LIFE IS JUST A STREAM
Maximum PC|November 2021
Learn the ins and outs of streaming with Sam Lewis
Sam Lewis

LIVE STREAMING HAS taken off in the past decade, to the point where it’s now ubiquitous across many social media platforms. So what is it? Live streaming is when video or audio content is simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real-time via the internet. Twitch and YouTube remain the most popular sites, but you can also find live streaming on social media sites, such as Facebook and Snapchat.

Live streaming is a great platform to watch your favorite content and experience the anticipation you get when watching live television. Gaming is one of its most popular forms, but it isn’t the only reason to get into streaming. There are all types of media you can stream: lifestyle, sports, podcasts, craft, work, vlogs, travel, music, and much more—as long as it’s legal (for obvious reasons), you can stream it.

In fact, the best way to explain live streaming is that it’s the internet’s version of TV, only with a lot more creative freedom and the opportunity for everyone to have a go. If you have some charisma and talent, combined with a bit of luck, you can even make a living from it.

Year after year, the live streaming industry is growing in size and popularity. It is estimated that it will reach upwards of $70 billion by the end of 2021, which is pretty impressive, considering it only started to gain traction around ten years ago. Thanks to live streaming, the internet has become a great place to get the live content you’re after. No longer confined to passive consumption of stuffy TV schedules, with live streaming, there is more scope for two-way communication and getting to know your favorite creators.

Community-based social interaction between the creators and the audience (or subscribers) is a big part of live streaming. The feeling of belonging to an exclusive tight-knit community has created an environment that feels far more involved than the other ways in which we consume media, including TV, cinema, or video streaming. So, over the next few pages, we’ll explain all there is to know about this relatively new industry and tell you how to get started in the streaming world.

THE IMMERSION OF TWITCH

Like many great ideas, live streaming began as a random concept that blossomed into reality. Let’s go back to 2007, and a creative guy called Justin Kan. With his ideas, drive, and wacky antics, he was at the forefront of the live streaming industry as we know it today.

On March 19th, 2007, and armed with a webcam attached to a baseball cap and a laptop rigged in a backpack, Kan began to film his life. What started as a peculiar stunt soon gained traction, as people tuned in 24/7 to watch him eat, drink, sleep, procrastinate, and do his general day-to-day stuff. Now, this might not seem so crazy, but at the time, it was a genuinely new concept, if a little bizarre.

After a while, the number of viewers grew and Kan suddenly found he had an audience. On NBC’s Today show in 2007, Kan told host Ann Curry “I’m only at the beginning of something that could be really popular.” He wasn’t wrong.

From humble beginnings, Kan turned his project concept into what was, possibly, the first live streaming website, Justin.tv. Kan was helped by going into partnership with Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt, who had created a web calendar start-up in 2005 called Kiko. Though Kiko proved a short-lived venture and was eventually superseded by Google Calendar, which was released just a year later, they had lucked out anyway, selling Kiko on eBay for $250,000.

Justin.tv was a platform that allowed anyone to broadcast video online. For the first time, viewers across the globe could follow in Kan’s footsteps, by creating their own channels on Justin.tv. No longer just a channel where you could watch a grown man have breakfast, the growth of this platform brought with it a wide variety of content, as more genres and categories were created. Some of the most popular early formats included sports, lifecasting, and gaming. Justin.tv had given people an alternative to the traditional set television schedules and added some variety to their typical content consumption.

However, this expansion and a lack of control over the content brought problems for the site. With sports streaming rising in popularity, many live sporting events such as boxing, football, and soccer matches were being shown on Justin.tv for free, circumventing the TV companies and their big-money, exclusive broadcasting rights deals. Initially, this attracted millions of people to the platform, but with this came multiple lawsuits that forced the company to clamp down on piracy issues.

As the crackdown on illegal content intensified, the general interest in the website declined. In 2010, Justin.tv had 20 million annual viewers, but this dropped by 4 million the following year. Advertisers became wary of the platform too, due to the threat of lawsuits and gradually drifted away too. After all of these problems, Justin.tv had fallen a little flat. Things were on the downfall for the company and it needed a spark to get it back up and running once more.

The saving grace for the company was that, despite all the negativity, the gaming section on the site had remained strong and was still growing. Kan and his team picked up on this and added some user-friendly features tweaked towards gamers to bring more attention.

They also began recruiting gamers to stream on the platform, further boosting this section. Inevitably, it outgrew the rest of the site and needed a life of its own. In 2011, Twitch.tv was created, and so what had started off as a spark ended up being the savior of the site. In turn, it revolutionized live streaming and turned out to be perfect timing for the company.

RISE IN POPULARITY

The gaming industry and scene were in a bit of a rush in the early 2010s. As gaming became more accessible than ever, soon came the rise of game recording and creating content around this topic. Playthroughs, tutorials, competitive gaming were all part of this buzz and YouTube was a great place to showcase this. Creators made great content often with commentary and a face cam of them playing through games with edits to set their work apart. What Twitch did was take this recipe, but instead of giving you the option to edit it, you play through live with an audience. The excitement of live streaming only added more buzz to the gaming scene and it soon took off.

Twitch gave content creators the ability to grow a designated audience and community. A live chat would keep the creator in touch with their audience. Twitch became a great place to watch gaming content and millions of people were drawn to the platform with games such as DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike. It helped esports explode into popularity, and created a whole industry around live streaming games. By October 2013, Twitch had 45 million active viewers and, by February 2014, it was the fourth largest peak of internet traffic in the US. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that they are some pretty decent figures. In August 2014, the company was bought out by Amazon for the hefty sum of $970 million. Not bad for a company that had been going just three years.

The platform has come a long way since its humble backpack rig days, with rivals such as YouTube, Facebook, and Microsoft all launching live streaming services to compete alongside it. Nonetheless, Twitch still stands out as one of the best streaming sites around.

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