Tag Archives: ustream

Kicking off the Inaugural Meetup of SF Bay Area Webcasters and Live Streamers

SF Bay Area Webcaster Meetup

I started a Meetup group for webcasters and live streamers in the San Francisco bay area. We’re having our first meetup event this Tuesday, June 4th at 7pm. Check the Meetup event page for details. This is the first of what I’m intending to be a monthly series. Each meetup will have two or three presenters covering the gamut of live streaming.

For this first one, I’ll do a quick slideshow presentation of my experiences producing events for Ustream and Eddie.com.  Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent, will also give a high-level overview of BitTorrent Live, his latest creation. BitTorrent Live is a new peer-to-peer live streaming protocol that leverages peer connections to scale large live Internet broadcasts, potentially saving broadcasters a ton of money in distribution costs, while maintaining high reliability.

Since this is a meetup about streaming, we’ll of course stream the meetup. We’ll push to Ustream and BitTorrent Live. I’ll post the channel info here and in the group, check back or just come down and join the fun!

Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event – Liveblog Notes from Streaming Media West

I’ve been in LA for Streaming Media West the last couple of days, checking out what’s new in the world of live streaming. This morning’s panel session Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event was a good overview on what to think about when planning to live stream your event. Here’s my notes.

C201: ROUND TABLE: Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event

Moderator: Jon Orlin, Executive Producer, TechCrunch
Speaker: Alden Fertig, Product Manager, Broadcasting, Ustream
Speaker: Howard Kitto, Group CTO, PERFORM
Speaker: Adam Drescher, Partner, Suite Spot
Speaker: Jeff Varnell, EVP, Business Development, Livestream

Q: What did Ustream and Livestream do during Hurricane Sally?

Jeff V: We set up an event on Livestream. We combined user feeds. 2 million streams to all Sally content

Alden: Ustream combined national news feeds w/user feeds. Lots of viewers. Giants World Series post-win mayhem was interesting to watch.

Q: What are things you need to ask of clients before doing a planned event?

Adam: Find out what clients expectations are. Do they just care about numbers of tweets vs viewers? Location, location, location makes a big difference on what can be done.

Howard: What is the expected the production value? PERFORM does lots of downstream broadcasts of satellite feeds. Logistics as well.

Alden: Is this content that should be live vs on-demand? Is this the right event for live? Lots of aspects to live. Workflow, promotional structures need to be put in place.

Jon: Tuning into a 3-minute event probably isn’t best to do live. Just getting people to show up in time is hard.

Howard: Sports and news are best for live.

Jeff: What is the goal of the live stream? Pre-production is everything. Once live is there it has be to perfect. Only one shot to do it. Timing is important, need 2 to 4 weeks to plan things out right. Livestream has gone to event pages now, rather than channel pages. Allows us to extend campaign, mix in photos and updates.

Adam: Fashion industry also. Gucci saved money not having to fly in execs from Milan to NYC.

Q: How do you deal with producing a live event from a place with crappy Internet?

Alden: Ustream broadcasters age from home internet to fiber, satellite to dedicated bandwidth. Bundled cellular stuff is popular. It’s really good, we like it a like. We use LiveU. News and sports attract a lot of people so challenge can be that cellular networks are overloaded in those areas due to number of people present.

Jon: We’ve used bonded cellular solutions. Testing a week beforehand before people show up isn’t a good test. CES is an example.

Alden: We drove here from SF with a LiveU, didn’t lose our stream down the I-5 at all.

Adam: Test from the viewer locations is important. You don’t want customers congesting their own network while trying to watch the stream. You don’t want a surprise doing a live stream.

Howard: Old-school satellite is rock-solid, tried and true tech, works everywhere. Expensive.

Jeff: We all expect TV. Challenge is in the transmission business. 99% of importance is the encoding/uploading on the ground. Always recommend a dedicated connection on the ground.

Point-to-point internet, we can get that working in many places in the US. If budget allows, satellite. We use All Mobile Video. We are fiber-linked from the switch to our New York HQ as well.

