruptor to the live streaming market could come in the form of new entrants with alternative business models. Current streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu rely on a subscription fee-based model. This model may come under threat from newer companies who could offer a similar service for free using an advertising-funded model. digital media analyst Dan Rayburn speculates that if a service exists for free with the same quality and content type but is ad-supported, it could prove very difficult to get consumers to pay for the subscription-based model.

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