Launched in 2007, Ustream.tv is an interactive web streaming platform that lets users broadcast their own channels on the Ustream network or on a third-party website such as MySpace or Facebook. The site began as a way to connect soldiers in remote locations with their families at home by allowing for live, synchronous viewing and presenter-to-audience interaction through chat and live commenting. Founders note that the site promotes “event-casting,” not just the “life-casting” made famous by sites like Justin.tv, which streams events in a person’s life 24 × 7. Ustream offers a platform for users to host events, promote their own shows, or set up interactive conversations with participants across the globe. Like many Web 2.0 tools, the site functions as a social network, encouraging users to customize their profiles, identify favorite shows, create broadcast schedules, cultivate followers, add bulletins, and communicate with other users. Viewers can also rate and review shows, bolstering their standing on the site’s home page. Ustream offers a mix of live programming and archived shows, giving viewers an opportunity to search for older editions of just-watched shows.
In September 2008, more than 7 million watchers turned their browsers to Ustream to watch streaming coverage of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota. The site has become a frequent virtual stomping ground for candidates in the 2008 election season—from local politicians hosting press conferences to national candidates engaging in dialogue with voters. Musicians like the Plain White T’s and James Blunt have played to live Ustream audiences, and Hollywood has used the site to offer live streaming of movie premieres and red-carpet events.
In July, Ustream reported that more than 410,000 users were streaming video—from high school graduations and weddings to amateur talk shows and how-to programs—averaging 15,000 unique shows each day. In the month of June, unique viewers passed the 10 million mark. Colleges and universities are beginning to log on, as professors take advantage of the site’s streaming abilities to host classes online or promote their research interests through interactive shows and programming. Roanoke College and Meridian Community College offer live streamed athletic events, and other campuses let viewers tune in to watch prominent guest speakers or conference sessions.
How Does It Work?
Broadcasting on the Ustream network requires only an Internet connection and a webcam; membership on the site is free. Once registered, users simply enter basic information about their show, including the title, description, and any uploaded artwork, and click Start Broadcast to begin streaming. The feed is then live on the web. From the site, users can e-mail the broadcast URL to names in their address book or embed the URL in a Twitter stream. For savvy users, Ustream allows desktop screen sharing and visual overlays, such as picture-in-picture displays. From the Ustream home page, users can watch the site’s Featured programs or those that are the Highest Rated, based on user feedback through a five-star rating system. Users can also search for content by keyword or by visiting the pages of the site’s themed networks, including People, Religion, Technology, and The Zoo, which features live feeds of animals eating, sleeping, and playing. Once users begin watching a video stream, they can chat live with other participants or comment on the feed. They can also connect to sites like Digg and StumbleUpon through icons below the viewing window. Registered users can keep track of their favorite shows by clicking Follow on the show’s main page, where the show will instantly show up in the My Feeds section of their profile.