A few weeks ago I wrote an article here at ReelSEO entitled Speculation On What YouTube's 6th Year Might Bring. It was around the time of their 5th anniversary fanfare, and was intended as a playful look at some of YouTube's possible future moves. I suggested they might finally turn profitable this year, or invent a new form of video advertisement that would revolutionize that space… or even make changes to their captioning technology that could upend video SEO. Nothing earth-shattering, and certainly nothing that hadn't ever been suggested before… just some random musings I had. I wasn't trying to be a prognosticator.
Nestled among those "predictions" was the idea that YouTube might roll out a live video streaming service sometime during their sixth year. And now it seems there is some juicy evidence in the wild that suggests this is exactly what YouTube is planning to do.
The fine folks over at TechCrunch spotted something rather interesting over on YouTube's help page for people wanting to learn more about how Google Moderator works on the video-sharing site—a screen-shot with a mention of Live Streams:
The image shows a menu inside a YouTube Content Partner Channel that lists "Live Streams" alongside such common options as Settings, Videos and Playlists, and Branding Options.
Now, if you follow YouTube news even casually, you know that live streaming video, as a concept, is nothing new for them. They've streamed political events, concerts, and sporting events. But they've never released a live streaming service for their users, though there have long been rumors that such a service would be a natural move.
TechCrunch author Erick Schonfeld, who found the screenshot and published it, is careful to point out that this might be much ado about nothing. It's possible that YouTube just pulled this screenshot from an employee's logged-in account, meaning the Live Streams option would then simply be part of their internal method of implementing those live concerts and political events mentioned above.
But that would be pretty careless, wouldn't it? I know that no company, no matter how big, is exempt from the kind of website publishing brain lapses that you and I have regularly… we are all only human, after all. But it would seem pretty silly to me for YouTube to grab screenshots from a logged in account, particularly when something so enticing as "Live Streams" is in clear view and bound to bring questions.
And yet, YouTube's official response has apparently been that they have no immediate plans to release a live streaming video service for users.
The screenshot TechCrunch grabbed, however, remains an accurate reflection of the YouTube Moderator Help page, which still shows the example menu containing "Live Streams.”
That's what you call a good, old-fashioned mystery, folks. YouTube's not talking… they're not pulling the screenshot… and they're not rolling out live video… yet.
But I'm convinced they will be soon. Common reasons why they won't move into live streaming service include bandwidth and copyright issues. But honestly… those are some seriously thin excuses, given how much YouTube's core business model creates regular headaches in both areas. Would live-streaming video really create that much more bandwidth than regular YouTube user growth? I have no idea… I have no insider knowledge of the intricacies of bandwidth. But I know that YouTube claims to serve 2 billion videos per day. I mean… with that many videos being watched… wouldn't adding to the bandwidth strain be kind of like piling another scoop of dirt on top of Mount Everest? They're going to have massive bandwidth issues for the remainder of their existence as a company—at least until an invention appears that makes bandwidth a concern of the past for everyone.
And copyright issues? While I know that there are some complicated copyright issues involved with live streaming video that don't exist in regular pre-recorded video… that's hardly a reason to keep YouTube from dabbling in live streams. They already have copyright issues. Gobs of them. You might have heard about a little copyright issue that has them in court right now. So again… if YouTube wanted to run from copyright issues, they wouldn't be in the user-generated video business.
Let's also point out that UStream, Justin.tv, and Livestream are all still in existence. Bandwidth and copyright issues haven't forced them into lawsuit hell or caused the doors to shutter. Granted, YouTube is several times larger in customer-base than those three sites combined. But something tells me that YouTube would take one look at those three and feel pretty comfortable that they could also conquer the same bandwidth and copyright problems.
It's still all very speculative. This is a screenshot from a random help page… and that is all. But it's a very juicy screenshot. As more and more businesses and individuals make online video an every day part of their lives—both production and consumption—it's only a matter of time before there is enough demand for live streaming video that it gets YouTube's attention (assuming it hasn't already). And they are uniquely positioned (because of experience and dollars) to handle bandwidth and copyright issues in ways the smaller streaming-video providers can't. Put me in the camp that believes this is a hint—however unintentional—that YouTube is working on their own live streaming video service. It just makes too much sense for me to believe they're blithely ignoring that growing chunk of the video customer base.