Streamworks and Others Say Live Video on Mobile Devices Is Changing News

9/25/12Follow @jpruth

Everyone knows video is a huge driver of Web traffic, but thus far the bulk of that content has been prerecorded, even on news sites. Now change is underway, according to a gathering of media professionals in New York who spoke Tuesday morning about the spread of live video to more mobile devices around the globe.

The panel was brought together by Streamworks International, a company with British heritage and operations in New York, which develops software that brings live streaming video to smartphones, tablets, and other devices. Making more live video accessible, especially on mobile devices, is changing the dynamics of the news and media industry, according to Streamworks CEO Ray Mia, who spoke to Xconomy on Tuesday, prior to the panel discussion.

Not only can broadcasters reach the audience live when they are away from their televisions, but Mia also expects the business model for news to evolve as well. “If live [streaming] is done well, it can be monetized,” he says. “Publishers want to deliver [content] anywhere. It’s all about click and play.”

Streamworks’ software brings live video, as well as video on demand, to Web-connected devices. Mia says his company works largely with news outlets that want to make streaming content available to more users of mobile gadgets. His clients include The Daily Mail, the Associated Press, the United Nations, and YouTube.

Watching prerecorded video on mobile devices is nothing new. People often watch movies, television shows, and user-generated clips on tablets and smartphones. Streaming live events such as the wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton or the Summer Olympic Games, however, can devour bandwidth and potentially jam up wireless networks if not handled carefully—and that is where Streamworks comes in. The company’s software and infrastructure manages the live feed to ensure video quality is maintained wherever the content is watched.

Founded in 2006, the company that evolved into Streamworks set up its New York operations in 2010. Mia says the company’s technical infrastructure is mirrored in both Britain and the United States. Backed by the Ocean Group, Streamworks is headquartered in Luxembourg but runs its operations through its offices in New York and London. Prior to Streamworks, Mia worked as a producer for the United Nations, which is now one of his clients. “I spend about one-quarter of my time here [in New York],” Mia says. “The majority of our clients are based in the U.S.”

In fact he plans to build out more cabling and infrastructure in the New York–metro area to support the Streamworks platform. Mia says he wants to maintain a solid backbone for his operations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. “Our clients rely on live feeds that are always running and don’t fall down,” he says.

After the interview, Mia met up with the rest of the panel of media professionals convened at the British Consulate-General in New York to discuss how streaming live video news to mobile devices is changing their industry. While the cliché of content being king still holds, Mia said during the panel that “distribution is King Kong.”

Joining Mia in the discussion were Joe Ruffolo, senior vice president of digital media with ABC News; Roy Sekoff, president of Huffington Post Live (HuffPost Live) and the founding editor of The Huffington Post; Andrew Heyward, senior advisor of Monitor Group and former president of CBS News; and moderator Merrill Brown, an advisor to Streamworks and former editor in chief for MSNBC.com.

As more of the public watches content through handheld devices, news companies such as ABC are adopting new strategies to take advantage of these platforms. “The largest growth we’re seeing is in the mobile sphere,” Ruffolo said. He oversees ABCNews.com and other digital media for the network such as a partnership with Yahoo. He says live streaming represents an opportunity to use different forms of media that let audiences decide what they want to watch. He said, for example, ABCNews.com offered simultaneous coverage of this year’s Sept. 11 memorial services in New York, Shanksville, PA, and Washington, DC, allowing viewers to pick what they wanted to see.

Sekoff’s HuffPost Live website launched in August delivering opinions, conversations among users, and breaking news through streaming video aimed at stirring comments from audiences as they watch. A Twitter-like feed displays the written comments on the webpage during the live videos, which run for 12 hours on each weekday.

Heyward said the spread of video cameras, social media, and other Web technology lets most anyone share news online, which has lit a fire in the industry to find new ways to reclaim clout with the audience. “Publishers are trying to make something bespoke out of these commoditized raw materials,” he said.

Delivering streaming news through novel methods could help win back even the hard-to-reach youth audience according to Heyward. “Broadcast and cable news divisions have very, very old-skewing audiences,” he said. “The average demographic is hovering around 60 [years old]. Streaming can be a way to reach people who just don’t consume network news.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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