Alden: Buy more time than you need for satellite. Recent example, Apple product announcement event went over time and got cut off right in middle of announcement. Was watching the feed and it switched immediately to bars and tones with satellite provisioning information slate.

Q: What bandwidth do you need typically?

Alden: Rule of thumb 2x what you want to stream. Really hard to say sometimes. Is it shared connection? ISPs throttle people. Might be 20Mbs all day then 400k for a few minutes.

Jeff: 2x is about right. We can do up to 4 bitrates in our player. Make sure you stream in lower-quality too.

Howard: 2-5Mbs is what we normally do.

Q: How do you make a webcast look like TV?

Adam: Work with professionals, people who have done this before. Work with broadcast directors, work with people who have broadcast industry experience. We’re working on a new climate reality project we are doing with Ustream. We have the director from the Red Bull Stratos event with us on that.

Cameras have gotten cheaper. Technology is out there that helps to make it look like a million bucks. Graphics is important, other content that can be cut in. Proper lighting, audio. Good graphics go along way.

Jeff: Most interesting is that people creating content exclusively for the web. Our Livestream Sessions in NYC – bands come in and do a live show with fans interacting with them. Kids today want to interact in real time.

Alden: It’s not TV. You have the luxury of extra time. You do want to turn on early so people can tune in and get ready. Don’t just put up a slate. Use video clips. Use a dynamic shot, maybe a wide shot of venue, slightly blurred.

Adam: Two-way conversations is key. People want to participate.

Jon: At our event, we have a GoPro to let people see behind the scenes.

Q: Sometimes the before is more important than the during?

Jeff: Live blogging element of Livestream platform lets fans socialize before event goes live. Can happen weeks before event. Add pix, videos, comments. Cool way to add content prior to event to build hype,fan interaction. Create highlights live to add VOD clips. After event, it’s all about analytics. All clients want that.

Howard: Our ultimate case study. Our live content goes our on betting sites prior to going live. People are betting prior which builds interest. Filipino Basketball is one of our biggest events. Tons of betting. Tennis as well.

Adam: Post-production is important. We did a 3-minute sizzle reel for Macy’s, over a million views.

Alden: Get VOD up as quick as possible. Right after is when it’s still hot, people still showing up.

Howard: Our stuff has to be up straight away. Adds logistical challenges.

JON: Let’s take some questions from the audience.

Audience Q: Do you use portable satellites?

Howard: We use almost exclusively. One camera + satellite.

Audience Q: What can we do before end around the player, with the player?

Alden: Social stream is big for us. Talent can request tweets.

Audience Q: What is your take on a simulated live event?

Howard: We do some of those. We will do a full match replay at a certain time broadcast as live.

Jeff: Our preference is always live content. Good social experience around a live event.

Audience Q: How do you deal with an event that went horribly wrong?

Jeff: Most common is Internet connection problems at the encoder. We had a concert where Internet was fine for 3 hours leading up. When it came to event time, it died.

Alden: We did an event with American Idol. Building lost power. Took a long time to get powered back up. Internet was down, but We had a LiveU cellular pack on-hand.

Howard: Lots of logistical things… audio track switching. Power failure, weather.

Jon: One user complaining might not be accurate. Validate that it isn’t just a single user problem.

Adam: Make sure a backup plan is in place. Backup plan with audio, video and Internet.

Audience Q: What about insurance for problems?

Adam: Buy production insurance. Find out what are they trying to insure against. Is it for the production or media side?

The Current State of Live Video Streaming

As I’ve got some time on my hands since being laid off from Ustream, I thought I’d take a look at the current state of live video streaming on the web. I will concentrate on the three most popular free services, Ustream, Livestream and Justin.tv. I’ll focus on core service features, ad support and removal, social network chat integration, desktop broadcaster applications, mobile integration and revenue. I’ll also touch briefly on the 800 pound elephant in the room, YouTube.

Core Features

Ustream, Livestream and Justin.tv are all similar in that anyone can broadcast full-motion live video for free on the Internet, using a Mac or PC, to millions of viewers. They’re also similar in that you can archive any broadcast for playback later, as well as embed any live broadcast or archived broadcast on to your own website. All three platforms also have interactive chat features and easy ways of sharing a live broadcast over Twitter and Facebook.




