The first session of the day for me was by Brad Hunstable, the founder and CEO of Ustream, a live video service. Hunstable talked to a large, mostly empty room, but his company is one that is of interest to journalists.
When I was at the Statesman, we used Ustream for quite a bit of our live streaming, including during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“I feel so privileged and honored to have this massive room,” Hunstable joked to start off the session. He said he thought a lot of people were stuck in the registration line. There might be something to that - people around me said it took them around two hours to move through the line this morning.
Hunstable said Ustream takes in more video than any other site, including YouTube. Any minute, there are about 100 hours that are uploaded to Ustream. They have 170,000 broadcasters per month, sending out 1.5 million broadcasts. He said the average length of a broadcast is a hefty 2.8 hours.
He said a lot of people will stream their kids’ football games, but it’s also used by profesional sports, political speeches and, of course, puppy cam (which won a Webby award in 2009).
However, Hunstable, a West Point grad and native Texan, focused the session on the more serious uses for Ustream. He said his Army background led to developing Ustream because he was looking for a way to allow soldiers to connect with family back home.
He said live broadcasts are taking off because of a confluence of tech and culture:
“We live in a world today where an HD webcam might cost $49,” he said. “The iPhone can fit not one, but two cameras in their phone.” He also pointed to the broadband mobile Internet. “You are able to broadcast from any phone and view it on any platform.”
He said those tools allow content to be aggregated “at a speed and a scale that we’ve never seen.” He said the rise of Facebook and Twitter have helped push their content out.
Hunstable talked about the “power of Ustream in a news angle.” He said citizen journalists and mainstream media are using his service to “bring lasting connections” to communities.
He said 7 million people tuned in to Ustream over the course of a couple of weeks to see the Chilean miners be rescued. He said the Chilean earthquake was another big news event that citizen journalists covered well. “CNN was relying on feeds from Ustream for the first day to provide information to the world. A really very powerful use of the technology.”
Irony break:Someone interrupted Hunstable to ask whether they can use Ustream to live stream his session. He said no because there were restrictions by SXSW against live streaming sessions.
Back to his presentation, Hunstable talked about the March 2011 disaster in Japan. He said the big news networks in Japan put their linear feeds live on Ustream. “The reason they did that was mostly out of a desire to get information to people who literally had no other way to get the information.”
He said over the course of the Japanese disaster, 53 million people consumed news from Japan through Ustream.
He also mentioned the Arab spring. It started in Iran with some broadcasts from a protest before the government shut those down. It grew with Tunisia and went huge with the Egyptian protests.
He said the citizen journalists in Egypt formed a community around Ustream. “They were a part of what happened with the eventual stepping down of the president.”
Today, he said there are dozens of people “putting their lives in danger” in Syria to broadcast from the streets. “The interesting part about this is that the groundswell of viewership initially was within Syria, and then the Syrian government started blocking that, so now the citizen journalists are about getting information out to the rest of the world.”
In the United States, Hunstable said more than 1,800 citizen journalists covered the Occupy movement using Ustream. The live streaming, he said, put pressure on police and government officials.
My take: Live video can be very powerful, and Ustream is an excellent service. Journalists should be using it when covering something compelling. Having a good wifi connection really helps, though. Note that Ustream isn’t the only live streaming service. Qik is another good competitor.