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YouTube live mobile video changes everything

Mike Elgan | June 28, 2016
Google finally embraces mobile live video streaming. Here's why the world will never be the same.

Google invented live-streaming video for the masses back in 2011.

It was presented as a feature of Google+, but was really all about YouTube. Called Hangouts On Air, the idea was to live-stream video with up to 10 participants. Unlike regular Hangouts, Hangouts On Air could turn a video chat into a public performance. Hangouts On Air streams could be instantly shared, meaning that you could share it while the video was in progress. After the live stream ended, the video was posted on YouTube for posterity.

There was just one problem: Hangouts On Air was desktop-only, not mobile. As we learned later, the ability to live-stream from a phone is the killer feature for live videos.

Fast-forward to last week, and Google has finally rolled out what it's calling YouTube mobile live streaming. The live-streaming feature will be built directly into the regular YouTube app.

The app sounds easy to use. You'll tap on a "capture" button, optionally take a photo that will serve as a thumbnail, type in your description of the video to come, choose whether you want people chatting over your video, then start streaming.

As with Hangouts On Air, YouTube mobile live-streamed videos will become regular YouTube videos in your channel.

The feature was rolled out last week to only five prominent users, with Google promising a general rollout later.

The late entry into mobile by the first-mover of desktop live-streaming changes everything.

The cradle of live-streaming mobile video

It all started less than a year and a half ago with the sudden popularity of an app called Meerkat from a startup called Life On Air.

Less than two months after Meerkat hit, Twitter acquired and then launched a mobile live-streaming service and app called Periscope.

Later, Facebook rolled out Facebook live-streaming videos -- first to celebrities only and then to everybody. Facebook clearly sees Live Video as its opportunity to compete with YouTube. Facebook is reportedly paying some $50 million to celebrities and media organizations (such as The New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed) to stream video via Facebook Live.

Other mobile apps with live video streaming include YouNow (which predates Meerkat), AOL's Kanvas and Upclose.

It's clear now that only the biggest companies can compete in this market. One year after launching, Meerkat pivoted away from one-to-many live streaming and toward few-to-few streaming (kind of like the original Google Hangouts before "Hangouts On Air," or even Skype), saying that Meerkat couldn't grow because of Periscope and Facebook -- companies with massive data and streaming capacity.

It will be close to impossible for startups to gain traction in the market, because of the dominance of Google, Facebook and Twitter. But the competition will also fuel the next media boom. And it's going to be amazing.


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