Free, If You Don’t Mind The Ads

All three streaming platforms provide free ad-based video streaming services with the ability to archive any broadcast for future viewing. This means that when a viewer watches a live broadcast, they will see pre-roll video ads, in-player bottom banner and pop-up ads, bottom text ads, banner and sidebar ads. Watching a recorded archive broadcast will also trigger similar ads. This is a primary way streaming platforms are able to offer free streaming.

Here’s the way the platforms differ. Ustream offers unlimited streaming to as many people as can you can get to tune in. There are no restrictions on broadcast length or number of viewers. Livestream also offers unlimited free streaming, though you must go through a verification process to allow more than 50 concurrent viewers and to be listed in their directory. This is a mechanism Livestream uses to limit potential piracy. Justin.tv also allows unlimited streaming and does not require any sort of verification process. Justin.tv seems to host a lot of unlicensed content, though they do respond aggressively to DMCA takedown notifications. By contrast, Livestream and Ustream take a stated zero tolerance approach to unauthorized copyrighted content and have content monitors and automated systems to implement this policy.

Paid Option, If You Do Mind the Ads

The platforms differ when it comes to broadcasting an ad-free experience. Livestream’s premium service allows you to opt out of having ads served on your content (or plug in your own ads and monetize your content). As a premium Livestream broadcaster, anyone who views your content can do so without seeing ads. Livestream charges $350 per month to broadcast ad free, for up to 3,000 viewer hours (# of viewers x average # of hours watched = viewer hours) and 1TB of archived content. You can also pay $1250/month for up to 15,000 viewer hours monthly.

Not to be outdone, Ustream just rolled out their ad-free broadcasting service. Ustream offers three tiers of service to remove ads, also based on a monthly subscription fee. Each tier includes an increasing number of viewer hours. At $99 a month, Ustream is now the cheapest option to conduct an ad-free broadcast, as long as you don’t go over 100 viewer hours. Ustream charges an overage fee of 50 cents per viewer above that, which decreases with their $499 (4,000 hours) and $999 (9,000 hours) tier plans. Ustream also offers a paid, ad-free, white label service called Watershed.

Justin.tv also allows for an ad-free viewing experience, but throws the onus on the viewer to buy a Pro account for $10 a month. Justin.tv Pro account users will see all Justin.tv broadcasts without ads. If you’re a broadcaster, you can’t pay to have your content ad-free for your viewers, such as Ustream and Livestream do.

Chat and Social Stream

All three platforms have a real time chat feature, while Ustream and Livestream also have what they call a “social stream.” The chat features on all platforms are embedded to the right of the player and are essentially modified IRC clients. On Justin.tv the chat feature can be minimized by the user. On Ustream and Livestream, the chat feature can be switched on or off by the broadcaster.

Ustream’s Social Stream
Ustream social stream

The social stream allows viewers to post status updates to social networking sites while watching a live broadcast. Ustream’s social stream is an aggregated stream of updates from Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and AIM usually appearing to the right of the video player. A user logs into any or all of their social network accounts to post an update, which embeds a short URL back to the live broadcast channel page in the update. Status updates appear in real-time as they come in.

Livestream’s Social Stream
Livestream social stream

Livestream also has a social stream, though currently they only support Facebook and Twitter. The Livestream social stream is broken out into seperate tabs for each social network, rather than aggregated into a single stream like with Ustream. Similar to Ustream, the user logs into their Facebook or Twitter account from the broadcast channel page to be able to post updates.

The social stream is quite an ingenious way of driving engagement and traffic to a broadcast. Moderately popular broadcasts can quickly go viral as viewers post updates to their networks, thereby bringing followers into a broadcast.

Desktop Broadcast Apps

A differentiator among streaming platforms is the desktop broadcaster application. Using a desktop application to live stream is generally more robust, results in better quality and offers more features than using a platform’s web based Flash broadcaster (which can often crash because, well, it’s Flash).

