The Demise of PAYG Live Video Streaming

by | Jan 16, 2013

PAYG live video streaming is dead. So what now? We consider the alternatives for event organisers on a budget…

In late 2012, UStream announced that they would be withdrawing their pay-as-you-go premium live video streaming service: Watershed.

Since 2009, we have made extensive use of Watershed to deliver ad-free live video streams for event organisers with a tight budget as part of our event amplification service. Watershed allowed us to bill clients only for the amount of time that the live video stream was actually watched, at a rate of $1 per viewer hour. Unlike the many free alternatives, Watershed live video streams could be embedded in other web pages, branded and shown without any advertising.

Watershed was almost the perfect, low-risk solution for event organisers who wanted to try live video streaming from their event for the first time to gauge interest, or for organisers running small-medium sized events. It only offered a Flash-based viewer, which caused a problem for viewers using iOS devices, but otherwise the service was very good. You could cap your viewer numbers to ensure that you didn’t go over budget and you got a full dashboard of viewer statistics to review after the event.

What are the alternatives?

Since Watershed has been withdrawn, we have been researching possible alternatives for one-off events that don’t break the bank. Nothing can match the Watershed PAYG model for cost efficiency and flexibility, but there are alternatives that don’t come with frightening price tags…

UStream vs Livestream

The two big players in the premium live video streaming space are UStream and Livestream. Both offer a range of subscription-based “pro” accounts, including UStream’s new Pro Broadcasting Service, which has replaced Watershed. However, most of their monthly or annual subscription plans are priced for high volumes of live video, placing them out of reach of most of our clients. That said, there are cheaper packages available, depending on the features you need.

Most cost effective option seems to be UStream’s Starter subscription at $99 (approx £60) per month for 100 viewer hours, with additional viewer hours charged at $0.50 thereafter. This should fit within the budget restrictions of most small events, many of which are unlikely to exceed the 100 viewer hour limit.

Livestream offers a similar package at a cheaper rate ($49 per month), but this does not include the ability to embed the live video stream in any web page. You have to pay $399 for that!

During my research, I found that while Livestream’s sales staff were particularly attentive, their technical support staff were slow to respond to queries. However, UStream was able to answer my questions much more promptly.

Both services allowed you to pay for one month and then cancel the subscription to avoid ongoing charges.

Audio-Only Streaming

An alternative to live video streaming would be to use an audio streaming service, such as Mixlr. Whilst at a cursory glance Mixlr looks like it is mainly geared up for broadcasting music from SoundCloud, it will in fact allow you to live stream an audio feed from any source and embed this within a page for as little as £4.99 per month. There is a free option, but this does not allow embedding.

Many remote event participants admit to having a live video stream open on another tab in their internet browser so they can listen whilst working on other things, rather than watching avidly. If this is likely to be the case for your remote audience, an audio-only stream (effectively an event radio station) may be the most cost effective way to offer convenient live access to your event. It will also have benefits such as lower data rates, meaning that viewers with slower internet connection speeds will have a smoother experience.

It is worth assessing how much of your event will be visually significant and perhaps polling your prospective remote audience to see if they would prefer audio or video.


If you really must have video, but can’t afford a premium service, it is worth considering the ad-supported services. These include:

…to name but a few.

This is effectively the low risk option. You pay nothing for the streaming service, so if no-one watches you haven’t lost anything. If lots of people watch, you don’t blow the budget. However, it is worth investigating what type of adverts will be shown to ensure that these are suitable for the audience, and warning your remote audience that there will be adverts, so this doesn’t come as a surprise.

Audience Fee

If adverts are not acceptable to your audience, but you don’t have the budget for a premium service, you can consider requesting a small contribution from the remote audience towards the cost of the live video streaming. This requires remote audience members to sign up for the event in advance, pay for a ticket and receive a private link to the stream.

Whilst there are advantages to this approach (you will know more about your remote audience for one thing!) this will move you more towards a hybrid event model, where access to the event is restricted to those who are prepared to pay, rather than free for all.

I have yet to see any useful research into acceptable price points for live access to events by sector, so working out what to charge may be a bit of a minefield!



PAYG live video streaming was a really useful pricing model for small-medium events and event organisers who wanted to put the first toe in the water of live video streaming to gauge interest. As this post shows, there are still cost effective alternatives available, but as with all event amplification, creativity and audience knowledge will be vital to choosing the right mix for your event.

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