One of the world’s first live-streamers, Jennifer Ringley, then 19, drew close to a million views, as she shared every uncensored detail of her college dorm life. Believe it or not, Ringley was internet-famous even before the Kardashian learned to break the internet. At its peak, her site, JenniCam got seven million hits a day. She appeared in a major newspaper and was profiled on the Late Show with David Letterman. This was 20 years ago, and although we still treat live-streaming as a distraction, as an entertainment, it’s the first time in history that it has reached a transitional peak-point. Today, thanks to dozens of top live video streaming apps, the layman can share their lives with the world and earn. The type of videos live broadcast are edgy, cute, and sometimes even adorable.
Between watching her first election, saying her first word and celebrating her recent birthday, Baby Maxima Chan Zuckerberg has been hitting milestones like it’s nobody’s business. Not so long ago, superdaddy Mark Zuckerberg documented his one-year-old daughter’s first steps in 360 video.
“When I was a baby and took my first steps, my mom wrote the date in a baby book. When my sister’s children took their first steps, she recorded it with photos and videos. When Max started walking, I wanted to capture the whole scene with a 360 video so our friends and family can feel like they’re right there with us,” the Facebook founder noted in his caption on the 360 video, which he shared to Facebook.
On Periscope, Facebook Live, Twitch and a horde of apps, amateur live video feeds have become the order of the day. These apps play a significant role in shaping the news as well as the culture and are forcing us to reexamine how we share things with the world. For example, a lot of refugees that are coming through Europe, are using live video to document their voyage. People in places like Mexico, Brazil, and all across Latin America are using video to document police brutality. Similarly, in recent months, unprecedented live feed highlighting the power of citizen journalists has become a part of mainstream media. While the concept of citizen journalism has been around for centuries, the cornucopia of live streaming apps and faster mobile broadband has made it easier for people to bring to light events and viewpoints.
The arrival of the most popular live-streaming video app, Meerkat in February, drew in close to 700,000 downloads in the first month. Meerkat’s market ended when Twitter acquired Periscope a few months later, with the latter collecting over a million sign-ups in the first week. Facebook’s live streaming app, has close to 1.5 billion people on the stream. You add China, which is on a whole another level, and you have an audience of close to 325 million with their eyes set on livestreaming. A majority of live-streamers aren’t Twister-style hurricane chasers, or comedians, or war correspondents. They’re mostly bored teenagers confined in their bedroom or getting stoned in the school washroom.
The real game changer nowadays is China’s billion-dollar personal livestreaming industry. Equipped with smartphones and selfie sticks, youngsters are chasing in on the live-streaming craze by broadcasting their mundane lives- from eating an entire pizza in two minutes, playing video games, eating dinner or putting on makeup. Similar to Facebook Live’s hearts and comments, one can receive a flurry of appreciation in the form of pop-texts or even virtual gifts. If viewers like what they see, they can tip the live-streamers with virtual presents they buy from the apps. The streams can trade the token value of the presents for cash.
It’s easy money for the top live-streamers who easily attract over 100,000 viewers, drawing close to $10,000 Yuan ($1400) by cashing out on the virtual gifts sent by their fans. According to China Internet Network Information Center, the number of live-streaming users hit 325 million by June 2016, that’s nearly half of China’s total internet population. Some of its live-streaming apps like Ingkee and Douyu, tap into a mobile-video market filled with teenagers hungry for edge content reflecting on today’s youth’s tastes and lifestyle. Like many Chinese live-streaming apps, Live.me, a product of Beijing-based Cheetah mobile, helps people monetize their quirks with live-broadcasting. A majority of Live.me users, close to 80 percent, come from the United States, followed by 7 percent from the United Kingdom, and then smaller markers like Canada and Australia. It ranks within the top five social apps in the Apple App Store and is one of the highest grossing social apps on Google Play.
Livestreaming apps has also taken the world of education by storm. Since Periscope’s debut in 2015, teachers and educators are trying to figure out how to use it for education. Such apps’ live-chat functionality allows live-streamers to go beyond the static online-course videos to engage with curious audience. A high number of institutions and companies have adopted to live-streaming apps, to live-stream lectures and events. Some of the unique functionalities allow college students to gain first-hand college experience. It’s also a great way for international students to learn more about their prospective institutions, so they get grips with the culture and can make a decision.
Universities, including MIT, have begun live-streaming campus tours to prospective undergraduates. This trend is particularly successful in large countries like the U.S., and especially among international students. A lot of these colleges are also broadcasting graduation, so family members living too far away to attend can also be a part of it.
Live-streaming has got to a point where users cannot go onto social media without reading about tragic violence. Sure, it’s playing a pivotal role in how we consume contents, but it has also become a platform through which we’re normalizing violence. There’s a growing need to add a warning underneath the videos.