The Democratization of Broadcasting

Audio/Video broadcasting on the internet is widely supported by a number of “free” apps.  These apps shield the end-user from the ultimate cost of audio/video processing and transport.  But in some sense, they are not actually free.  Most of these apps ask you to trade personal information of value for the right to use the service. Types of valuable information include your identity, perhaps your friends’ identity, and most often they require your “attention” … in the form of advertising.  These items of “value” can be converted into real money, and the real money keeps the free service going, and the
virtuous cycle continues.

Broadcasting can require transcoding for each receiver

Broadcasting has many uses.  Some are commercial, but there are other types of one-to-many communications that are possible.  Exemplars for this type of service are the broadcast of a piano recital to members of the family, or the broadcast of an unusual impromptu street performer to a few friends.

This article examines the costs of broadcasting and asks if lowering the costs can result in a new service model: one that is lean, anonymous and speedy.

Costs

Transcoding

Broadcasting can be farirly expensive.  In a typical application using a smartphone as a broadcaster, a single highly compressed stream is sent to a hub server.  The hub is responsible for transcoding the stream into a format appropriate for each type of client rendering the stream.  Today, there is not a universal format for broadcasting Live Streams, and each of the mobile and browser platforms require individual handling.  Indeed, to support “live” stream viewing on mobiles, the services with the best quality use custom apps.  (As an aside: Asking your potential audience to install an app can be an impediment to reaching them at all.)

Back to the role of the hub: because the hub must create a stream for each type of viewer platform, the hub may have to do a lot of work. This translates to cost.  Reducing the types of streams could reduce total cost.

Bandwidth

The other major cost is broadcast bandwidth.  At this point in time, upload bandwidth is essentially free for the hub server, and the broadcasting device pays for its upload on its WiFi plan.  The download side of a broadcast can quickly grow as audiences reach large sizes.  Large broadcasters can amortize the cost of broadcasts with tiny audiences over the income generated by large audiences with ad revenue.

Technologies

WebRTC – an emerging technology

WebRTC is a technology that is going to revolutionize person-to-person and  conference-call communication on the web.  As of today is is fully supported by Chrome and Firefox.  WebRTC can avoid sending audio/video data through hub servers entirely, but only for small audience sizes. Group conferences of approximately four or more members are best served with Hub technology. [http://webrtcintro.appspot.com/]

In peer-to-peer configurations, WebRTC defines how clients negotiate video and audio parameters.  A sender may then choose to individually optimize the stream sent to each receiver, or the sender can simply choose the least-common-denominator across all of the receivers.  WebRTC provides the mechanisms, but leaves the policy up to the implementor.

I a star-configuration (suitable for broadcast use) a sender could send its best stream to the hub server.  The hub would then be responsible for negotiating with each of the receivers and producing an appropriate stream for each.  The hub can choose to optimize the quality for each stream, or can choose to minimize the total cost of transcoding over all streams.

Note: WebRTC is not yet available on Windows.

HTML5

HTML5 is a collection of technologies that evolve the browser into a full-fledged multimedia presentation platform.  As of 2013 it is estimated that HTML5-compatible browser market share is 70% to 85%. That’s a lot of instances of a platform! [HTML5compatible, LongTail]

HTML5 defines standards for audio and video presentation, but only where the audio and video segments have a finite duration.  Apple extends its HTML5 video player to handle streams of infinite extent (“Live Streams” in HTML5).  It is hoped that mpeg-dash will provide this capability on other platforms.  IE has its own technology called smooth streaming.  Oftentimes, Live Stream players are implemented in Flash or in native code on non-Apple platforms.

[Footnote:  We will expand on Javascript MediaSource Extensions in a future installment of this article.]

Conclusion

The web is continually becoming more real-time and responsive.  Mobile handsets with faster processors and better network connectivity are fueling the demand for not just media consumption, but the desire to create and share.  People want to broadcast live video to share their experience as it is happening, and the technology is available now.

 

2 thoughts on “The Democratization of Broadcasting”

  1. And in April of this year, Twitter released https://www.periscope.tv/ having just paid $100M for the company. http://www.thewrap.com/twitter-officially-joins-livestream-video-race-with-periscope-app/

    As of today, Periscope is mobile only, and iOS only. Meerkat released an Android version. Meerkat does a lot more than Wazwot does: they worked out the social-looping factor. It can be pretty addictive. Once you install the App, you receive constant notifications about the streams being broadcast. Can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

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