YouTube Live Is Not Ready for Primetime

Don’t expect YouTube (s GOOG) to replace your primetime TV viewing anytime soon, based on early results from its latest live streaming efforts. It’s only Day Two of an alpha test with four content partners, but an early look at YouTube’s live video quality show some inherent issues with its live streaming ambitions.

First, a caveat: YouTube and all the partners involved have been very careful to note that this is their first effort all around. For its part, YouTube is trialling new live-streaming capability, eschewing third-party content delivery networks like Akamai (s AKAM) in lieu of its own video delivery infrastructure. Meanwhile, content providers like Howcast, Next New Networks and Rocketboom are taking baby steps into live video production rather than producing edited, short-form video clips.

This isn’t YouTube’s first foray into livestreaming, as it has previously hosted live events like the State of the Union address, various concerts and music festivals and the Indian Premier League cricket tournament. However, it relied on third-party CDNs for its previous live events, rather than its own infrastructure.

The first trial of its new (and in the words of one YouTube spokesperson, “100-percent homegrown”) streaming infrastructure has been a disappointment, especially in light of all the data center capacity, transit links and engineering resources Google has to throw at the effort. Video quality was poor and quite choppy in our test of the service, and it seems we weren’t alone in this respect: VideoNuze, Gizmodo and Wired all mentioned similar issues with the video streaming.

Even more disappointing is that these issues sprang up while not that many people were watching. I found the video to be choppy with viewership hovering in the low hundreds, which hasn’t been unusual for this early test. TechCrunch counted less than 500 viewers online for a live interview with Tony Hawk, and many of the other live shows have garnered less than 1,000 viewers.

This goes to show it’s not easy to do live video, and even harder to do live video well. If YouTube plans to expand its live video capabilities further, it will need to drastically improve on its first real effort in the live video space.

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