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Ustream Launches Open Pay Per View

Streaming via Ustream comes down to sending the company a video stream via the Web.

SAN FRANCISCO—High school football, local festivals, and annual Santa Claus parades: These are just some of the events that broadcasters cover on a regular basis.

Typically, this footage is only seen after-the-fact on the local TV news. But thanks to the Internet, it is now possible for even the smallest of broadcasters to stream this content via the Web as Pay Per View (PPV) TV.

Specifically, the live video streaming site has made it possible for any of its members—professional or amateur—to schedule PPV events online. They then shoot the event and feed the video to Ustream, who then handles all of the back office content distribution and billing. As far as viewers are concerned, the PPV event is being hosted by the broadcaster directly. This is because Ustream’s “Open PPV” platform provides broadcasters with branded player links that they can embed on their own sites, which link directly to Ustream’s online players.

“The approach behind Open PPV is actually the same as we use to let people distribute their live streaming video via Ustream,” said David Thompson, Ustream’s senior vice president of marketing. “The difference is that Open PPV allows broadcasters to make this a pay event, with the ability to charge anywhere from 99 cents to 999 dollars per view.”

Launched in 2007, Ustream is one of the Web’s largest distributors of streaming video, using content generated by its members, and averaging 50 million unique visitors per month. During a beta trial of Open PPV that wrapped up in February, Ustream hosted more than 4,500 PPV events, including Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit Concert, the UFC’s Silva vs. Sonnen II fight, Insane Clown Posse’s Psychopathic Live concert, and the USA vs. Guatemala World Cup soccer qualifier.

“It’s extremely easy to set up a PPV event,” said Jordan Meyer, Ustream’s director of product marketing. “You just schedule the event at, get the player links from us, and then feed us the video at the right time.”

As for the cost: A Ustream Basic membership, which is sufficient for scheduling a PPV event, is free. As well, Ustream does not charge any extra fees for PPV events: They make their money through a 50/50 revenue split with PPV broadcasters, based on online sales. The deal: The broadcaster shoots the event and feeds the footage to Ustream, and gets half of the online payments. Ustream handles everything else—scheduling, providing embedded links to Ustream players, online credit card payments, serving of video, and payment to the broadcaster after the event—for the other half of the gate.

Streaming via Ustream comes down to sending the company a video stream via the Web. How that stream is created is entirely up to the broadcaster.

“Typically, the user would send whatever signal they had through an encoder and then send that straight to Ustream,” Meyer said. “There are several different encoding options depending on their setup.” Ustream also offers production services for those who don’t have a camera and encoding crew at their disposal.

Broadcasters can stream from something as simple as an iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone, a laptop PC’s built-in or USB camera, a consumer or professional camcorder or a video switcher. “NewTek’s Tricaster video switcher, with its ability to output an encoded feed directly to the Web, is popular with many of our professional members,” said Thompson. “For major sporting events, some members uplink their feeds by satellite, for downlinking at our Network Operations Center.”

In those instances where multiple video cameras are being used, the video output may need to run through a capture device and fed into an encoder. Ustream offers free encoding and mixing software called Ustream Producer, which is available for download on their site. Signal paths can be wired or wireless broadband, or 4G cellular. The last option allows broadcasters to shoot events using LiveU’s backpack 4G transmission system, for feeding via cellular from the site directly to Ustream with no intermediate hops.

Ustream’s Open PPV platform makes it possible for broadcasters to earn money from local sports and special events. Moreover, Ustream’s membership approach means that there is no financial risk involved, because members are not charged extra fees for setting up PPV programming. As for profit potential? “Some of our most single successful PPV events made up to $70,000, half of which went to the broadcaster,” said Meyer. “We’ve seen a series of season-long events make up to $300,000 in PPV revenues.” Better yet, because they negotiated special deals with Ustream, the broadcasters involved got more than 50 percent of the revenue.