YouTube Could Get Into the Live Streaming Game

Watch out Livestream, Ustream and Justin.tv: YouTube (s GOOG) could launch a live streaming feature. That is, if a screenshot grabbed by TechCrunch is any indication of the company’s interest in possibly launching such a service.

The screenshot, which was grabbed from a help page, shows a “Live Stream” tab in the channel settings for a YouTube moderator account. While YouTube Moderator users don’t currently have live streaming access, the screen shot, which seems to have been created by a YouTube employee for the help page, could portend a new live-streaming feature in the future.

YouTube has already run a number of live streaming events on its own, including political events such as the State of the Union Address, music events like the Outside Lands Music Festival, and sports events like the Indian Premier League Championship. But so far it has shied away from opening the floodgates to casual users, who are only able to upload on-demand video clips.

Of course, rumors of YouTube offering live streaming are already older than the hills. Co-founder Steve Chen said the feature would be added by the end of the year — in 2008. But so far, only major events have been shown live on the site.

YouTube surely has the ability to roll out a live-streaming feature, but one potential issue is the cost of operating such an enterprise. YouTube already receives more than 24 hours of video uploaded every minute, but that would grow exponentially if live streaming were open to everyone. The live-streaming companies like Ustream and Livestream all report streaming more than that; no doubt if YouTube entered the live-streaming market, it would soon find itself to be the default site for live streams as well as on-demand video.

At the same time, YouTube would also have to deal with copyright issues, as live streaming sites like Justin.tv and Ustream have faced problems keeping copyrighted content from being streamed by their members. Given its ongoing copyright infringement suit with Viacom (s VIA), YouTube is in no rush to open itself up to further copyright liability.

While YouTube might not open a live streaming feature to all users, it could enable trusted partners and certain groups, like politicians, to use the live-streaming feature to hold their own live town hall meetings and other events. The site has been actively courting politicians running for office with its new You Choose 2010 Campaign Toolkit, which was announced yesterday on the YouTube blog.

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