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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Why I believe the future is LIVE

Building livestreaming videos is not easy. The technology must be robust, and scalable, but that’s just the price of the admission. The magic is everything else.

Why I believe the future is LIVE
[Miha Creative/Adobe Stock]

According to App Annie’s latest social market report, consumers will spend 548 billion hours livestreaming in top social apps this year. But they’re not just being passively entertained by creators, they’re expressing their appreciation by buying them digital gifts to the tune of an estimated $6.78 billion in 2021.

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Unlike many other forms of social media, which are still struggling to find a business model not based on selling data or advertising, livestreaming video was built from the ground up on a robust economic engine. Per App Annie, the social apps market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%, reaching an estimated $17.2 billion annually by 2025.

As someone who has lived and breathed social technology for the last 17 years, I know as well as anyone that live broadcasting is not without pitfalls. My hope is to express the extraordinary potential of livestreaming video to be a force for good while steering clear of the dangers.

BEIJING, 2015

Livestreaming first hit my radar while I was on a business trip to China in 2015. To be honest, it didn’t instantly wow me. My first impression was, “Boy, there’s a lot going on.” The KOLs (Key opinion leaders—today we’d call them creators) were talking fast and furiously into the camera. The tiny mobile screen was full of stuff: images flying everywhere, chats scrolling past at impossible speed, gifting alerts, pinging sounds, and naturally, on top of all that, everything was in Chinese.

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But even so, I could tell something interesting was happening. I began to imagine what it would take to not just build it technically, but also to maintain and sustain it. By October 2016, we had fully committed to putting nearly the whole MeetMe team on livestreaming video with the goal of creating dating games as part of the core experience. We put the teams in place, picked our underlying video technology solution, and started building out our massively complex AI moderation and safety protocols.

CROSS-INDUSTRY LIVESTREAMING MODELS

But even if a company has no connection to dating, livestreaming can be transformative.

Consider this: Remote work has brought the future forward. As we’ve transitioned to living hybrid lives, much of it mediated by a screen, the immediacy of livestreaming is a powerful innovation across many industries.

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For example, retailer Rebecca Minkoff credits livestreamers with keeping her business afloat during the pandemic by creating excitement (and delivering orders) while stores remained closed. Many museums and art galleries, like The Wallace Collection in the U.K., gave real-time expert tours and concerts to raise much-needed revenue and open up tourism to international visitors during lockdown.

It’s now standard practice for high-end realtors to livestream from inside premarket residence sales, transforming the business of “open houses” by bringing in qualified buyers. Many of us “saw” our primary care provider through telemedicine visits during the pandemic. Livestreaming also made it possible for healthcare professionals to stay abreast of the latest guidance without leaving home.

Education now uses livestreaming for both massive global conferences and 1:1 seminars with personal tutors. Livestreaming is also deployed in many aspects of logistics, including last-minute checks on pets during their transit to military families posted abroad.

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UNDER THE HOOD

Of course, building livestreaming videos is not easy. The technology must be robust and scalable, but that’s just the price of the admission. The magic is everything else.

The unique video formats; the interactivity, like text comments and gifts; the gamification, with levels and leaderboards; the talent, requiring an entertainment business to be built on top of a technology business. As important and as time-consuming as all of that is to build, there’s an equally important part: moderation.

Every single day, across our apps, a gigantic amount of content—usually more than 10 million minutes—is created. We must review it in real time.

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It’s as herculean a task as it sounds, involving sophisticated AI and hundreds of professional moderators. While there are emerging ecosystems of interesting moderation technology solutions, like Spectrum, there are challenges to manage and no handbook to follow: just constant iteration and improvement, training and re-training of neural networks, and a commitment to a quality, safe environment for the audience.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Where will livestreaming go next? Well, my 11-year-old daughter has some ideas.

The other night, as she was doing her usual engaging-me-in-conversation routine to avoid going to sleep, she said: “You know what would be cool? If I could put on glasses, like yours, and talk with my best friend as if she were in that chair.”

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She’s right! She should be able to don lightweight, normal-looking augmented reality spectacles while, across town, her BFF did the same. Then, synced up, their projections could talk to each other about their day at school, with the fidelity as if they were in the room together.

How far out is this vision? Probably 10 years, maybe more. That’s a lot of processing power to fit in a small frame! It’s as much a hardware problem as a software one, but it’s coming. The future always does.

Here we are living on a beautiful, spinning, massive world tethered to an even bigger star contained within an impossibly big universe, itself likely just one of many, and we devote an extraordinary amount of time peering into a six-and-a-half-inch screen. The livestreaming experience of tomorrow will be bigger than that.

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Geoff Cook is a serial entrepreneur, CEO of The Meet Group, and Co-CEO of ParshipMeet Group.
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