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Running a video streaming service: the changes and challenges

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Ahead of his keynote slot at this year's Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam in October, we caught up with Dr. Gyula Feher, founder and CTO of Ustream, to hear about the challenges facing a video streaming company in the current internet age.

Ustream's founders identified a need for live streaming when friends who were posted in Iraq during the war had difficulties communicating with their families at home. While there is still a focus on Ustream for personal use, the opportunities for enterprise have far eclipsed the original user case and the majority of traffic and revenue seen by the live video streaming service are now derived from business customers.

In his Q&A with us, Dr. Feher discusses why Twitter presents a greater risk to corporate reputation than live streaming, his take on net neutrality, how the company is working with global operators to manage the impact that increasing levels of video traffic have on the network and where Ustream is headed to in the future.

TechRadar Pro: How did the concept for UStream begin?

Dr. Gyula Feher: We launched our beta service in March 2007. My co-founders, John Ham and Brad Hunstable, had noticed that friends who were posted in Iraq during the war had difficulties communicating with their families at home. From here we identified a need for live streaming, initially for individuals but the majority of our traffic now comes from enterprise clients.

TRP: What is the best example you have seen of a company or individual using UStream?

GF: Businesses are getting really creative with how video can optimise reach and generate value and not just in the B2C sector. Companies are using video to communicate with business and internal audiences too, for example to run training events in a more cost effective and engaging way.

We have moved into a new phase where live video isn't just being used as a passive instrument. Savvy and creative marketers recognise that it can be the linchpin of a fully integrated campaign and we've seen some great examples on our platform

One of the most memorable campaigns for me has been a company called Honest Tea. They set up pop-up kiosks in cities across the US that vended its drink based on customers adhering to the 'honour system' of payment.

Using a live video feed, the company assessed which city was the most honest and, subsequent to the video aspect of the campaign, had set up a fun 'honesty index' that assesses individuals' honesty profiles based on location, appearance and gender. Viewers could watch who was approaching the kiosk and decided whether that person would be honest and pay for their drink or choose not to.

TRP: Are there any risks for businesses using live streaming? How did you learn from the issues that you had around the streaming of the Hugo Awards in 2012?

GF: That was a big learning experience for us. We respect the intellectual property rights of others. We've made some refinements and also added in an additional layer of human approval, which adds more sanity to what we block and allow through.

In my experience Twitter presents a far greater risk to enterprises concerned about reputation management. For businesses new to video streaming, or those working on sensitive projects, we can offer the option of time shift so that they can be sure that whatever goes out live is okay - but there are some trade-offs on aspects such as interactivity.

TRP: UStream launched in 2007 – how have you seen the use of live video streams change over the last seven years and how do you ensure you keep ahead of the industry?

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.