Ustream Producer

Ustream has Ustream Producer, a Mac and Windows based application created by Telestream, the developer behind Wirecast. Producer is actually a slimmed down, custom branded version of Wirecast that is designed to only work with Ustream’s platform. Producer comes in two flavors, free and $199. The free version allows you to broadcast from a single camera, either a webcam or external standard definition DV camera over firewire in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. The coolest thing about the app is that you can mix in canned pre-recorded video clips, photos, audio and even virtually capture the desktop from another computer on your network. The $199 Pro version does all this with the addition of being able to switch between multiple cameras, add overlay graphics and bottom third titles. The Pro version also has a number of presets for higher quality streaming, though does not let you specify your own custom bitrate, frame rate or encoding format. One thing to note, Ustream claims that Producer Pro supports source input from HDV cameras, which is true. What is not noted is that you’ll need to pay an additional $99 on top off the $199 you’ve already shelled out for Pro to use your HDV camera. A work around, is to put your HDV camera in SD mode and you’ll avoid this, but of course, be limited to SD resolutions.

Livestream Procaster

Livestream has its Livestream Procaster application, available for Mac and Windows. I’ve only used the Mac version, though it appears that the Windows version has some additional features not yet available in the Mac version, such as VP6 encoding and custom aspect ratios. Procaster, a free app, is comparable to Ustream’s free Producer app. Procaster, which only works with Livestream, makes it super easy to broadcast from a single camera to your Livestream channel. Your camera input can be a webcam or external DV or HDV connected firewire or USB camera. HDV is supported natively, no costly plug-in needed. Procaster let’s you set a broadcast to auto-record, allows you to switch between a camera and your desktop using several 2D and 3D transition styles. Similar to Ustream Producer, Procaster lets you choose between several presets for encoding & broadcast quality. Unlike Producer, you can also specify completely custom bitrates, frame rates and resolution.

That’s essentially where Procaster ends. There is no multi-camera option, or ability to drop in lower third titles. For this functionality, you would need to purchase something like Telestream’s Wirecast ($449). Wirecast is platform agnostic, will work with Livestream, Ustream, Justin or your own CDN or Flash Media Server. Wirecast will also let you record a full resolution DV copy of your broadcast to a local hard disk, while also streaming.

Justin.tv does not have a custom desktop broadcaster application, though as mentioned above, works with Telestream’s Wirecast as well as Adobe FMLE.

Mobile Broadcasting & Viewing

All three platforms have free mobile applications to broadcast and/or view live streams for iPhone and Android devices. They differ in some subtle ways. Ustream’s Broadcaster application allows anyone to broadcast live and interact with the social stream over wifi or 3G. It works fairly well, though if you’re in AT&T’s notorious horrible coverage areas, you’ll get a rather choppy experience. Ustream also has a separate Viewer app for viewing live broadcasts, so long as they are being broadcast in H.264/AAC or with Ustream Producer.

Justin.tv has a combined broadcaster and viewer app for iPhone and Android. Like Ustream, you can broadcast over wifi or 3G and send a tweet out when you go live. You can also interact with viewers in the chat from your device while broadcasting. The viewer side of the app has an extensive list of current live broadcasts which you can easily click to view.

Livestream does not have a mobile broadcaster app, only an iPhone app for viewing broadcasts. Another option, don’t bother getting the app and just point your mobile device’s browser to Livestream’s mobile site. Broadcasts are in HTML5 (encoded as H.264/AAC) and will play natively on an iPhone (and presumably Android devices).

Where the Money Is

If you take a look at the front pages of Ustream and Livestream, you’ll likely see promotions for upcoming broadcasts with notable brands, music artists and red carpet movie premieres. These events represent real revenue and currently Ustream and Livestream have a lock on this. Justin has declined persuing premium content revenue partnerships and is focused on user generated content, including lots of video game playing. Both Ustream and Livestream have, or are opening, LA offices to go after these premium entertainment deals (though based in SF, I was part of the LA media division at Ustream).

