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The Worldwide Video Revolution Is Happening on Small Screens
Inexpensive access to smartphones is letting people around the world add their voices to the chorus, creating a new wave of user-generated content.
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When I first joined the streaming media revolution, it was a cold and blustery day in New England. One of my business partners and I attended the MultiMediaCom show at Boston’s World Trade Center, unaware that we’d see anything revolutionary or that I’d later work to establish a World Trade Center in a small Tennessee town.

What I saw (and heard) during that event was almost anticlimactic, since my partner and I had both been involved in videoconferencing for about 6 years. We’d already been using H.263—the video codec in H.323 IP videoconferencing, a precursor to H.264—to broadcast bidirectional, low-latency meetings around the globe. The idea of using video streaming to do a unidirectional broadcast seemed almost quaint. But a few engineers from RealNetworks gave a presentation at the conference, and their passion to change the world, one corporate desktop at a time, was infectious.

That passion grew from a seed of discontent with the broadcast status quo. It led to a number of major opportunities, including giving Mark Cuban the chance to stream audio of Indiana Hoosiers games via his Audionet company. Audionet later became Broadcast.com and, later still, was acquired by Yahoo for almost $6 billion in stock.

Still, as with any true revolution, the promise—if not the practicality—is to give power to the people. With that promise, the idea of user-generated content (UGC) was born, offering the chance for anyone to become a podcasting, videocasting, lifecasting, or just plain castaway star.

This was all long before YouTube, Vimeo, or any of the hundreds of “enterprise YouTube” knockoffs. But the idea was the same, and the 2005 launch of YouTube was instrumental in allowing UGC to flourish. I even covered YouTube’s purchase and meteoric growth in my 2008 article, “A Decade of StreamingMedia.com.”

Almost a decade later, the promise of a billion-channel universe gave way to the practicalities of only a few thousand being able to make a living from advertising- and sponsor-powered UGC. The internet as a broadcast platform now looks less like a pirate radio operation and more like a video-centric Rube Goldberg contraption on its way to being optimized, tweaked, and duct-taped together until the real internet emerges to strengthen the hand of traditional media intent on delivering via IP rather than across airwaves and satellite dishes.

Still, the urge for a broadcasting revolution— whether it be the narrowcast of years gone by, the nano-broadcast of recent years, or the Facebook Live approach of 2016—survives and thrives in the garages, spare bedrooms, and dorm rooms of the Western world. Coupled with the explosive growth of smartphones in China and the rest of Asia, India, and even Africa, it’s clear that the revolution itself is still alive, playing out at different times in different parts of the world.

Because of that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re seeing another rise in UGC uploaded to online video platforms around the world. Jeroen Wijering, whose name is synonymous with the JW Player, recently sent me a sample of stats that showed an interesting correlation between unique videos (the majority of which are short, shot on H.264, and uploaded in an MP4 container format) and premium content (mostly long-form content, which is delivered in the HLS format).

“MP4 dominates the unique videos, whereas HLS dominates the time watched,” Wijering said, adding that an upcoming HTML5 report will expand on the use of MP4, HLS, Spark (H.263), and even RTMP. Overall, MP4 accounts for 75 percent of the unique videos on the JW Platform, with HLS only making up 9 percent. But HLS has almost 16 percent of total plays, at the direct expense of MP4 videos (which drop to 61 percent of total plays).

It only stands to reason that, armed with a camera and a way to record and deliver content to the web, the 5 billion global citizens who are just now receiving their smart devices might want to make their voices heard. So maybe this summer will be the glorious summer of our content after all.

This article originally ran in the June 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “The Glorious Summer of Our Content.”

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