Share: Ustream CEO Talks PS4, The Future of Video and the Blurring of Reality
Were you surprised by how much eSports kicked off last year?
I’m not, we were the first [grins]. I’ll tell you a little story – there used to be an advisor at the company that was a coach at one of the [Championship Gaming Series] teams because I always believed in eSports. I was out in the early days of Ustream, personally going to these tournaments, streaming them myself – the World Cyber Games was me, I was the person streaming it. ESports was always going to be big – when CGS went down, I tried to get DirectTV to sell it to me, but they would not, for whatever reason.
I’m a former gamer, I’m married now with 3 kids and my wife doesn’t let me do what I want to, as much as I want to, but it’s zero surprise to me having grown up as a hardcore gamer, as a hardcore Warcraft player, and I was really into Star Wars Galaxies back in the day. And in the early, early days I was into Multi-User Dungeons. So I’m not at all surprised by it. I’m glad to see gaming has become mainstream, when I was growing up you were an outlier if you were that hardcore, and slightly looked down upon, and that’s totally not the case today.
So I’m imagining I’m playing a game on PS4 right now [gestures] and streaming… are there comments on the side, or where is the interactivity if the screen is taken by the game?
[Nods] Well we’re not prepared to talk about the exact anatomy and user experience just yet, but what Ustream is is live. With live you have deep experiences and interactivity. To the end that it can add value to the gaming experience, we’ll do it. To the extent that it doesn’t, we don’t want to do that, obviously. The gameplay comes first, and everything else is secondary.
Companies like Sony will often try to add as many features and popular website names to their devices as possible to make it look more appealing, but often this is done rather sloppily and half-heartedly. At what point did you realize Sony were really going for it with Gaikai, full integration and the share button?
At least a couple of years ago, everyone saw which way the industry was heading, and the opportunity, and so it’s been a gradual discussion. Over the last year it obviously became very, very serious. Like I said, we’ve had a long relationship with Sony for years and years and years, so they understand the values of it – not just around the gameplay side, with their press conference they basically did a 2 hour Sony commercial and had 8 million people watch it for around an hour… that’s like television. They’ve always got it.
So you’ll be streaming E3 then?
We’ll definitely have components of E3, for sure, we always do. We’re going to have a presence, partners that are on the ground. We’re a technology company, not a content creator, so we build amazing things that really creative people can utilize and create amazing content. We know our place, and it’s to build platforms and increase social virality. That’s what we’re good at. And we’ll have broadcasters at E3, for sure.
You talked about Ustream Partners – will PS4 users be able to join that revenue share system and earn money?
Yeah, that’s our goal, absolutely. Today we already do that with a lot of partners, and we just launched a pay-per-view product that anyone can use. We revenue share, so it’s a partnership – we give you this amazing platform, amazing way to build an audience, you go build amazing content and we’ll monetize by charging for it. There are times where you make more money by pay-per-view than advertising, or sometimes you might want to make it more exclusive. So our intent is to provide capabilities for broadcasters to build businesses on Ustream.
If one person is streaming a game and only one person is watching it… is that still cost effective?
It’s still costs effective for us, yes [nods].
So you don’t have to worry about whether too many PS4 players might end up sharing, and not enough watching?
Nope, that’s not going to be an issue.
How closely are you going to be integrated with at PlayStation App? There’s going to be a PS App on mobiles and second screens, are they all going to have Ustream?
That’s still being determined, and I’ll defer to Sony on that one.
But have you tested out if someone is cloud streaming a game and then also doing Ustream that the game doesn’t suffer? Is the game the one that gets the priority bandwidth wise?
Absolutely, the game has to have priority number one, period. You can’t detract from that, not even an ounce, so that’s a very big part of the focus.
So you’ve said that this is not an exclusive arrangement…
Can you say a bit more?
All I can say is that my goal is to make live broadcasting ubiquitous. Viewers are now in more places than ever, we’re preloaded on Samsung TVs, Panasonic TVs, Sony TVs and so many other things, and you can watch this content in Twitter and Facebook, etc. People are highly dispersed, so you need to go where they are, and from our standpoint, our absolute intent is to go where all the people are, regardless of what the platform is.
So you’re not exclusive to them, but are you worried that they might not be exclusive to you and go to Twitch.TV or something like that?
No, there’s not a worry.
Is that because, if they did, you think you have the better service, or because you think they won’t even need to go to someone else?
Part of it is because this is not a trivial task we are doing for them, it’s a very deep partnership and integration, so there’s things around that partnership that make me confident about that, and there’s things more around the capabilities that we’ve built that are just unmatched in the marketplace, as well as a scale and a business model that’s unmatched. It’s not a concern.
But I think what Twitch is doing is incredible. They obviously started out as Justin, and now they’re focusing on the gaming community with a really targeted and focused demographic mix, and I think that’s fantastic. Our vision is different, we’re a technology platform that serves a much broader use case, and that inevitably means there’s a different set of needs and use cases, which, in this case, works better for what Sony needs.