Summary:

Livestation has seen its audience size explode ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring earlier this year. The company’s success makes you wonder whether other news networks that restrict their live feeds to pay TV subscribers are really doing the right thing.

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U.K.-based live video news platform Livestation has seen its number of unique visitors grow close to tenfold, thanks in part to the popularity of Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring. That’s great news for the video startup and the networks it’s carrying, but it also makes one wonder how much other news networks are missing out by not making their programming freely available online.

Livestation CEO Lippe Oosterhof wrote in a blog post today that 53 million unique users have visited Livestation.com in 2011. That’s already close to 10 times as much as all of 2010, and the year isn’t even over yet. Oosterhof didn’t want to break out numbers by channel when asked via email how much of this was due to Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring, but he told me, “it has driven a lot of awareness and attention and traffic wise it is one of the biggest channels.”

He added that many viewers come for one of the more popular channels like BBC or Al-Jazeera, but then discover other news channels on the site. “We try to foster an experience that allows viewers to have access to all points of view,” Oosterhof said.

Livestation has also seen increased traffic for its desktop client and mobile site, and its new iOS app is now clocking more than one million streams per month. The company is working on an Android app as well as an app for Samsung’s connected TV platform, and Oosterhof told me that it will provide apps for other platforms as soon as standards in this space emerge.

The company is providing most of its content in a free, ad-supported format, and Oosterhof told me that Livestation has seen great success with pre-roll advertising in Europe and the U.S., and is hoping to extend that to the Middle East and Southeast Asia as well. It is also offering premium subscriptions for some of its content.

Subscribers can, for example, get access to Al-Jazerra English in HD, and also stream CNN International in some markets. Subscriptions currently represent only a fifth of the company’s revenue, but Oosterhof said Livestation wants to grow the premium service substantially with the launch of new premium packages later this year.

Livestation’s success story is somewhat reflective of news consumption in the age of social media. During the uprising in Egypt, countless folks all over the world turned to Al-Jazeera in part because people on Twitter and Facebook linked to the network. Following the Japanese earthquake, local broadcaster NHK became known worldwide for providing firsthand information. This type of immediacy helps Livestation, which provides news sources from all around the world.

But what about traditional cable news networks? Take CNN for example. It recently unveiled its new CNN Everywhere service, which offers impressive features, including live HD video. However, it’s restricted to U.S. residents that happen to be customers of one of the participating pay TV providers. Even some people who should have access might not make it their first choice.

After all, what are you going to do when news breaks while you’re in the office and away from the TV: try to figure out your pay TV credentials to authenticate on CNN — or turn to a less restricted offering like Livestation?

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