Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What Eight Million Livestreams Really Means

That crazy leap that Felix Baumgartner made was astonishing.

And if you’re interested in the future of Web video, YouTube’s ability to serve up eight million livestreams at the same time is a really big deal, too.

As I noted yesterday, that number blows away YouTube’s previous peak of 500,000 concurrent streams, which it hit this summer during the Olympics, as well as last year during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

So it doesn’t take much imagination to envision YouTube doing this kind of stuff, at this scale, on a regular basis. Which would mean the Web finally has a chance to rival TV when it comes to serving up live events with huge audiences — one of TV’s last remaining advantages over the Internet.

That won’t happen anytime soon, though. Death-defying jumps from outer space aside, there are only a few live events that millions of people want to watch at the same time. Basically, a handful of award shows like the Oscars, and big-time sports.

Even if YouTube wanted to pay up to get its hands on that programming, it’s going to have to wait, because the TV guys have the rights locked up for a long time. The next set of NFL deals, for instance, won’t be available for a decade.

But YouTube is still going to be an important platform for live stuff. It’s just that you probably won’t see most of it, unless you’re in a very particular niche.

Here’s some of the stuff YouTube has streamed live in the last year or so:

  • A concert from Psy, the “Gangnam style” guy
  • A concert from AKB48, a Japanese girl group
  • A bunch of EDM shows (that’s “DJs playing music for big crowds,” for the rest of us)
  • A concert by Jay-Z at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn
  • A World of Warcraft launch event, which featured gamers playing Mists of Pandaria around the world
  • A bunch of solar and lunar eclipses

None of these shows drew more than a couple-hundred-thousand concurrent viewers, which would make them the equivalent of a poorly rated cable TV show.

And that makes sense: Since the Internet has trained us to watch anything we want, whenever we want to, why do we have to watch when everyone else does? (A semi-secret about the live video streaming that news sites like the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal* and the Huffington Post do, for instance: Almost all the viewing comes after the fact, via on-demand clips.)

On the other hand, as YouTube proved conclusively yesterday, it can now mount this stuff without breaking a sweat. Now it’s basically a plug-and-play option for any grown-up company that wants to do business with Google. And YouTube is going to make it increasingly available to the rest of us, too.

That’s the result of a year of around-the-clock work by a couple-dozen YouTube engineers, to prep the video site for the Olympics in July.

YouTube software engineering director Jason Gaedtke,who oversaw that effort, says the livestreams the company put out during the Olympics were seven times better than the standard video-on-demand stuff YouTube puts out everyday. His team is now applying the lessons it learned from that effort, and using it to upgrade YouTube’s video more broadly.

So, yes. If someone else wants to grab the world’s attention by breaking the sound barrier aided only by gravity, you’ll be able to watch it alongside a global audience of millions.

But the future of live video on YouTube is probably going to look like something else: You and several thousand other people, watching something most of the world doesn’t care about.

And that can be thrilling in its own way.

*The Journal is owned by News Corp., which also owns this Web site.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus