Felipe Heusser, CEO, Rhinobird.tv; Lippe Oosterhof, CEO, Livestation; Rushabh Doshi, VP & GM, Firetalk
Rebecca Paoletti: We have three founders of three different live streaming platforms. As I’ve mentioned, I’m super fascinated with this space and very excited about them all joining us today. Different types of experiences but all about live video, live experiences with communities. They haven’t all met each other before so here we go. And thank you guys for being here! Hopefully I have my questions somewhere here. It’s never a good thing to be paneling with a computer that you haven’t actually turned on yet. I should have stuck with my legal pad! Okay, so before we jump into this... And feel free to raise your hands at any point during this session, but know that I am going to call for questions at the end. Very happy to have you all [in the audience] jump in while they’re talking about particular topics because we want to keep this super interactive. If you guys could just each introduce yourselves very quickly with one line about who you are and one line about what your product is actually doing today.
Felipe Heusser: Sure. Well, good morning everyone. My name is Felipe Heusser. I’m the founder and CEO of Rhinobird.TV and also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. Rhinobird is a live video platform. It’s an open live video platform that delivers video in real time. And by “real time,” I mean real time with a lag of zero and not 20 seconds late as Periscope and Meerkat do. We also deliver live video without the need for apps to be downloaded or plug-ins, so it’s basically coming straight from the browser using WebRTC. We also focus on delivering live video with multiple angles. Basically, we focus not just on the video streams but in events or places with different angles in the same website.
Rebecca Paoletti: You’re over your one sentence.
Felipe Heusser: Yeah.
Lippe Oosterhof: There are a lot of commas in that sentence.
Rebecca Paoletti: You can use semi-colons.
Lippe Oosterhof: My name is Lippe Oosterhof. If you forget that, it’s a difficult Dutch name... I’m based in London. I run a company called Livestation, which was one of the pioneers in live streaming. We started in 2009 aggregating all of the world’s linear news channels and put them on one consumer platform. We’ve recently pivoted into more of a Periscope-type model. We can talk about that later.
Rush Doshi: Good morning, everyone. My name is Rush Doshi and I’m working on a new initiative called Firetalk, which is an always-on, interactive video platform. We’re building this for a new generation of broadcasters to help them engage with and monetize their audiences.
Rebecca Paoletti: Okay, before I go to the next question, does anyone in the audience work at Meerkat or Periscope? I was going to call on you if you did. The other question is: Has anybody here ever used Meerkat or Periscope? Everyone has live broadcasted themselves or one of their close friends recently? Somewhat familiar? All right, good. Generally speaking, the audience should all be using your platforms.
Lippe Oosterhof: Who’s been interacting with the people that were watching you? About half. That’s pretty good.
Rebecca Paoletti: Okay. You guys can go in whatever order, but my original question is, based on having spent most of my entire digital career in video, what brought you to live streaming? Why is live video streaming more compelling, driving you to all found these products? What did it for you?
Felipe Heusser: In my case, I come from an advocacy and Freedom of Information scholar standing point, not from video or media. I’m from Chile, and back in 2011, there was a huge protest taking place in Santiago, and the story that was being told by the mainstream media was really a story of violence and riots, and not really the peaceful event that was taking place. People were taking to the streets claiming their rights to education. What I wanted to do at that point in 2011, in a pre-drone time, was to share what was going on in the streets from an authentic and credible perspective. At that time we used Tweetcasting to broadcast. Because drones were not available in 2011, I bought a bunch of helium balloons and tied a string to a phone, sending the balloon up in the air and giving the string to different people throughout the protest. The first live broadcasting balloon we sent up in the air got 10,000 viewers organically, no money into Facebook or whatever, to bring attention. That did it for me in terms of saying, “There’s this thing about live in a network that was terrible.” Thousands of people... 3G in South America was not the best context ever for live streaming. Nevertheless, it was powerful, with thousands of people watching it, because it was credible, because it was genuine. Basically, Rhinobird for us is the latest iteration from that idea of saying, “How can we build an infrastructure to create this kind of people-driven TV network that is open?”
Rebecca Paoletti: That’s amazing. Okay, so helium balloon, first drone, you heard it here. Go ahead, Lippe.
