One of the industries that has perhaps been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic is the events industry. Social distancing measures introduced by the government mean that gatherings of more than two people from separate households are not permitted, and people must keep a two-metre distance between them when in public. Although this has completely halted physical events from going ahead, with the help of technology, it is still possible to hold and attend events online.
For example, a lineup of musicians from the likes of Little Mix, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga to Paul McCartney, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones performed at home to pay tribute to key workers in the One World: Together at Home virtual concert. Even the government have taken their proceedings to the internet, with the Commons Health Committee being streamed live on the BBC as Health Secretary Matt Hancock fielded questions on the progress of the government strategy on COVID-19 from MPs and health professionals who appeared via live video link.
Clearly live streaming services are in high demand at the moment, with events being cancelled, and people working from home and separated from loved ones. But which is the best solution for your specific business needs? To help you decide, here is a list of some of the most popular live streaming services available today.
Zoom is a video communications platform used for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room systems. Zoom has traditionally been used in more formal settings such as conferences, but since the outbreak it has become a conduit for quiz nights, cocktail parties, and other such social “gatherings.” This is probably because it is one of the only platforms to offer live streaming services for free, and they even upgraded their free plan during COVID-19 to include no time limits on meetings. However, at the time of writing (21 April), the 40-minute time limit had been restored.
The basic plan is free, and includes the ability to host up to 100 participants for a maximum of 40 minutes per meeting. It includes features such as screen share and keyboard/mouse control. Paid plans range in price from £11.99 up to £1,599 per month depending on number of hosts, participant numbers, meeting durations, and controls for admins.
Houseparty offers games and other interactivity, and was becoming evermore popular at the outset of the lockdown. This was until rumours started circulating on social media that the app had been hacked, and people’s personal information, including bank details, was being leaked. Houseparty tweeted their response:
We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty. We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Houseparty (@houseparty) March 31, 2020
The company insisted that “All Houseparty accounts are safe − the service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites”, and they have found no evidence to suggest there are any security risks associated with the app.
Houseparty is free to use and you can download the app on to your phone/tablet, or install the Chrome extension on to your computer.
Webex is an enterprise solution that specialises in video conferencing, online meetings, screen share, and webinars. They provide HD video conferencing from any device for up to 100,000 people, and you can message participants privately or publicly throughout the meeting. There are options to share your screen and other content such as documents and presentations during the conference, and hosts can record the meeting so people can view it later. Interactive webinars are also available for audiences of up to 3,000 people.
Throughout COVID-19, Webex have upgraded their free plan to include up to 100 participants, no time limit on meetings, an unlimited number of meetings, and desktop, application, file, and whiteboard sharing options. Their paid plans range from £11.25 to £22.50 per month, and offer additional features such as varying degrees of storage, integration with other apps, more customer support, analytics, and branding and customisations.
There have been reports that it can be difficult to control larger meetings, with some participants not being heard, and apparently the mobile version is not as good quality as the desktop one. But they provide efficient customer service, with live chat and remote desktop control capabilities.
Microsoft Teams is a teamwork hub and Office 365 team app that fuses group chat software with collaboration tools. Similar to Webex, it enables participants to share their screen and instant messages in meetings, and permits hosts to save the meetings to be viewed later. Because it is a Microsoft product, you can connect your Outlook so your contacts and calendars are pooled in Teams, and it integrates well with Microsoft Office, letting you access, share, and edit Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets in real-time. You can also share the agenda with participants prior to the meeting. One-touch login is available from certified partners Logitech, Crestron, Polycom, Lenovo, HP, and Yealink.
However, the app only allows teams of up to 10,000 people across all devices on a paid plan, with prices starting from £3.80 (excluding VAT) per month on an annual commitment, and reaching £17.60 per month for the most enhanced features. Reports suggest that Teams is not suitable for Apple products.
Vimeo is used to create high-performing videos for socials. The live streaming feature provides live stats, time-coded comments, and detailed analytics, and you can stream across social media and on your site simultaneously, with no added stress on your bandwidth. You are able to view analytics from your socials and website together in the Vimeo dashboard, and also swap in a newer version of a video without losing the stats or URL for the original one. Vimeo Basic is free and offers limited upload space, account storage, embedding features, analytics and privacy controls for your videos, among other things. There are paid packages available that offer more features, the most expensive being the premium package which costs £70 per month.
Business members can integrate their analytics from Vimeo with Google Analytics. In this plan, there are no viewer limits, there’s a customisable player, password protection, and other ways to control who can view the live stream. Similar to other platforms, you can collaborate with your team, but you also have the ability to give specific people access to edit particular projects. There are custom integrations with creative tools like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and more. In addition, it allows you to add marketing tools to bump up engagement, for example Q&As, live polls, audience chats, email capture, and custom calls-to-action.
There have been complaints that it’s difficult to get a response from the support team, and that people have been charged for free trials. There have also been reports that people have had trouble cancelling their subscription, and that there are issues with slow playback, stalling, and buffering.
Brightcove Enterprise Comms
Brightcove is one of the oldest online video platforms, and was the first to create videos with an HTML5 player. It focuses on managing, delivering, and monetising video experiences on every type of screen, and offers modular products including cloud hosting, video player, server-side ad insertion, live streaming, and more. However, live streaming is not included in packages under $499 per month, making this one of the more expensive platforms we’ve seen. This could be attributed to the fact that its analytics features are probably the best in the business, with the capacity to track every step of viewer engagement including device and geography, how long the content has been viewed, search terms, top domains, and more. They offer additional features such as the ability to create clips during a live stream, and to “stitch” ads into your content to avoid ad blockers and buffering.
One of the issues that customers have had is that monetisation is only available on custom plans, which can be expensive.
Dacast provides all-in-one streaming solutions from $19 a month for the starter pack, which doesn’t include phone support or ad insertions. The most expensive plan is $289 per month, and there is also a pay-per-view model, but you have to accumulate $100 worth of views before you see any of the money. Having said that, Dacast is probably the most secure solution, providing services for courts of law and government institutions, and it uses high-quality streaming with Akamai CDN. Like many other live streaming platforms, you can stream across all social channels and get real-time analytics.
At the moment, the Dacast subscriptions are only available to pay in USD but they are working on making it available in multiple currencies. There are also reports that the back-end takes a while to navigate and is not as user-friendly as other platforms, but the company provides excellent customer service to address any issues.
IBM Cloud Video
IBM Cloud Video provides live and on-demand streaming. Basic streaming accounts are free, with advertising support that is removed with a paid account. These plans include video hosting, transcoding, live streaming, automated speech to text, and analytics with prices ranging from £80.67 to £814 per month depending on viewer limits, storage, and download capacities. Other features of a paid plan include live chats and Q&As during the live stream, and a customisable channel page to match your branding.
One issue customers have had is that it only provides up to 720p resolution. This is satisfactory for some users, but not for all. Enterprise plans allow for full HD streaming, and those prices are based on custom contracts, making them more costly.