YouTube streamed yet another live music event yesterday, broadcasting Alicia Key’s Keep a Child Alive benefit concert from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Google is keeping mum about how many viewers tuned in, but similar live events have proven to draw big crowds in the past: U2′s live stream generated 10 million views in October, and the Foo Fighters clocked 440,000 live streams on Livestream.com about a month ago. Of course, even with numbers that impressive, one has to ask: What’s in it for YouTube?
That’s what I wanted to know from Hunter Walk, YouTube’s director of Product Management, when I interviewed him at NewTeeVee Live last month, and he told me that Google views live streams like these as part of a bigger strategy to get YouTube ready for the real-time video web. Walk didn’t want to comment on any plans for personal live streaming, but he made one thing clear: The technology side of live streaming would be easy to master for Google. Ustream and Justin.tv better take notice.
There have long been speculations that YouTube might one day enter the live streaming world, a domain that has been dominated by startups like Ustream, Justin.tv, Qik and Stickam. In fact, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen stated during an interview in early 2008 that the site would do live video by the end of that year. That deadline has long passed, and Walk simply called Chen’s announcement “speculation” when I talked to him at NewTeeVee Live without giving any further details about plans for personal live streaming.
That doesn’t mean YouTube has ruled out doing live streaming, at least not for technical reasons. “There is really no particular technology challenge to us delivering any type of video,” he said, adding that it’s more a question of growing YouTube as a community and a business.
Still, Google clearly sees the signs of live video on the wall. “We are moving very quickly towards a real-time video web, and it’s driven primarily by mobile phones,” Hunt told me, adding that Google sees spikes in mobile video uploads every time a new device like the Droid or the iPhone 3GS enters the market. YouTube has seen a 2,000 percent increase in mobile video uploads this year alone, according to Hunt.
Google is reacting to this trend by making mobile video a more instantaneous experience. Hunt told me that YouTube has been trying to bring down the processing time of video uploads from minutes closer to 30 seconds. “That’s what I would call almost near real time,” he added.