Lippe Oosterhof: For me it was the Arab Spring. I got a phone call in the beginning of the Arab Spring from a company that I had never heard of in London. They said, “Our company is blowing up. We need someone to run it. Are you interested?” I thought that was one of those fake LinkedIn emails that you get. Turned out that this was real, and these guys were running all of the news channels—BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera—and they had unique rights to stream these channels in 2009, which was pretty pioneering. Of course, as the Arab Spring blew up, everybody was watching these channels on this particular platform. I have news and a video background. I’ve done a bunch of startups in that space. I was immediately intrigued. I think live is just super exciting. We had to overcome a whole lot of hurdles with distributing linear feeds on the Internet, but we did. We managed to build, pretty substantially for a startup. 20 million uniques a month was pretty decent. Then we were asked by lots of channels around the world: “Please help us with our live streaming technology.” So we did. That’s how we originally got into this. We solved a problem of the diaspora, if you will. Lots of Arabs around the world, but also other nationalities, were interested in watching news from home and they couldn’t because traditional satellite and cable doesn’t allow you to do that. The Internet is a great way to distribute live streaming video. About a couple of years ago we recognized that more and more of our partners were doing their own live streams, sometimes using our technology, sometimes using competitor technology, making our proposition a little less relevant. Our news channels were saying, “Hang on. Nobody watches our channel anymore. We have the data, and 24/7 news channels are kind of dying. It’s really tough to...”
Rebecca Paoletti: Don’t say that to this room.
Lippe Oosterhof: It’s true.
Rebecca Paoletti: Especially not to Bloomberg.
Lippe Oosterhof: I can only speak for the government backed channels as we work very closely with them. It’s a pretty open secret that it’s very tough to make a 24/7 news channel work financially. About a year ago they came to us and said, “Look, the aggregated reach of our journalists and correspondents on social media is bigger than our own organization. What if we give our journalists the ability to live stream on the Internet from their phones?” We started working on that, and we launched something recently which is along the lines of Periscope and Meerkat, but blended with old fashioned linear news channels. We’re kind of taking the old model and the new model and blending them together.
Rebecca Paoletti: That’s great. Rush, do you want to talk about entertainment since we’re talking a lot about news? I have a feeling that’s where this gets started. Go ahead. Where the passion of live video streaming came for you.
Rush Doshi: Sure. My background is mostly in social apps. Over the past 15 years now, I’ve seen it all. We started with just basic text and GeoCities-types of sites over to the Myspaces and evolving to Snapchat and Twitter, and now live video. I’m always trying to figure out ways to build communities and keep them engaged. Live streaming is especially fascinating. The company that I work for, Paltalk, has been in live video chat for about 15 years now. What’s interesting about them is people come together who don’t know one another, turn their cams on, and connect with others around the world. But that’s decentralized. Firetalk gives these broadcasters the ability to build their own communities. I think Periscope and Meerkat are really interesting, but one of the challenges is they stream maybe once or twice every week. What happens when they’re off-air? How do they keep these people coming back? How do they build a sustainable community? That’s something that we’re trying to figure out.
Rebecca Paoletti: You were all here for the earlier presentations, and we had some very (arguably) super premium content providers on stage talking about big brands, and big interactions, and a lot of money flowing in this space. Do you feel that anyone can be a video broadcaster, anyone should be a video broadcaster, anyone can create content? How do you feel about all these people who are just getting in front of their cameras and broadcasting out to the world?
Felipe Heusser: I think anyone can be a broadcaster. Absolutely. If you think about very important images or footage being taken with phones lately... For example, a very important one was in Ferguson when Michael Brown got shot. Of course, we don’t know who took that footage. Nevertheless, it was hugely important. There’s so many examples that we can think of, of very, very important footage that was taken by just anyone. I think the challenge is not just about who can be a broadcaster; I think the other huge challenge for live video, which also connects to what you were saying, is the idea of who can help curate and organize all this content that’s coming in. That’s something we’re focusing on with Rhinobird. We allow people to curate live video as it’s coming in. We focus, again, not just in streaming individually, but collectively a broader picture. Let’s say, for example, in this event, if you would be using Rhinobird, using #visionsummit, you could see all the different streams inside the room. And people could switch from one site to the other. We also created what we call the “VJ tool,” which is basically enabling people to curate and switch from one site to the other and share that in a different UI. Basically, you allow people to not just create content, but to be editors in a context where there’s so much video going on that you need help. Of course algorithms can do part of the trick, but also people who understand what kind of content is out there can also help organize it in a way that is clean and it’s worth consuming.
Rebecca Paoletti: Lippe, you’ve been at this the longest. How do you feel about this curation around creating more premium content out of “accidental” broadcasting?
