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What the Kids Are Watching: The World of Tween Live Streaming

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Do you know what the kids are watching? If you’re over 30, I bet you don’t. YouTube Red? go90? Nope. What do you know about YouNow or Live.me?

A few years ago at Streaming Media West, an engineer with Twitch gave the opening day keynote, and the audience was stunned to learn that online video game streaming was huge. Twitch had recently streamed an event to over 8 million concurrent viewers. This was a pluggedin, industry crowd, and they didn’t know how big game streaming had become.

The current big thing—and this is no surprise to younger people—is live streaming apps. I’m not talking about Facebook Live or YouTube Live; I mean apps like YouNow, Live.me, and Busker. With these apps, anyone with an attractive smile and a phone can create live video streams and attract fans. It’s one-to-many interactive live TV, where viewers communicate with text messages, animated icons, and onscreen gifts that can be redeemed for cash.

If you want to feel old, open up YouNow and try to figure out what you’re seeing. Remember the first time you opened Snapchat and had no idea what to do? Well, the Snapchat interface is a relaxing paradise compared with the YouNow user interface.

When you open YouNow or Live.me, you’re confronted with live conversations, rapidly scrolling comments, animations, and options for other menus. It’s guaranteed to turn off older adults, and that’s just the way users like it.

To wrap my head around these apps, I spoke Yonatan Sela, vice president of business development and product strategy for YouNow.

“It’s first a lot about interaction and participation,” Sela says. “Beyond what you see in live sports video or people broadcasting from conferences, I think that’s a core difference. The core of what’s happening is the broadcaster broadcasting themselves. The camera they use is usually the front camera that looks at the person, the selfie camera. Rather than describing an experience happening out there in the world, the experience is what’s happening here in the broadcast—in the interaction between the live viewers.”

For YouNow, about 75 percent of users are between the ages of 13 and 25, Sela says. Live.me attracts a similar audience, while Busker skews a bit older.

We’ve heard how YouTube and Vine stars have amassed a following, then gotten book, TV, or movie deals. Can that happen on a livestreaming platform, where the star simply talks to viewers in real time (and the conversation is mostly thanking viewers for sending likes or hearts or whatever the on-screen currency happens to be)? Young telegenic talent is investing time here for a reason: Top live streamers make six figures per year, Sela says, all without leaving their bedrooms.

One challenge in creating a platform for younger viewers is making sure it’s a safe space. It might be live and immediate, but it can’t be anything-goes. YouNow has a robust safety operation, Sela says, mixing technology, community, and 24/7 human moderation. There’s no nudity or drug use here, and no harassment.

“It is a major challenge, and we have spent a lot of time and a lot of money and built technology to be able to do that in a scalable way,” Sela says. Some community members, who are designated as ambassadors, can take action when they see something improper. Paid moderators look into potential problems. Also, all users have the ability to block any other user from their broadcasts.

The result of all this is numbers that a lot of video sites would kill for. Viewers spend more than 30 minutes per day on YouNow, and more than 70 percent of users engage with the content.

If you’re still confused about why these platforms are popular, you’re not alone. It’s about our instant gratification culture, Sela says, as well as young people’s comfort in sharing their lives and expressing themselves.

It’s fun to watch for a little while, but it’s definitely for the young. Now pardon me while I shuffle back to the familiar worlds of Netflix and YouTube.

[This article appears in the January/February 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Inside the Baffling World of Tween Live Streaming."]

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