Agora.io @ SXSW 2017
The phrase “Content is King” was originally coined from an essay Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote in 1996. Even 20 years ago, Gates had the foresight to describe a future where the internet served as a marketplace for content.
Fast forward to our modern information age where access to content is easier than ever, made possible by the proliferation of smartphones and widespread high speed internet access.
The most viewed content in the world today is video, by a landslide. Streaming video and audio accounts for over 70 percent of all internet traffic1, with experts projecting it will reach 82 percent by 20202. The vast majority of viewed content is professional content, but user generated content is rapidly increasing.3
There are a couple of reasons to explain this trend. For one, the transition from TVs and desktops to mobile viewing. According to studies, 52 percent of all video views now come from mobile devices.4 Another reason is due to the preference of younger generation users. Simply put, perhaps due to their tech-savvy and early adopter nature, Millennials show a very strong preference for user generated content5.
In terms of time spent, traditional TV still eclipses digital video among Millennials. However, when asked to select their one preferred provider for any form of video content, YouTube was the leader among Millennials at 35%.
Solving the Monetization Challenge
There is one critical piece to this puzzle which the market is still figuring out, and that is on the topic of monetization. Unlike professional video content, which we are all accustomed to pay a price to view, users expect user generated video to be free. Social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, and Twitter have set the precedence that watching a 30 second advertisement is the only requirement to view the original desired content.
And therein lies the problem — how do you monetize user generated content which is perceived to be highly valuable (in terms of number of views), in an environment where “free” is the expectation?
This is why “Engagement is Queen” is critical. By empowering the audience member to do more than simply consume video, audience engagement — specifically: interaction between the audience members and the original content creator opens new revenue streams. We’re already seeing the fruits of this in China, where live streaming apps are flourishing. Everyday folks can make supplementary income or even a career out of going home, and then live streaming various aspects of their lives. Hundreds of thousands of people will tune in to hear someone who is willing to discuss their dreams and ambitions, tell stories or jokes, debate political topics, or just put on a good show.
We are quickly seeing the rest of the world quickly following the live streaming trend. The big social platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (Periscope), and Google have all introduced live streaming in the last 6–12 months.
But what are their success stories? Specifically, why are all of a sudden people willing to pay money to watch user generated live streaming content? Well, here are some specific examples of monetization models that we’ve seen successfully implemented involving audience engagement:
Almost every live streaming application already features chat. Allowing audience members to send messages during a stream not only gives real-time feedback to the broadcaster, but also makes it more fun for everyone else.
YouTube took a creative approach to monetizing chat by added a new feature called “Super Chat” 6, which allows viewers to pay real money to highlight (in a bright color) and pin their comment.
Note that a key to delivering an interactive chat experience is a low latency stream, as close to real-time as possible. If there is too much delay between the broadcaster’s capture time and the audience member playback, then the audience feedback is no longer relevant to the streamer as they have likely moved on to talk about another topic.
Lenses, Masks, and Filters
Snapchat, the social messaging application which just IPOed at a valuation of $25B, was one of the first to introduce real-time face tracking effects powered by its $15 million acquisition of Looksery.
Since then, we’ve seen top live streaming platforms such as Facebook Live7, Momo, Inke, and Live.me all launch their own lenses, masks, and filter features. All these platforms are keying into the trend led by consumers who want more engaging, unique and interactive content.
A simple mechanism to turn this feature into revenue is to allow streamers or audience members to pay for lenses, masks, and filters. Want to see the streamer embarrass themselves in bunny ears? Send them the mask as a gift.
One thing to consider is that applying lenses, masks, and filters does add computational processing load, which may compete with the processing power required to stream video. Therefore, it is critical to minimize this impact without sacrificing face tracking accuracy and responsiveness to movement, in particular for “lower end”, older generation devices.
“Beam” was coined by live streaming platform Live.me8, and the feature allows the broadcaster to invite any audience member to broadcast their video as a guest broadcaster sharing the stream as a picture-in-picture window.
Beam enables interesting use cases such as: sharing screen time with a celebrity streamer or enabling live Q&A from an audience member in a talk show.
This new engagement model of few-to-many streaming is different than traditional one-to-many streaming and requires real-time, ultra low latency (<200ms) interaction between the broadcaster and guest streamers to facilitate the experience.
Social discovery platform Momo tripled their revenue after adding live streaming.9 Their secret to monetization? Virtual gifting, where audience members can spend real money to buy virtual items such as animations (fireworks, hearts) to express their gratitude or appreciation to their streamers.
This creates an ecosystem that motivates streamers to stream often and continues to entertain viewers. In turn, the streaming platform provider will take a cut of each virtual gift.
Video continues to grow as the most consumed traffic over the internet. More and more platforms are adding live video streaming as the “new” medium to engage their users, customers, and fans.
Agora.io provides a mobile-first real-time communications (RTC) solution for brands and businesses. With Agora.io’s API and SDK, developers can easily add high quality, low latency voice and video live experiences into existing platforms and channels.
Agora.io interactive broadcasting solution uniquely addresses each of the requirements to deliver the monetization mechanisms outlined earlier in the article.
1 https://www.sandvine.com/pr/2015/12/7/sandvine-over-70-of-north-american-traffic-is-now-streaming-video-and-audio.html 2 http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/complete-white-paper-c11-481360.html 3 http://socialnewsdaily.com/19733/youtube-videos-from-brands-viewed-10x-less-than-user-generated-videos/ 4 http://go.ooyala.com/wf-video-index-q3-2016 5 https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Blog/What-Millennials-YouTube-Usage-Tells-Us-about-the-Future-of-Video-Viewership 6 https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/12/youtube-launches-super-chat-a-way-for-creators-to-make-money-from-their-live-streams/ 7 https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/27/facebook-masks/ 8 https://medium.com/live-me/beam-lets-you-add-viewers-into-your-broadcasts-4331b0c6701b#.anb2yukzc 9 https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/09/momo-live-streaming/