Lippe Oosterhof: I think curation and discovery are probably the hardest problems to solve, and nobody’s cracked it yet. I think the announcement of Google and Twitter yesterday, where Google is now publishing tweets, I think is going to help Periscope and Meerkat to discover, because that’s what people do. They search. I was at Google Newsgeist in Helsinki last weekend, where we met with people from Google who are trying to address this, because this is a hard one to crack. Going back to your earlier question about whether anybody can be a broadcaster: I think anybody can broad- cast, anybody can shoot a YouTube video, anybody can take an Instagram picture. But is it interesting? Hmm. That’s the key question, right? Who can master this new medium? We’ve seen this on YouTube. We have years of cat videos and boring videos and now we have YouTube stars. These are kids who really understand how you engage an audience and how you build an audience. I think we’re only scratching the surface of this new, interactive, live-streaming format. I think it’s going to take months, if not years, before we see the first stars emerge. Probably months, actually.
Rebecca Paoletti: Do you think that’s the technology effect, that’s a generational effect? Are kids less afraid of being out there in the media space than they were before? We’re better as parents helping them do that? Why is there a change?
Lippe Oosterhof: You saw it with YouNow, right? It’s dominated by teenagers because they’re the first to try new stuff out and they’re not afraid to make mistakes. The millennials, they’re used to being in the spotlight and they’re very comfortable with this idea of sharing their personal lives. We did a pilot with the BBC just before the UK elections where we had big-name journalists use our technology to follow political candidates in the field as they were campaigning. It was almost laughably bad because they were using this new technology in an old way. They were broadcasting. We had a guy in Charlie Hebdo in Paris saying, “I’m Dana Lewis, and I’m live on the scene.” Like he was talking to his CNN audience, he was working for CNN. Then the first chat messages came in, and these journalists were really confused about how you interact with an audience. They never had to do that before. On the flip side, the younger kids... Tim Pool is a good example. He invented the genre of live casting on livestream.com. Maybe there’s a generational thing, but I think at the end of the day, people will get used to this. We see in the UK and in the States some older journalists who use this really, really, really well. I don’t think it has anything to do with technology. It’s just a mindset.
Rebecca Paoletti: Just getting used to it. All of you are getting used to it. Rush, what do you want to say about interactive? I know Firetalk is all about the community that exists around the stream.
Rush Doshi: Yeah. About your question about whether anyone can do it, again, just to add, I think anyone can live stream, but it takes a great deal of dedication and commitment to become really good at it. On YouTube, they don’t just become a YouTube star overnight. Most of these people who are making a lot of money have been doing it for six to seven years. It doesn’t just happen in two to three months. I think that it’s just about commitment. What was your other question?
Rebecca Paoletti: Just about the interactivity around it.
Rush Doshi: Live stream has been around forever, right? It really has. Live stream, Ustream, they’re all amazing platforms that publishers are using. It’s all about the content and not as much about the interaction. I think that changed when Twitch really took over and people started learning about the true formula for success. Content drives people to a destination, but community keeps them there. I think that can happen across a variety of different categories where, if people start knowing one another, and there’s a certain level of intimacy that’s formed, you’ll see these people coming back and this becoming a long-term relationship between the broadcaster who can serve as a community organizer or could serve as a producer with their audience or their supporters.
Felipe Heusser: Just to add to what you were saying—I totally agree, and I also agree with Lippe when he was saying that we’re really just scratching the sur- face of this space. One of the great things that I’m excited about, and that our team is excited about in the live video space, is that we all see the trend of video taking over the Internet completely. The head of Google Research was saying a couple years ago that by 2020, 90% of the bandwidth was going to be video. Also, real time is another huge trend.
Rebecca Paoletti: It’s 84% of Internet traffic.
Felipe Heusser: 84%, okay. But still massive.
Rebecca Paoletti: We learned of this yesterday. More than 50% of mobile, and that’s just going up and up and up.
Felipe Heusser: Right. Then, on top of the huge video trend, you also see the real-time trend taking over the Internet on text and audio. If you see both trends combined, you will probably say, “There’s a huge space for real time video.” That said, in spite of the recent excitement around Periscope and Meerkat, it’s still super tiny compared to the potential of the space. The day when Periscope launched was the day of huge attention on the space. Twitter was of course pushing for it, and lots of coverage about this sort of battle between those two companies. They had about 50,000 mentions on Twitter, and that same day—there was a Wall Street Journal article that mentioned this—that same day a guy resigned from the boy band One Direction, and that had ten or fifteen times more Twitter mentions than Periscope and Meerkat combined.
Rebecca Paoletti: Boy bands always win. Always.
Felipe Heusser: It gives you an idea about the space, and that we are really just getting started. There’s a huge trend for video and I think it’s just great and exciting to be here trying to figure out what is the best equation to take advantage of it.
