Ustream’s founders identified a need for live streaming when friends who were posted in Iraq during the war had difficulties communicating with their families at home. While there is still a focus on Ustream for personal use, the opportunities for enterprise have far eclipsed the original user case and the majority of traffic and revenue seen by the live video streaming service are derived from business customers.
It’s a trend that Dr. Gyula Feher, one of the founding members of the company, is keen to talk about, “We have seen a big shift in the number of businesses using our service since we set up in 2007. It is now common place to see companies doing live streams of launches and announcements on the internet. But we have moved into a new phase where live video isn’t just being used as a passive instrument. Savvy and creative marketers recognise that it can be the linchpin of a fully integrated campaign and we’ve seen some great examples on our platform.”
One such campaign referenced by Feher is that of Honest Tea. The company set up pop-up kiosks in cities across the US that vended its drink based on customers adhering to the ‘honour system’ of payment. Using a live video feed, the company assessed which city was the most honest and, subsequent to the video aspect of the campaign, has set up a fun ‘honesty index’ that assesses individuals’ honesty profiles based on location, appearance and gender. Viewers could watch who was approaching the kiosk and decided whether that person would be honest and pay for their drink or choose not to.
“Businesses are getting really creative with how video can optimise reach and generate value and not just in the B2C sector. Companies are using video to communicate with business and internal audiences too, for example to run training events in a more cost effective and engaging way,” states Feher.
However, does live streaming pose risks in terms of the potential for things to go wrong and damage company reputation? It is an area that Ustream has first-hand experience of with the well-publicised failure of its copyright process blocking the streaming of the Hugo Awards in 2012. “That was a big learning experience for us,” Feher recognises. “We respect the intellectual property rights of others. We’ve made some refinements and also added in an additional layer of human approval, which adds more sanity to what we block and allow through.”
Ustream’s focus on providing its enterprise customers with a reliable tool extends to providing advice on the pitfalls to watch out for and how to get the best customer experiences from providing direction on filming to working with third party vendors to develop a tested and accredited portfolio of hardware.
“In my experience Twitter presents a far greater risk to enterprises concerned about reputation management,” states Feher. “For businesses new to video streaming, or those working on sensitive projects, we can offer the option of time shift so that they can be sure that whatever goes out live is okay – but there are some trade-offs on aspects such as interactivity.”
With video traffic fuelling massive growth in global IP traffic, impact on network infrastructure is high on Ustream’s agenda and something that Gyula will cover in his keynote speech at this year’s Broadband World Forum event to be held in Amsterdam in October. Cisco estimates that video will account for 79% of global IP traffic by 2018 and that total traffic will triple from 2013 consumption levels to 1.6 zettabytes in this time frame.
“Ustream has a good relationship with most operators – they don’t want their networks to get overloaded and we don’t want quality issues. We have tools that can help with traffic management and these are used by networks across the world when we have high numbers of customers streaming the same feed. This means that we have a lesser impact on the network and makes sure that our viewers get the best streaming experience.”
Feher thinks that this collaboration is the kind of approach that is needed to address the contentious topic of net neutrality. “Rather than controlling and differentiating traffic, we would like to see investment in innovation and quality. This will help the internet to continue to develop: we wouldn’t have the internet that we all enjoy today if it had been subject to the tolls and restrictions that some operators want to now implement. We are keen to debate this further and we continue to champion the right for all traffic to be treated equally.”
Ustream’s focus for the future remains fixed on enterprise and the company has a number of major products in development that have been designed with this sector and customer feedback in mind.
“We are going to continue to expand our geographical footprint with an emphasis on North America, Europe and Asia. With regards to technology, we expect a continuing convergence of TV and mobile services. There are some great opportunities to repeat the breakthroughs that we have seen in mobile convergence with the connected TV market, and we plan to be at the forefront of this charge.”
Dr. Gyula Feher, founder and CTO of Ustream, is speaking at this year’s Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, 21-23 October, 2014.