Share: Ustream CEO Talks PS4, The Future of Video and the Blurring of Reality

March 6, 2013Written by Sebastian Moss

Ustream is coming to the PS4 in a big way, being deeply integrated into the console’s OS, allowing players to share their games, interact and watch. To find out everything there was to know about the partnership with Sony, how sharing is changing entertainment forever and what the future of video broadcasting holds, we talked to CEO Brad Hunstable in a wide ranging exclusive interview.

Tell me the story of Ustream.

Ustream started 5 years ago, and we’re the largest live social video platform in the world today. We have well over 80 million people we touch on a monthly basis, whether that’s through our website or through our mobile app [holds up mobile] or through Facebook or Twitter. And we built this really robust technology platform that’s able to serve the diversity of broadcasters that are out there, from the very small, to the very big. And our big belief is that with live, you can create experiences – and a great example of that is when we did the Sony announcement, 8 million people tuned in to watch it, it reached a peak simultaneous concurrent of 1 million. To give you a sense of how big that is… that is as big as a prime time TV audience, and we did that on the internet.

We can serve those very, very big audiences, but our vision is to make live broadcasting mainstream, so I’m very passionate about internet freedom, citizen journalists using our live broadcasting apps to be in Syria or Tunisia, or Egypt or in Russia, broadcasting riots, protests, people standing up emerged democracies and free societies. I love that part of what we do as well. But the core of what that is, is this really rich underlying technology that is really amazing interactivity and engagement, so much so that it’s interesting – we’re at this point where we do billions upon billions of video views, and our average view time per video is around 25 minutes per video.

The PlayStation announcement had an average view time of one hour, across millions. We have people when they watch videos on Ustream that are highly engaged and passionate, whether it’s on the gamer end, or the SpaceX rocket that just took off a few hours ago, or an asteroid that’s flying by Earth, or Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. This platform is inherently engaging and very passion driven.

I know YouTube has struggled to get their user viewing up, it’s generally a couple of minutes and then people are gone. They’re trying to bring out longer videos, but it has had mixed results. What do you think engages people, is it because it’s live?

Yeah, I think it’s because it’s live. It’s interesting, if you look back at the 1950s, all content was live, and the only people that could do it were the production studios and the really rich and wealthy broadcasters. There were TV shows, and people would huddle around the television as a family, because there was one TV in the house and it was all live content. But it was a social sort of experience. My belief is that, with live content that we’ve brought back with this new technology that we’ve built, that we’re tapping back into some of those core human needs, we need to gather and I think Twitter started doing the same sort of thing with television. Television is in a kind of boom because of Twitter, and it’s that need to communicate and socialize around content, and it’s easiest and deepest to do that around live.

Additionally with live, unlike [Video on Demand], you don’t know what’s going to happen, so there’s a suspense element and you can’t fast forward. I think those dynamics create this. A report came out yesterday that live viewers watch eighteen times longer than VOD. We live in a world where I can serve you live to your cellphone, and people can watch it anywhere they are. And so, I think those are the dynamics at play.

But there are more and more competitors, of course. Back during the 2008 US Presidential Election, Ustream was used by nearly all of the major candidates to talk to voters, promote their campaign etc. During the 2012 Election, a lot of this began to happen over Google+’s Hangout, is that a worry for you?

No I think it’s actually complimentary, we might start working with those guys. We started working with Skype on similar stuff as well. I think it’s just a demonstration that there’s something really powerful here. And all the candidates still worked with us in 2012, Google+ does a great job at allowing you to bring in other video chat commentary. It doesn’t do a good job at highly scalable big events, so you wouldn’t see a G+ event that is a million people watching – that’s more of our bread and butter.

But yeah, if it has to do with live broadcasting, we’re going to have a part of it, and that includes not just the media side, we do a lot of corporate communications and internal town halls and new versions of Webinars. My vision is around live broadcasting in general, and if that means working with Google+ to allow their capabilities into Ustream, to do a Google+ Ustream, then I think that’s fantastic. So it’s complimentary, and, stay tuned, there may even be something down the road with those guys.

How prepared are your servers for the PS4’s launch? We don’t know how many people are going to buy it, how many people are going to use the share… if it’s suddenly millions of people using it, are you ready for that?

We will be; we’re the only company in the world that has the scale to do this. Not even Google has it today – our live architecture, infrastructure is completely different to what YouTube is doing. So if we can’t do it, nobody can do it. That being said, we will be ready. We’ve done lots of major events, we have more broadcasters of any given size – there’s hundreds of thousands of people doing this at any given second on Ustream, and so we know how to dynamically shift up and down. So we will be ready, and we also want to make sure that it’s just nice and simple and easy for the gamer, that it adds value and, most importantly, that it doesn’t affect gameplay. It needs to be an additional experience versus a subtracting one – we’re going forward with those ideals.

We’ve seen some screens of Ustream integrated into a game, was that you developing it, or Sony creating it and going ‘how’s this?’, how did that work?

It’s a collaboration. We’ve worked with Sony for years – Sony Pictures, Sony Music, we’re preloaded on a lot of their devices, and we’re very big in Asia… we have a company called Ustream Asia that’s massive, and we have a big office in Tokyo which is where Sony’s headquartered. So we have a deep relationship with them, so it is a true collaboration, and we’ve been doing this for almost a year now, figuring out what’s the best way to actually make this happen at scale and meet those goals and objectives that I talked about earlier.

During the PS Meeting, there seemed to be some mention of Sony sharing user data between themselves, you and Facebook…

I can’t talk too much about the exact details of that, but what I can say is that our desire is to make sure it is simple and easy for the gamer. We have no desire for information that we don’t need to be able to fulfill our end of the obligations, and the goal, is to make it seamless and easy for the gamer. If you have a Ustream account and want to log in that way, that’s great, and if you want to log in with your Sony account, that’s fine too. We want it to be simple and easy, because I’m in the business of making live broadcasting mainstream and ubiquitous, and whatever fits towards that end, we’re going to make sure we do.

So will you be able to use the Ustream app on the PS4 to watch non-gaming stuff then?

Yeah, our intent is to bring all of our content, so today was Elon Musk’s SpaceX flight, that was bringing a capsule to the international space station, and content like that should be on there. If you want to watch a major music festival, or a skateboarding event or whatever, we want to bring all of that content into the PlayStation experience. And the reason is that these are not just gaming devices, these are media devices. So when you have 30 million connected users, we can serve entertainment outside of just gaming and we will absolutely be a part of that.

At the moment, what we’ve seen is them recording the screen, we see what they play. But will users be able to use the PS4 Eye to record themselves?

Yeah, that’s part of the goal, for sure. The way I’ve sort of thought of this opportunity from our standpoint has been that if you think of the PlayStation box as the modern day cable box, we’re like the modern day cable company and the gamer is the actor, director, producer of his own show. Giving those capabilities to the user – think of all the creative ways they could utilize them – is really important. One of the things I’ve learned with Ustream is that we give people capabilities and the creativity comes from them, they’ll find unique and amazing ways on how to utilize that, and we have a similar thought process with the PlayStation.

Continue reading to hear about the service on PS4, and how you will be able to earn money sharing…

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