Rebecca Paoletti: I obviously agree with all that you said. I think from an engagement perspective, and there’s a lot more to talk about from an engage- ment perspective for later. Clearly where people want to be is in front of video and interacting with video and broadcasting video and sharing that whole live, emotional, rich experience. How do you make money? In a live stream environment, we’re not talking about pre-roll. You’re probably not talking about some of the other stuff that was prior to this and that you needed that space, but just very curious. You actually have to make money because you’re the oldest standing. You’re obviously new, but there are obviously new models coming on. Rush, you’re obviously looking at new things. I’m very interested to hear, and probably everyone here is like, “This is all really, really great, lots and lots of hours of interaction whether it’s millennials or beyond, but how are you going to make money?”
Lippe Oosterhof: I think the key word there is you mentioned “engaging,” right? This is a live video that only lives by its audience. If there’s nobody watching, you will stop the live stream. In other words, there is an audience, you can see how engaged they are through their chat activity, and they can’t skip anything. They have to be there right then and there. The engagement of live video, the next generation of live video is what we’re talking about—the Meerkat-, Periscope-type stuff. I think that provides massive monetization opportunities. We’re based in London, but I’m flying to LA this weekend because we’re setting up an office in LA to work with the MCN’s of this world because we think there’s a tremendous opportunity to do interesting stuff there. Our journalists back in London and Europe have already told us, “Look, this is great, but how do we make money from this?” We’ve been thinking about this for awhile. On Livestation we already charge for con- tent, so there’s a pay-per-view. If somebody does an interview with David Cameron, they can stand outside and say, “Look, the first 200 to pay me 10 pounds can come in with me and ask questions.” Premium content is something that we’ve been doing for years because that’s how we got CNN and BBC distributed, and this is just the next version of that. But then you have advertising. You said pre-rolls. I don’t believe in pre-rolls on live.
Rebecca Paoletti: Anywhere?
Lippe Oosterhof: Anywhere. If you want to watch a movie or some quality television content, why not sit through an ad? That’s how this stuff gets paid. But when there is, say, breaking news on Al Jazeera, then the last thing you want to do is suffer through a 30-second ad or any advertising at all. How- ever, a live feed is very engaging in the Periscope, Meerkat sense. What we’re working on on Livestation is mid-rolls. Think about it. This is how linear TV got monetized in the old days. You would announce, “Okay, we’re about to commence this performance of this artist after the break.” You can do this on Periscope or Meerkat.
Rebecca Paoletti: If you’re producing it yourself?
Lippe Oosterhof: Well, you are.
Rebecca Paoletti: That’s always the challenge when you’re broadcasting live. 284
Once upon a time when I worked at Yahoo, we did a very big, live video streaming of Michael Jackson’s funeral. Not an awesome topic, but three hours of Michael Jackson’s funeral streaming from the front page of Yahoo. com and it did not break, I’m happy to say. Did not break, but there was really no good way of monetizing. The display ads around the page and other things are happening, but now I think the notion that you’d interact with a live event with some sort of advertising is tough. What do you do around that?
Lippe Oosterhof: On user-generated live stuff, you can ask the broadcaster to push a button and they insert an ad. On linear feeds or events or anything that is broadcast in a traditional sense online, it’s really tough. You can’t really do it. The models there are very simple. You either charge the user or you experiment with overlays. Anything else, you can’t do mid-rolls because you’ll interrupt the experience.
Rebecca Paoletti: Rush, what do you think?
Rush Doshi: I think, and Adi mentioned over at YouNow and the success they’ve had with virtual credits... And that’s not new. That’s something through which a lot of these companies in Asia, including YY, have made hundreds of millions of dollars a year. I’ve seen it with what we’re working on as well, where virtual goods are something that people are willing to buy. It’s a form of tipping, but also a form of self-expression. It’s a way for you to express what you’re feeling towards the broadcaster, whether via a rose, a chocolate, a trophy, or whatever. Those things can also be a form of native advertising as well. We did something with Miller where they were doing something around the Super Bowl, and they wanted these stickers to be sent around, almost like a messaging app that you’d see online. It’s the same thing that can happen while somebody’s live streaming where they’re showing their approval or expressing themselves through a sticker or a gift. Saying “Go team” or “I love that scene” or “You go.” Whatever it is. Those things can be branded and it’s really a new way of brands inserting themselves into this experience. Again, they’re coming from the audience more than they are in this traditional sense in terms of ways to monetize. Of course there’s subscription, which is if the content is worth it, or there’s something where only, like you mentioned, if only 200 people have access to this live stream, then those 200 people that are your biggest fans might be willing to pay for it. You may have five million followers or subscribers on YouTube, but you want your live streaming channel to be complimentary and be something that helps keep your top 1% or top 5% of fans engaged.
