New Trend Sees Web Come Alive
Rapidly increasing popularity of live streams heralds final triumph of internet over traditional media
Question: what do President Obama's inauguration, the Mixed Martial Arts world championship title fight, and rapper Lil Wayne's first live performance of his new single all have in common? Answer: they all happened within ten days of each other, and they were all broadcast live over the internet.
A new phase in the 15+ year-old revolution that has seen traditional forms of mass media shunted aside by the internet is taking shape as live programming, once the exclusive domain of television and radio, begins to reach a critical mass online.
CNN's confirmation that over 21 million viewers tuned in to its live stream of Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony, eclipsing the previous viewership record for a live stream held by the shiba inu puppy cam with 15 million views, has given emphatic confirmation to the emergence of live streaming as a significant distribution channel within the broader media landscape. CNN's inauguration feed is only the latest high-profile example of a much more widespread phenomenon, as companies and individuals across the media and entertainment spectrum scramble to set up web-based TV channels and live streams from which to broadcast content directly over the internet. The increasing use of dot tv domain extensions and proliferation of channels on live streaming platforms like Justin.tv, Stickam.com, Ustream.com and Mogulus.com are testament to strong drive to bring TV to the internet. In the UK, BBC iPlayer, which provides a live stream of the BBC1, BBC2 and BBC News TV channels, in addition to on demand programming, has become so popular that concerns were recently raised that its usage "risks overloading the internet." And this is not even to mention the innumerable sites, many based out of China, that provide pirated live streams of almost every major sporting event and TV channel under the sun. In stark contrast to the prognostications of the tech gurus of the early nineties, many of whom saw the future of the internet in terms of its gradual integration into television, the opposite in fact appears to be happening as television is rapidly being subsumed by the internet.
The increasing popularity of live streaming is by no means confined to TV or video content. Almost all radio stations can now be listened to online, a fact that is putting a significant damper on the usage of alternatives like HD and satellite radio. Even primarily text-based media companies such as newspapers and blogging networks are jumping on to the live content bandwagon by hosting real-time discussions, debates and Q&A sessions in an effort to satisfy their readers' thirst for live content and interaction. Spend any time on Twitter or rooting around in the blogosphere and you will be hard-pressed not to conclude that "live" and "real-time" are quickly replacing "web 2.0" and "social" as the new buzzwords of the internet evangelists.
A number of factors appear to be conspiring to create this state of affairs. First, internet connections are getting faster and the quality and reliability of live streams is rapidly improving. Second, the very success of the "on-demand" model, where content is archived and can be searched for and accessed at any time, is beginning to cause some serious blowback against it. The sheer preponderance of on-demand content is becoming unwieldy and overwhelming, causing "choice fatigue" and the desire for pre-packaged alternatives, be they streaming playlists on social music sites or the programming schedule of a 24/7 online movie channel. Thirdly, live shows and interactive events are by their very nature more exciting than passive, on-demand content. People enjoy being where the action is and doing or seeing something that is happening in the moment. Moreover, as the phenomemon of Barack Obama attests to, they derive a profound satisfaction from the sense of connection that comes from shared experience, from watching or participating in something simultaneously with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of other people.
One problem with the current state of live streams and real-time events is the fact that they are chaotically dispersed over a vast number of websites and networks both large and small. Trying to find them is not unlike picking needles out of a haystack. And even if you do manage to learn about them, it's often not until after the fact. Traditional search engines are backwards looking. They are designed to index archived content, not to alert people to the dizzying array of live streams and limited-time events that are continuously popping into and out of digital existence.
But where search engines are failing, other websites are starting to fill the void. One particularly interesting example is Livespots.net. The site describes itself as "a central hub of the live web, a continuously updated guide to the ever-increasing variety of LIVE, REAL-TIME programming, news, events, webcasts, music, contests, activities, games and entertainment available over the internet." Livespots.net acts as a kind of cross between a TV listings and community events guide, but specifically designed for live, online programming, games and events. By crowdsourcing the best live action and presenting it in a useful and intuitively appealing manner, sites like Livespots are helping to organise and give shape to the emerging live-web universe.
The ground is clearly shifting fast as the disruptive power of the internet gains new momentum. Those who fail to adapt to the "rise of live" risk losing out as the next phase in the evolution of the internet gathers pace.
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London, United Kingdom