Also, pay-per-view (PPV). There’s a lot of potential here, if someone’s able to get it right. Currently, only Ustream has dabbled in a PPV service with a Dane Cook event back in January. Just recently, Ustream announced a PPV service they’re calling Open PPV. This will give approved broadcasters a way to monetize their channels. For some reason, many people are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to watch people beat the crap out of each other.

The YouTube Factor

It’s no secret that YouTube has been building out live stream infrastructure and to date, successfully broadcast a number of highly trafficked events. Recently, YouTube experimented with four content partners in doing a week long series of live broadcasts.

YouTube - playbiennial_s Channel-5

A feature that YouTube has in their live player, that the other platforms don’t, is dynamic adaptive bitrate live streaming. What this means is the YouTube player is able to sniff your bandwidth and adjust itself according to how big your pipe is. If you’re viewing from a nice fat cable or fiber connection, you’ll see a high resolution, higher bitrate video. If you’re viewing from a crappy wifi or slow DSL connection, you’ll get a lower bitrate viewing experience that works with the slower connection. It’s similar to the experience you get while watching Hulu or a streamed Netflix movie. Why the current live streaming platforms have not adopted this, is a mystery, as adaptive bitrate streaming is nothing new. Adobe supports live dynamic adaptive bitrate streaming in Flash.

It may be too early to tell whether YouTube is going to roll out live streaming to the masses or whether they will continue to cherry pick select events and partners to work with in the future. Even if YouTube does not roll out en mass, they’ll likely be a formidable competitor to Ustream and Livestream’s premium content partner businesses.

The masters of live streaming at NewTeeVee Live

Ustream update – 10 months out

Well that was a fun ride. After 10 months of heading up Production Services at Ustream, I’m now back to contractor status. I’m still doing some work for Ustream, now as a consulting producer for specific events. The good news is no more project management, sales calls and contract herding. The bad news, no more free delicious daily organic lunches or stock options. I know, first world problems. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had over the last year and really enjoyed producing high profile live events for Ustream, some of which are listed below. The future is bright, though I’ve lost my cheap shades. If you’re looking for some help with streaming an event, feel free to drop me a line.

Here’s some of the notable live broadcasts I’ve produced or consulted on for Ustream:

Snoop gets ready to blow
Zynga Mafia Wars armored truck explosion with Snoop Dogg (2 million views)

Cloudy w/a shocking chance of Katy Perry
Katy Perry album cover art unveiling

Adriana Lima - Ustream
Russell James photo shoot with Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2010 week
Chad Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch
Taylor Swift 13 hour fan meet and greet in Nashville
PacSun Beach Ballyhoo festival in Santa Monica
SXSW Music 2010 showcases & Ustream party w/Gym Class Heroes
TechCrunch Disrupt conference
2K Games unveiling of Duke Nukem Forever at Penny Arcade eXpo 2010
Emmy Awards 2010 backstage live event
Deftones LIVE from Dallas album webcast
Damian Marley webchat at Ustream’s SF office

Ustream update – 2 months in

In the 2 months that I’ve been working at Ustream, a lot has happened and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some exotic locations. Part of what I do is to support Ustream’s paying customers and partners with production resources for their live broadcasts. Typically, this is someone or someones who can setup and operate cameras, switchers, audio gear and streaming computers. Some times, this is me, such as with the Le Web conference in Paris this past December.

Ustream command central

Often times, and will be more so, it’s finding reliable and available people around the world to work with to do this. We are doing more complex multi-camera switched broadcast productions, which sometimes involves working with local production companies in the cities we find ourselves in. I’m building out a global network of trusted streaming resources we can hire when events come up. People resources and equipment resources. If this something you do, you should get in touch with me.

Another thing we’re doing is streaming events with a completely portable, self contained “satellite truck in a box.” This is essentially a completely mobile backpack PC with 6 cell phone modems load balanced across 3 mobile network carriers and chock full of batteries. It can push a 1Mb out, making it ideal for roaming events or places without an Internet connection. I went to Vegas recently with one of these to broadcast a nightclub opening with Diddy. Will.i.am also uses one that he likes to use to crash LA parties with sometimes, as does Ashton Kutcher.

