Sometimes the oddest things provide a boost to new technology. This year, the new technology is live streaming media for news. Last Christmas, a major storm allowed news crews to do broadcasts with a portability never before possible. Now, as the year ends, it is the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has again elevated the streaming technology.
UStream, started in 2007 by Brad Hunstable with a fellow West Point graduate, was originally designed to help American troops overseas communicate with multiple friends and family members at the same time. Soon after, groups ranging from politicians to rock musicians discovered they could also offer live video on the Internet.
Now UStream, with a competitive start-up provider, Livestream, has enjoyed a watershed moment with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The "New York Times" reported that the protests have potentially helped the two companies gain the global audience needed to become viable businesses.
Although both LiveStream and UStream serve traditional television news operations, the broader market involves iPhones, iPads and video cameras hooked to laptops. The "Times" reported that Occupy participants showed that almost anyone could broadcast live news online and could build an audience for their video by inviting people to talk about what they were seeing.
"It is a very immersive, interactive experience," Hunstable told the "Times." "Something is changing when a person with a cell phone video camera can command an audience around the world."
Max Haot, CEO of Livestream, told the newspaper that three years ago investors gave his company the cold shoulder, insisting that people wanted to watch video on their schedule, not at appointed times. "The point that everyone missed was that people are not watching live streaming the way they watch a four-minute video on YouTube," Haot said. "They are watching so that they can be there and connect with an event."
Traffic has soared on both company's websites. Viewing time in the U.S. on Livestream totaled 411 million minutes in October, up from 270 million minutes in July, according to Dan Piech, product manager for video and social media at comScore, the analytics firm.
Major channels like CBS News and MTV also use UStream. CBS News turned to its UStream channel last week to stream live video about the Virginia Tech shooting from its local CBS television affiliate.
On UStream, there are now about 700 Occupy-related channels, with 70 percent of the live streaming content created on mobile phones and about 89 percent of it viewed on mobile phones. Traffic to the site has increased by 14 percent since the movement began producing content. On Livestream, there are now about 120 Occupy channels.
This week, one channel delivered live coverage from several Occupy-related events around the country, including a march in Washington and a campaign to fight foreclosures in Los Angeles and New York, the newspaper reported. In Boston, Occupy organizers positioned 15 smartphones to help deliver live video from their tent city as a way for people to closely monitor the police who have been trying to move the protesters.
Livestream and UStream both said that they were looking at adding new features in the coming weeks aimed at increasing traffic, content and revenue. In the meantime, both are also both customers of traditional TV stations yet nurturing a new generation of competition.