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Live Streaming On-the-Go

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As mobile bandwidth continues to expand and smartphones with increasingly sophisticated cameras hit the market, new services offering live video streaming from mobile devices are mushrooming around the world. Competition among services is fierce, with a hodgepodge of diverse business models reflecting alternative visions of the future of mobile streaming.

The mobile streaming subindustry is still in its embryonic stages, and it is not yet clear how or even if the public and enterprises will use mobile streaming on a large scale. Few services are making money yet, but they are all racing to upgrade and add new features in an attempt to anticipate and to monetize trends in mobile streaming adoption.

Launched in early 2008, Qik has quickly become one of the leaders in the video social networking space. Qik is still a free service and is primarily targeting the Facebook/MySpace generation. "Our vision is to enable people to share what they’re doing, live, from wherever they are, through any device," says Bhaskar Roy, Qik’s co-founder and VP of marketing.

Qik offers live video streaming from a wide variety of devices and mobile operating systems and incorporates many features valued by social networkers. Videos streaming through the Qik application are automatically recorded on the Qik site and made available for later viewing and download. For those who want to distribute their videos to the widest possible audience, a Qik widget enables videos to be embedded into other websites. User accounts can also be programmed to automatically forward videos to social networking and lifecasting sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Ustream, Mogulus, YouTube, and Justin.tv. Alternatively, users can tag videos as "private" and make them available to a selected audience of friends or family.

Qik also offers a live chat feature through which users streaming videos and those watching the videos can communicate with text or audio while the live stream is in progress. When live streaming stops, any text chat is automatically converted into a comment thread. While Qik’s focus is on live streaming, videos shot with either mobile devices or camcorders can also be recorded and uploaded to the Qik site for later viewing.

Although Qik initially targeted social networking teens, both emerging and established media companies have started using the service as well. The UpTake, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, uses Qik to stream live and recorded politically oriented content from video-based citizen journalists (VBCJs) around the country via mobile devices. Traditional media companies, from The Sacramento Bee newspaper to the venerable BBC, have also used the service.

Qik enables 640x480 streaming over EDGE, 3G, and Wi-Fi connections. The Qik 300k application downloads to the device in seconds—less if the mobile device has its own built-in video encoder. "The Nokia Symbian devices have a good platform codec encoder, which already can do high-quality video, so we just leverage that," says Roy. "But since the iPhone does not have its own encoder, we actually download our encoder there."

Qik currently supports a wide range of Nokia and Windows Media smartphones: RIM devices running OS 4.5 and above, including the BlackBerry Pearl, Curve, and Bold; and less expensive, mass-market devices running J2ME. Qik’s current application for the iPhone 3G will only work on jailbroken (hacked) iPhones, but Qik plans to release an Apple-approved application in the coming months. More may have been added since this writing; a list of supported devices is available on Qik.com.

Based in Boston and Tel Aviv, Israel, Flixwagon competes with Qik for dominance in the social networking space by offering a similar feature set to the same demographic. "The mobile device is turning into the ideal instant self-expression device, where you can instantly share your life with your friends and family," says Sarig Reichert, co-founder of Flixwagon. Like Qik, Flixwagon enables live chat, automatic storage of videos streamed through the Flixwagon site, and a "FliXee" widget that allows users to embed videos into other websites. Flixwagon also allows users to automatically forward videos to social network sites or set privacy preferences to limit access.

In addition to targeting the social networking crowd, Flixwagon experimented with VBCJ in a partnership with MTV that enabled live mobile streaming from various locations on Super Tuesday 2008. Flixwagon also worked with MTV on the entertainment side, delivering multiple live mobile streams from the road during the Jonas Brothers’ summer 2008 tour. Flixwagon ultimately plans to support all high-end mobile operating systems, but for now the service only works with Nokia Series 60 3rd edition and jailbroken (hacked) iPhones.

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