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What is streaming? The rise of live content and implications for the future

BY Joshua Joda

5th Feb 2024 Technology

7 min read

What is streaming? The rise of live content and implications for the future
The last decade has seen a major rise in live streaming. We look at what it entails, its popularity and controversy surrounding it
As a means of content and entertainment, live streaming is here to stay into the 2020s and beyond. It’s seen as a means to connect audiences with personalities and events in a more authentic and raw manner. Plus, it’s a natural method of showcasing awards and sports tournaments and events, social platforms and companies have increasingly been adopting live content and may continue to do so.

Origins of streaming

As you may know, things like football tournaments and prestigious award shows have historically been shown live, in the media these events are generally referred to as being “broadcast”. Interestingly there is a difference between a stream and a broadcast. Streaming is the transmission of video over the internet on a one-to-one basis as opposed to over TV or radios which can receive a broadcast signal.
Live streaming or ‘streaming’ as it’s commonly referred to today has existed for around 30 years but has really exploded in the late 2000s, with the capability to stream live video from certain video platforms like Twitch and YouTube. The big player in the streaming space —Twitch (launched in 2011) has dominated the headlines for hosting streams of different varieties.
Twitch started off primarily as a dedicated space for live streaming of gaming content but in the years since hosts various categories including gaming, IRL (in real life) streaming, music and creative streams.

Popularity

It’s a bit of an understatement to say streaming is popular now, with the majority of internet traffic being driven by video, livestreams on their own make up around 27 percent of overall videos watched. A big portion of Gen Z as well as millennials watch live streams, viewing them as being more engaging, with gaming and in-real-life chatting being among the most popular genres.
The popularity of live streaming has seen its proliferation, with most of social media from X to Instagram also having live stream capability. Meanwhile other rival platforms to YouTube and Twitch’s dominance have risen and fallen over the years, including the now infamous platform Kick having launched only in 2022 with its own plethora of controversy over certain users content and a perceived lack of moderation.
A still of streamer Kai cenat
Despite this, live streaming is here to stay and has only been increasing in overall use in recent years—it’s a simple and easy way to watch content, it passes time and accessibility is low, meaning anyone with a decent internet connection can watch along and usually without a fee.
The most popular streamer influencers dominate views and attention in the streaming space, carving out huge deals with their platforms and even collaborations with celebrities. The popular streamer Kai Cenat is known for this and has featured a number of “big name rappers including Drake in his streams”. With some of the biggest streamers like Ninja, Pokimane and Valkyrie even having had cameos in movies and TV appearances, streamers have effectively broken out of the streaming niche and into mainstream pop culture.
The streaming industry is already worth billions and only predicted to keep growing year on year, expected to reach a staggering $223.98 billion value in 2028.

Controversy and issues

Live streaming, while lucrative, isn’t all positive and platforms like Twitch have seen more than their fare share of controversy. This is at times over policy rulings which may be seen as biased and content which is seen as too lewd and too suggestive for large swathes of younger viewers that use the platform.
One of the strengths of live streaming is also its biggest weaknesses—it’s live and raw, which shows viewers authentic, uncut sides to their favourite personalities. However, if used in inappropriate settings or for the wrong reasons, it can show indecent content or even be used for harassment of people in public in search of more viewers, if not harassment of the streamer themselves. Recent years have seen certain streamers opting for extreme and controversial content often with staged skits on platforms like Kick as well as Twitch, aiming to go viral from the headlines.
An overlay of multiple streamers on Twitch

What's next for streaming?

Despite much talk online over the death of platforms like Twitch due to changes in policy, general content and the company admittedly losing money, streaming is only projected to keep growing. It can be seen as a quick avenue to fame and fortune for some but for most viewers it’s a way to pass time or watch engaging content from their favourite creators. Social media adoption of live streaming hints at companies seeing further use in it aside from mass entertainment, though that is a key component in its reach.
What we are already seeing and will continue to see is a more diverse content as the market gets more saturated, with likely more out of the box and extreme ideas to garner attention, which may not always be for the good. As we go into the future and with increasingly better technology and faster internet, we may see an increased adoption or viewing of streaming among regular internet users.
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