Felipe Heusser: In our case, yeah. We have outlined the different models that are out there of course; ads, search, it all depends on the size of the audience. It’s also very important to see what the audience is willing to take, to understand the audience and basically wait for the demand before supplying a specific kind of offer. What we’re aiming to do right now, and we believe there’s a big model there, has to do with content distribution and creation. We’re working with some media organizations this way to help them curate, organize, and be sourced-in by their audiences via mobile phones that actually get there first when news breaks. Users broadcasting with Rhinobird can flag content coming their way in real time, and media folks can use our VJ tool to actually switch in real-time videos as they come in. Then you can toll for that. Maybe you can even share that toll with the audience that is contributing with their broadcasts. That’s definitely an avenue that we’re exploring.
Rebecca Paoletti: That’s awesome. Okay, just to wrap up, we’re going to do a quick-fire, one-word round robin. I will throw one to you, you can throw one word back. Rush, you get “LIVE.”
Rush Doshi: The future.
Rebecca Paoletti: Lippe, “MEERKAT.”
Lippe Oosterhof: Good luck.
Rebecca Paoletti: You get “PRE-ROLL.”
Felipe Heusser: Old.
Rebecca Paoletti: Rush, “FACETIME.”.
Rush Doshi: Periscope.
Rebecca Paoletti: “NATIVE.”
Lippe Oosterhof: Profitable.
Rebecca Paoletti: “YOUTUBE.”
Felipe Heusser: Respect.
Rebecca Paoletti: You all get to answer this one. The future of video is...?
Felipe Heusser: Live.
Rebecca Paoletti: The future of video is...?
Lippe Oosterhof: Super exciting.
Rebecca Paoletti: The future of video is...?
Rush Doshi: Interactive.
Rebecca Paoletti: The future of video is HERE. Now I will take questions if you guys have any out there. Good.
Audience member: How do you deal with improper content which is still live?
Rebecca Paoletti: Great question.
Felipe Heusser: That’s actually what we were talking about yesterday, right there next to the coffee place.
Rebecca Paoletti: Was that a plant question?
Felipe Heusser: Search can definitely play a very important role in terms of organizing content. Definitely, for us, curation is something that machines can do a lot. YouTube is doing a lot of that as well, but we’re also relying on people as well as organizing that content in a way that, again, makes sense for people to consume. Curation, hashtags, and VJs are some of the tools we have for that.
Rebecca Paoletti: This is big news for me because the YouTube kids channel is being reported for inappropriate content. Obviously, YouTube already is in some trouble for this. Lippe, what do you think?
Lippe Oosterhof: Crowdsourcing, right? This is kind of how everybody tries to solve it at the moment, and it’s what YouTube did for years. You let the audience flag it. If it gets flagged five times, remove it and then you review. That’s kind of how we’re looking at this.
Rebecca Paoletti: Another chat? One more question?
Evan Nisselson: I can’t believe. You’re not all that shy.
Rebecca Paoletti: I know. This is about live broadcasting, we’re AMAs. Ask me anything. What’s going on?
Evan Nisselson: I bet following you’ll come up to me and say, “I’d love to meet.... I’ve got this question.” Ask it now.
Felipe Heusser: Is anybody broadcasting this? Maybe there’d be a virtual audience question.
Evan Nisselson: We were broadcasting it earlier over here in front. Anybody know? [Audience member indicates desire to ask a question.] Take it away, finish it up.
Rebecca Paoletti: There we go.
Evan Nisselson: Okay, I’m coming. [Evan runs over with microphone.]
Felipe Heusser: This is how you keep fit.
Evan Nisselson: That’s right.
Rebecca Paoletti: He’s also filming all around the room.
Evan Nisselson: Can you stand up?
Rebecca Paoletti: Thank you.
Audience member: Just curious if you’re building any tools into your stream- ing services like DVRs or replay or anything like that?
Rush Doshi: We’re giving that option to the broadcaster after every episode. They can either make it ephemeral and disappear, or they can select and make it something they can add to their archives. We’re also making it very easy for them to put it onto their YouTube channel with one click.
Lippe Oosterhof: We record everything and keep it forever. We’ve actually done something pretty innovative, I think, because we record it in the Cloud like everybody else, but we also give the user the option to record a local version on their device in 720p, and that version then gets uploaded to the Cloud once they’re back on a good connection. That means that if a journalist or somebody else is shooting something live, if somebody doesn’t catch that in time and they see the recording an hour later, they can see that in crisp HD quality.
Felipe Heusser: In our case, we’re also keeping our archive by default. People can then erase it. Another important factor for us is actually gaining the trust of our community. People have control over their data, and if they choose to eliminate it, it’s totally gone from our servers.