The present and future of cloud streaming
Streaming is now actively used in online education and the event industry, streaming video is widely used to broadcast sports, concerts and expert speeches on the Internet. Having gained initial popularity in the gaming market, streaming has gradually turned from entertainment and a hobby for gamers into a serious business that brings good income.
Until recently, the organization of online video broadcasts required impressive costs for equipment, software and a fast Internet connection channel. The emergence of affordable cloud services has reduced these costs to a minimum, thanks to which anyone can now start the stream. Today we will talk about the cloud technologies used in streaming and discuss how this business will develop in the near future – in general terms, without specific code examples and a detailed description of the implementation.
It is believed that gamers were the first to master streaming, although long before them, video broadcasts were actively used by the “adult” industry. However, the first real streamer can probably be called a 23-year-old American Justin Kahn, who in 2007 decided on a bold experiment: he attached a webcam to his head, broadcasting on the Internet 24/7 everything that its carrier sees. Together with partners, he created a special website, Justin.tv, to which the image was transmitted. The experiment continued continuously for 8 months, Kahn did not turn off the camera even in his sleep.
Unexpectedly, the live broadcast of Justin Kahn’s life became of interest to many Internet users, his “lifestreaming” became the subject of several TV shows and publications in the media, which attracted even more viewers: at one point, the number of monthly views of his channel reached 30 million. After that, the partners opened up the opportunity to broadcast live on Justin.tv to everyone, turning the site into the world’s first streaming platform (the YouTube portal did not yet support online broadcasting at that time). Thanks to his idea Justin managed to raise investments in the amount of $ 8 million, and in 2011 founded Twitch – one of the most popular streaming services today.
But among a wide audience, video streams have gained popularity thanks to fans of computer games. Live broadcasts of the gameplay, during which the author commented on what was happening on the screen and answered questions from the audience in real time, unexpectedly attracted the attention of Internet users. And the collection of voluntary donations made it possible to make such broadcasts profitable. Soon, professional esports players joined the process, and streams of popular esports competitions became commonplace, competing with traditional competitions.
Since not only games, but virtually any media content can be broadcast online, this technology was soon mastered by business trainers, yoga and fitness specialists, coaches and teachers, musicians, artists and showmen. And the coronavirus epidemic and a surge of interest in online education have only spurred the development of this area.
To organize a stream, you need a computer with software installed on it, a connected microphone and a video camera, if a live picture is broadcast to the network, and not an image on the screen. The video stream is transmitted to a website hosted on the Internet, where it can be viewed live by interested users.
The most popular video broadcast services today are Twitch founded by Justin Kahn, the Periscope portal, YouTube video hosting, and social networks, most of which support live broadcasts. Feedback from content consumers is usually carried out directly on the streaming site, in the same social networks, or using instant messengers such as Discord or Telegram.
The streamer must notify subscribers in advance of the upcoming broadcast, as well as inform them in time about its start. In the process, it is necessary to ensure that the connection is not interrupted, and that the audio and video streams are transmitted to remote servers synchronously. All this together leads to the fact that from a technical point of view, organizing a high-quality live broadcast is not as easy as it seems at first glance.
During the broadcast, streams are often recorded for the purpose of their subsequent publication in the format of videos or podcasts – on YouTube, social networks and other platforms. The recorded air can be rewired and partially re-voiced, removed unsuccessful or uninteresting episodes, added transitions, video effects or advertising.
The program is very popular among applications for organizing video broadcasts. OBS Studio, designed for video recording and streaming. It is a free and open source program updated by a community of independent developers. The application interface has been translated into 41 languages of the world, and its versions are available not only for Windows, but also for macOS and Linux operating systems.
OBS Studio supports various plugins that expand its capabilities. The program allows you to broadcast video from several sources, both in real time and using pre-recorded clips, as well as save the broadcast to a video file. Several alternative streaming programs have been developed based on OBS Studio, such as Streamlabs Desktop. This application provides the broadcast host with several additional features, such as chat management, interaction with viewers, and donation collection.
Stream goes to the clouds
The emergence of cloud services focused specifically on the organization of streaming video broadcasts has significantly reduced the time for preparing streams and simplifies their implementation. The cloud server takes over the broadcast of the video stream on Twitch, YouTube or other platforms using channels with a bandwidth of up to 1000 Mbps, automates the distribution of announcements and notifications to subscribers in Discord, Twitch and YouTube, and also provides recording of broadcasts and storage of videos. Taking into account the fact that cloud servers are highly reliable, and the provider’s infrastructure guarantees automatic backup of all data stored in the cloud and round-the-clock support, this practically removes the concern from the streamer about the technical part of the project.
