Ever since Livestream discontinued its extraordinary cloud-based live video streaming production product, I’ve been looking for a low-cost replacement but to no avail. All of Livestream’s replacement and upgraded products, while offering HD video, are much too costly and none of the company’s competitors have come forward to fill the absence in the market created by the withdrawal of Livestream Studio.
YouTube recently entered the live streaming fray by opening up its broadcast functionality to all users with the introduction of Hangouts On Air (HOA). Using Google Plus Hangouts as its production platform and YouTube as its webcasting vehicle, HOA allows YouTube users to stream live video to their channel for immediate viewing on YouTube, tablets and smart phones via the YouTube app or on embedded players throughout the web.
YouTube Google Hangouts On Air is an exciting development in live video webcasting. It convenes some of the best elements of video on the Internet with the ease of access and use that we’ve come to expect from Google’s cloud-based products. However, as powerful as it is, it’s still not without its flaws. I’ve been pushing the product to its limits in anticipation of an upcoming live webcast and this is my assessment.
Advantages of YouTube Google Hangouts On Air:
Uses YouTube to Live Stream:
Because YouTube is the gold standard in Internet video, everyone who uses the Internet is familiar with both its interface and its brand. The same can’t be said of Ustream, Justin.TV, Livestream and the like. While competitors offer more robust viewing interfaces, with nice social features like integrated chat and Tweet tracking, the benefit of the YouTube platform is that viewers know and trust the brand and its product. If you tweet or post a link to your Facebook page promoting your live streaming event, your follows can click through with confidence. Eliminating barriers to viewership, whether software or psychological ones, always translates into greater viewership.
No Cost to Stream at Full Speed:
It’s free to webcast live streaming video using YouTube Google Hangouts On Air. You don’t even need to be a YouTube partner. The only thing that you need to do is confirm that you’re not a Bot by having Google send you an activation code via SMS. What’s more, YouTube doesn’t place any limitations on the amount of streaming that you can do. This is a definite coup with respect to video webcasting.
Competing live video streaming services employ a business model whereby users whose needs and ambitions outgrow the free service must purchase more bandwidth, streaming time and storage at a significant premium.
This makes rational business sense and is completely just, but unfortunately none of the big players offer single-use packages that allow customers who occasionally need to stream live video the opportunity to reap the full benefits of their service. Unless you want to pay thousands for an entire year of service, you’re stuck using the inferior free version of every other company’s product. This isn’t the case with Hangouts On Air.
YouTube Google Hangouts On Air doesn’t limit the number of users who can view the live stream. All HOA users with the requisite equipment and upload bandwidth rates are able to stream HD video. Most importantly, unlike all of the other video streaming hosts, HOA doesn’t relegate free users to the slowest of their servers. That fact alone should be enough to sell you on YouTube Google Hangouts On Air. The only limit that Google places on users is a four-hour limit on what actually gets archived to YouTube for future on-demand viewing, which is plenty for most users.
No in-player ads or ad-breaks:
Advertising pays the bills, but no one wants to go to the trouble of producing content only to have someone else, especially a direct competitor, use it as a vehicle for promoting their business. Banner ads that dissolve in and out of the player window are a minor irritant, but the trend towards pre-roll and intermittent video ads that interrupt live streaming is enough to consider a pricey paid account that you don’t otherwise require or can’t necessarily afford.
YouTube Google Hangouts On Air doesn’t annoy your viewers and you with in-player advertisements or ad-breaks of any sort. While in the future I’d like to see the ability to render ones live streaming content into a revenue stream by leveraging advertisements that can be fully controlled, I’m just pleased that my streams won’t be interrupted by the same Nair hair removal ad, over and over again. (I’m looking at you, UStream).
Hangouts On Air streams can be viewed on tablets and smartphones using the official YouTube app:
Unless I need to type out more than a sentence or two, or watch streaming video on a site that uses an RSTP server or requires me to go Black Hat and access it through a proxy server, all of my on-line computing is done using my tablet or my smartphone. In other words, this makes me a fairly typical Internet technology user.
I’d wager that everyone with either an Android or iOS device has the YouTube app installed onto their phone or tablet. I can’t say the same for Ustream or Livestream. Therefore, if your event is being streamed on those services, you need to ask potential viewers to go to the trouble of installing a new app for a single, narrow purpose. In other words, by virtue of your choice of platform, you’re putting up a significant barrier to viewership by asking them to do more than just tune in.
Because most users already have the official YouTube app on their phone, all that they need to do is direct the app to your stream and then watch it just like any other video. Another compelling reason to use YouTube Google Hangouts On Air over even more robust propriety platforms.
Webcasts are Archived for On-Demand Viewing on YouTube:
It’s a given that not everyone will be able to watch your webcast live, but HOA has you covered. Up to four hours of your webcast are automatically archived by YouTube for on-demand viewing shortly after your webcast has ended. All of the HOA’s competitors offer this, but none of these competitors are the largest video site on the Internet.
Just be sure to do the usual SEO regime once the webcast video has been converted to on-demand playback.
Drawbacks & Disadvantages of YouTube Google Hangouts On Air:
Hangouts On Air Webcasts don’t have “static” URLs:
Google doesn’t generate the direct YouTube URL belonging to a live webcast until the Hangout actually commences. While it is generated in advance of going “On Air,” along with the copy-and-paste code for the embedded player, you can’t necessarily promote your webcast well in advance of its actual staging. However, I have devised some clever workarounds to this, such as creating a blog post or landing page that’s updated with the URL or the player embed code just before the webcast goes “on air.”
Of course, you can always direct viewers to your Google Plus profile, but… Forget I mentioned it.
Only YouTube subscribers can see the “Live” link on your YouTube Channel:
Unless a viewer using the YouTube website subscribes to your channel they won’t be alerted to the fact that you’re streaming live video when they land on your channel’s homepage. For some asinine reason Google has disabled live webcast notifications for non-subscribers of channels, which doesn’t make an ounce of sense. Ever worse, YouTube app users don’t receive any notification at all. Instead, the need to visit the direct link via their browser and then chose to open the video within the YouTube app. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed, Google.
No integrated Title Generation or Graphics:
The third-party Hangouts Toolbox extension provides a strictly utilitarian titling suite. It’s severely limited and there’s enormous room for improvement. This limitation makes effectively branding your webcast, with things like logo “bugs”, showcards and crawls, a real challenge. Hopefully Google will recognize this shortcoming and create a powerful integrated suite geared towards those looking to produce more than simply chats and screencasts.
One clunky workaround to use something like ManyCam, which has a slightly more robust graphics suite and creates a virtual camera that can be linked into HOA.
No fail-safe for hardware failure:
If your camera goes down for whatever reason, be it a hardware, software or connectivity failure, you will need to reboot the Hangout, which then creates a new YouTube URL and by consequence a host of other problems that need to be remedied in a hurry and which I’d rather not contemplate. Google has designed the Hangouts product with the reasonable assumption that most of its users will be using bezel-mounted webcams. Those of us who have other ideas in mind need to bend the product to our will. And as with any instance in which one hopes to force their will about upon another, its unreasonable to expect total co-operation.
In summation, when it comes to YouTube Google Hangouts On Air the costs and shortcomings are outweighed by the significant benefits. Despite being designed with screencasters and talking-head vloggers top of mind, its deep integration with the YouTube platform and brand is what makes HOA my current favourite live video streaming product. The price tag of zero dollars doesn’t hurt either. While I would love to see Google redesign the product or create a parallel one with serious broadcasters in mind, I’m willing to work around its faults to get to the good stuff.