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As demonstrations in Kiev descended into chaos Tuesday, some of the most striking pictures came from citizen journalists. Part of that is dedication — live streamers like Ukrstream.tv and Spilno.tv have been covering the protests nonstop since November — but part of it also has to do with Ukraine’s crackdown on traditional media. The country’s opposition-friendly Channel 5 has reportedly been shut down, making the internet the only source for information for many Ukrainians.
That pattern isn’t new to Ustream CEO Brad Hunstable, whose company’s website is hosting some of the feeds from Kiev. Ustream was previously used by citizen journalists covering the Arab Spring, as well as the Occupy protests in the U.S. and around the world. In both cases, Ustream decided to provide some of the live streamers with material support, ranging from free access to enterprise services to live-streaming rigs consisting of mobile data access and a whole lot of batteries.
But those efforts were “ad hoc,” according to Hunstable when I reached him via phone this week, without a clear process for citizen journalists to apply. That’s why the company is scheduled to announce its very own nonprofit program, dubbed Ustream for Change, this Wednesday.
With it, Ustream plans to provide free access to its ad-free enterprise streaming services, which are also used by brands like Sony and Salesforce, to citizen journalists around the world. The company also wants to help promote the live streams and provide technical support. Spilno.tv and Ukrstream.tv are among the first to receive material support through the program, allowing them to reach more than 50 million viewers since the start of the protests. “It’s our way of giving back to the world,” Hunstable told me.
The move comes as Ustream and some of its competitors are moving away from an emphasis on free, ad-supported live video to focus more on enterprise services. Ustream started to impose new restrictions for its free accounts earlier this year, limiting the ability to archive past shows. Hunstable told me that Ustream will always have a free tier, but that the money is clearly with pro services, and not with ads. Ads matter “less and less” to Ustream, he said.