As a result, educational portals, professional organizers of online events and video conferences began to actively use cloud services for organizing streaming broadcasting. But not only them. So a data engineer from Germany, and part-time blogger and twitch streamer known under the pseudonym “Long”, spent more than 500 hours of continuous broadcasting on YouTube and Twitch using the cloud.
500 hours of video streaming
In 2019, Long started a personal blog on a social network with pictures that is now banned in the Russian Federation, where he told readers about IT technologies, Big Data and NFT. This educational content became popular, and the number of subscribers began to skyrocket. The coronavirus pandemic, which caught many companies and independent professionals by surprise, gave the blogger a new idea: he began to share ideas with fellow IT people on how to stay productive and motivated in such difficult times. The audience liked the initiative, and in 2021 Long began to stream under the general name “Study with me”, where he gave advice on learning various technologies, as well as increasing their own productivity for viewers who have to work or study from the comfort of their homes. In addition to the community on the social network, Long started a YouTube channel, where he regularly published his own videos.
To create a suitable atmosphere for remote work, the blogger gathered a group of like-minded people on Discord who encouraged each other online and helped colleagues focus on their projects. The next logical step was to try to scale this experience. Long organized a video broadcast on Twitch, where he created a whole virtual office for joint work of the same specialists as himself. The implementation of this idea required renting a virtual server that supports multi-stream video transmission with the possibility of remote control via the SSH protocol. Long tested the capabilities of several providers, but eventually settled on cloud servers from serverspace.
First of all, because the virtual server control panel seemed to him the most convenient, and he was able to quickly resolve all technical issues with the help of the support service.
The cloud server runs all the scripts necessary for organizing broadcasts, written in Python and NodeJS. Applications on the server interact with Twitch, YouTube, Discord on the one hand, and OBS Studio on the broadcaster’s local computer on the other. In addition, Long has launched his own web-based Pomodoro App on the server, which forces the streamers to interrupt work from time to time to take a break. He transferred another of his projects to the cloud: a web application and a bot that interacts with the OpenSea NFT platform, with the help of which community members can monitor various events on this trading platform in real time. In other words, Long hosted almost the entire infrastructure on a cloud server that provides video broadcasts, feedback from subscribers, recording and publishing streams, as well as web applications related to the project. On the local machine, only the OBS Studio program remains, which captures video streams and transfers it to the cloud.
Using this technology, the blogger was able to organize over 500 hours of continuous video broadcasts on Twitch and YouTube. “If the maximum streaming limit weren’t limited to 48 hours, there would be over 400 hours of video posted on Twitch right now,” says Long. This is a clear example of how cloud services allow you to automate streaming, save on technical equipment and significantly reduce the amount of work in preparing broadcasts. Implementing such a project solely on your own using the equipment at hand is an almost impossible task.
And what’s in the future?
The global COVID-19 epidemic has actually ended, but distance education and remote work have remained. More and more educational institutions conduct lectures for their students online, many popular events are being transferred online. Already, video broadcasting is a profitable business. It can be assumed that in the not so distant future, streaming will occupy the same professional niche that the production of other types of content has now mastered – music, video, games.
Accordingly, cloud platforms will be developed and improved to help streamers organize live broadcasts and provide technical platforms for this. The main advantage of cloud technologies is flexibility: the broadcast organizer can optionally connect the services he needs and disable unnecessary ones, select the required amount of disk space and processor power, control the data transfer rate, video stream recording and backup. No other tool will give you such a wide range of opportunities.
Now live video broadcasts are carried out not only by gamers, coaches and musicians: for example, live sales have become very popular in China. Here is what the author of the telegram channel writes about this “China inside out” Aleksey Raisikh, permanently residing in the Celestial Empire: “In our main Chinese marketplace, Taobao, there is a huge competition. It takes a lot of hard work to sell a product. People are now addicted to online selling live. I met in the park such a command: They sell scarves. We chose a more or less picturesque place – willows, a pond. The girl sells, the boys answer questions in an online chat right there, without leaving the cash register. Cyberpunk?
A few years ago, a stream from a camera installed under the windshield of a taxi car traveling around New York was popular on the network. Virtual characters are also becoming famous streamers: for example, non-existent CodeMiko girl , the role of which is played by a live person using motion capture technology. The real girl playing the role of Miko uses the nickname “Technician” and does not reveal her true identity. Perhaps this is the future of streaming: video broadcasts will be used by more and more business sectors, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts: from sellers on marketplaces to repair shops and pizzerias. Other virtual streamers will appear, streamers are pets, and, what the hell is not joking, streamers controlled by artificial intelligence.
If you have seen interesting and unusual streams, friends, do not forget to share the links in the comments.