West coast is the best

Another fun highlight, Snoop Dogg stopped in to our recent company meeting to tell us what he likes about Ustream (direct interaction with fans) and what he wants out of it (more kinds of interactivity with fans). Snoop’s got his Wake n Bake show on Ustream where he smokes endless blunts while DJing music and interacting with his fans. Snoop told us he got into Ustream by learning from Soulja Boy, watching how he built his success using the Internet.

He also had our mobile Broadcaster app installed on his Android phone, which he was very stoked about. Snoop loves the tech, understands how it helps him do what he does better while making him more accessible to his fans. Very genuine player, in it for the love all the way.

Now, I’m in Tokyo. I’m streaming some events, one being a concert by the Japanese goth anime pop duo sensation Hangry & Angry.

Oh, also the Shiba Inu puppies are back!

A new frontier: Ustream


Big changes in the eddie.com world. After freelancing as a videographer, producer & consultant for the last few years, I’ve settled down as the Head of Production Services for a little outfit called Ustream. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They’re one of the big players in the live video streaming space (what was once called webcasting back in 1.0 days). Rappers love ’em. So do tech conferences. I just finished up streaming the LeWeb conference in Paris, my first trip as an employee. I’ve worked with Ustream a bunch over the past year in a consulting capacity, which has been a lot of fun.

Ustream command central

So what does a Head of Production Services do? I’m still trying to figure that out. What I do know is that it’ll involve servicing the many requests we get for help from our customers. Ustream is super easy to use and free for anyone, though many people need or want a bit of extra help. Production Services will be that. You’ll be able to hire Ustream “certified” professionals to come out and make sure your event goes off without a hitch. You’ll hear more about that over the coming months as we get things figured out.

For me, this seems like a natural progression of things I’ve been doing over the past 10 years. Back in the early 2000’s, I worked for a small startup called Fast Forward Networks that had created an innovative platform for scaling live broadcasts across the Internet. Think multicast at the application layer. It worked pretty well and we had some early successes selling to CDNs, broadcasting the Super Bowl and a Madonna concert. That startup was acquired by Inktomi right before the dot-com crash. This meant a 1000+ person company was soon reduced to less than 100 and firesaled off to Yahoo! in 2003.

On the cusp of 2010, live Internet broadcasting is doing damn fine. It’s become disruptive and the major old-school TV broadcasters have a lot to fear. Some of the fundamental technologies have changed, such as Flash video being the ubiquitous way of viewing Internet video. Back in 1.0 days it was all about RealNetworks, Quicktime and Windows Media. Codec and platform compatibility problems were the norm and end-user bandwidth simply wasn’t there to provide the YouTube & Hulu like experience we have today. We’ve come a long way in 10 years and I have no doubt the next 10 years will be exponentially more interesting. I predict by 2020 all TV media consumption will be Internet based, cable will be dead, DVDs will be a relic and satellite will just be another avenue for delivering Internet. From where I’m sitting, that looks pretty good.

ClubFed Launches

My good friend Sparky Rose has just launched ClubFed, his live “call-in” Internet show and vlog. For those that don’t know, Sparky got busted by the DEA for running one of the largest medical marijuana operations in California. What he was doing was legal under state and local laws, but of course the feds have their own ideas about medical pot. Sparky’s currently awaiting sentencing and it’s looking likely he’ll do time in federal prison. Until then, he’s hosting a weekly live show on Ustream.tv where he will talk about his case, medical marijuana legal issues, and answer your questions. Tune in on Saturday and Sunday nights at 8PM (PST). Archives of previous shows are also on his Ustream page. Every Thursday, Sparky will publish an edited video combining highlights from the live show and his own opinions. Here’s his primer.

Sparky is one of my closest friends and it sucks to see him caught up in the government’s ridiculously hypocritical war against medical marijuana. The federal government is at odds with at least 12 states who have legalized marijuana for medical use in some form or another. Consider making a donation to the Marijuana Policy Project or Drug Policy Alliance to help bring the federal government in line with reality. Or consider donating to Sparky directly. He still has legal costs and has set up a fund for his dog Oscar’s care, in the event he does do time.

%d bloggers like this: