Have you considered using the free YouTube live streaming service? Got reservations? In this post, we explore the myths, perks and perils of using YouTube Live Events and how it could make live streaming more economically viable for conference organisers.
Live video streaming can still be seen as a costly add-on for many events. On top of the equipment hire and staffing costs involved, there are often hefty live stream service fees to pay if you want to offer an advert-free stream. YouTube’s free live streaming service could resolve this issue and make live streaming more cost effective for smaller events.
After our experiments with Google Hangouts on Air at events we were keen to see how YouTube live streaming performed and to explore some of the common misconceptions event organisers have about using YouTube for live streaming. Here are the myths, perks and perils you need to consider…
When YouTube launched live events, it was only available to selected partner organisations. These were mostly big corporations, who could demonstrate the power of the platform to the widest possible audience. It was not available to all YouTube account holders.
Since then, YouTube has quietly rolled the feature out to all accounts. As long as your account is verified and in good standing, you can use YouTube to live stream an event.
One of the main worries I encounter when suggesting YouTube as a live streaming option to clients is the presence of adverts. Most free live streaming services put adverts on your live content – either in the form of an autoplaying advert at the beginning of each view (a pain if the viewer has to refresh their browser!) or as a banner advert along the lower third of the video window – or both! As YouTube uses both of these techniques on their on-demand video content, it makes sense that many people assume it will do the same for live video.
At the time of writing, there are no adverts on YouTube live events. This is a major advantage to event organisers who want to control the way their content appears to viewers. Other platforms require premium accounts to remove advertising, which has been historically quite pricy.
By way of comparison, we often use USTREAM, which charges $99 – $999 per month for a pro account (£66-£666), although most of our events usually operate within the $499 (£332) per month price range. This is a hefty fee to add to the equipment hire and staff costs involved in operating a live video stream. Interestingly, USTREAM is now offering viewers a membership package that allows them to watch live video streams without adverts for $3.99 (£2.66) per month. This move puts the advert viewing decision in the hands of the viewer, rather than the event organiser.
The other top live streaming platform, LiveStream, charges broadly similar amounts, when you purchase month-to-month. Most of our clients do not stream enough events to benefit from the annual plan discounts.
Within this marketplace, the lack of advertising on the free YouTube live streaming service makes it a very strong contender for most event organisers.
YouTube allows you to add a highlights reel/promotional video to your live stream, for display when the stream is offline. This is a really nice feature that allows you to make your stream look more professional and to promote your live stream ahead of time in an effective way.
For event organisers who want to strip out all of the distractions of a standard YouTube page, the live event player can be embedded in any webpage. This allows you to have more control over how your stream appears, and direct viewers to your own website, rather than a YouTube link. This is often a premium feature with other live streaming services.
Real Time Statistics
This was the feature that impressed me most when we first used YouTube for live streaming. From the producer dashboard, you can see how many people are watching your stream in real time. Even more usefully, you can also see graphs showing the types of devices they are using to watch and the quality settings they are using.
Why do the quality settings matter?
Well, if our client has insisted on a high definition stream, we may have to make additional provisions in terms of the internet bandwidth we will need to deliver the stream. This can mean additional costs. YouTube viewers can manually choose whether to watch a video in HD or standard definition, but most of the time their browser will automatically select the quality setting that will look best given their connection speed. Being able to detect how many viewers are actually able to watch the stream in HD can be really valuable feedback when planning future events.
Each YouTube live streaming event is limited to 8 hours. For most conferences, this will not be a problem, but if you are planning a longer event, you may need to consider how to split your live stream coverage to account for this limitation.
Channel vs Event
With USTREAM, we are able to create a channel for an event and share the link or embed the channel. This means we can stop and start the live stream as required by the conference programme, without the link to the live stream changing.
YouTube currently allows you to create an event, rather than a channel, which must be streamed constantly. If you have to stop and restart for any reason (such as over a lunch break), you have to create a new event. This means a new link and a new embed code.
It is possible to plan around this restriction. You could leave your stream running with a holding slide during periods when there is nothing happening at the event. Alternatively, if you embed your YouTube live stream on a page on your own website, the link you publicise will not change. However, someone will need to update the page with the new embed code at the relevant points.
For most of our clients, who run one-off or annual events in the education sector, YouTube live streaming represents a significant way to save money and deliver an advert-free live stream. In fact, it is now the first option we offer to our live video streaming clients, unless there is a particular feature they need that requires purchasing support from one of the other major platforms. These platforms still have their place, but free streaming without adverts is a tough proposition to beat and could allow more events to stream their proceedings more cost effectively.
If you would like help live video streaming a conference or workshop to a wider audience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs and get a quote.