livetv-logos.jpgThanks to the meteoric rise of YouTube, anyone with a video camera and an internet connection can be a star. More recently, they can live stream themselves to you 24/7, even from a mobile phone. Here we take a look at 14 companies competing in this sector.

Justin.TV, featuring a live cam of a guy named Justin in San Francisco, helped spearhead the new wave of popularity, but a host of other companies are battling for a piece of this market.

Hand in hand with the popularity of video streaming and downloads comes questions of legality. ViaCom, this past March, filed a lawsuit against YouTube for $1 billion for alleged copyright infringement, and the issue will only be exacerbated as users broadcast and stream live video from anywhere they can get a satellite signal or an internet connection, even, in fact, especially, from their mobile phone.

Lawsuits will arise as individuals find ways to usurp copyright material by taking their mobile phones to sporting events, movies, concerts or other events. Take the Patriots-Giants finale, originally scheduled to broadcast on only the NFL Network, but later opened up to simulcast on both NBC and CBS — raising the ire of some regional New England TV stations. Imagine a fan with a mobile device being able to live stream the game directly to an account with one of the services listed below.

For now, Live TV is just starting to take off, and below I present a select list of competitors, and why I love ’em, hate ’em and sometimes both. I prefer Kyte and Mogulus for being able to create and broadcast an innovative show, while UStream.TV has aligned with big-name personalities like The Plain White T’s that are fun to take a look at. In the Mobile sphere, Qik seems to be the dominant force, allowing users to stream mobile to internet with only a 5-second delay, but FlixWagon will be hot on its tails when it releases a public alpha in January. All companies should be on the look out though, as AT&T with its VideoShare allows mobile-to-mobile streaming, and while I resist listing a cell phone company as one of the most innovative, from what I’ve seen, it is the most impressive video-streaming technology so far.

Note: One common feature I noticed when checking these sites is that the user-generated content is often silly, bordering on the inane.

FlixWagon, a Tel-aviv company which has raised $1 million of funding, is a live video streaming service, allowing anyone with a 3G or WiFi enabled phone to broadcast live video on the web. According to SMS Text news, the company plans to support mobile-to-mobile streaming. Their alpha goes public beginning this new year.

The Good. Video seems to have higher quality than competitor Qik. Users can edit video info from their phone. Users don’t lose precious moments of broadcasts, thanks to a feature that stores video and saves for later viewing. Users can also broadcast alerts to friends and family and automatically upload their video to YouTube or Facebook.
The Bad. For the average user, their name and logo provides no clue about what the company’s purpose is.
The Ugly. FlixWagon supports only Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets. Users have to download a mobile application.

Justin.tv helped launch life-casting into the consciousness of mainstream America. The company, founded in San Francisco by Justin Kan and Co. after selling Kiko on eBay, received $50,000 from Y Combinator and an undisclosed amount from Alsop Louie in October, and was originally a 24/7 window into the life of Justin. In October, it expanded into a public network, allowing anyone with a camera and computer to videocast their life.

The Good. Youtube meets Big Brother. Life-casting made simple.
The Bad. Why stalk friends through status updates if you can watch them everywhere they go? This site takes the word “voyeurism” to a whole new level.
The Ugly. Seriously, how exciting is it to watch and chat with Justine as she struggles to set up her vidcap or iJohn sleep?

LeWeb conference organizer, Loic Le Meur , with the backing of Ron Conway and Techcrunch’s Michael Arrington, founded Seesmic, which is sometimes described as a “video twitter.”

The Good. Users can stream straight to twitter, as well as borrow video from YouTube and place it in a personal video stream. For the future, Seesmic will enable users to record Skype conversations, video, chat, as well as share a piece of the revenue pie with content creators.
The Bad. Seems to be Last.fm meets Video Twitter…very confusing what the actual purpose is, and as many non-techies don’t even know what Twitter is, may take a while to catch on.
The Ugly. The links don’t seem to work on their page.

UStream.TV, a Riverside-based company with an undisclosed amount of funding that lists General Wesley Clark on its advisory board, is a site for live Web video broadcasting. They claim to be broadcasting 5,000 hours of video daily, with 300 broadcasts taking place at any given time. Ustream says 115,000 people have used the service, and that it has hosted entertainers including a Plain White Ts live concert as well as politicians, like Mitt Romney and GOP candidate Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The Good. Having big name stars such as Mitt Romney and Soulja Boy could perhaps give them an edge on competitors Live and recorded content. Easy search and categorized videos.
The Bad. Profile pages and design are a bit bland.
The Ugly. They seemingly don’t own UStreamTV.com

Kyte, the San Fransisco-based company launched December 2006, is also funded by Ron Conway (in Conway’s classic spread-your-bets fashion; he is really doubling up on video). Other backers include cellphone giant Nokia, as well as a long list of others, including Howard Hartenbaum, an early backer of Skype. Total backing is a significant $17.5 million. It allows users to create their own live TV shows and broadcast them on a live interactive channel, website, blog, social network or mobile phone.

[Update: The Good. Supports Windows Media and Symbian s60 phones. Presenting WIMAX enabled support at the CES, and also a Mobile Streaming/ Map mash-up.
The Ugly. Website is clunky.]
The Good. Slide meets CurrentTV. The “produce a show” feature using drag & drop is very easy to use. Kyte mobile is definitely a huge plus. Lets you chat (IM) as you watch. Easy to post everywhere.
The Bad. The video player itself is a bit too busy.
The Ugly. Some elements show design by a techie– TV littered with trackback comments. They also do not seemingly own their name-sake URL.

Developed by Visivo Communications in Santa Clara, Qik has been testing since November. Qik streams the video directly to the site, with only a 5-second delay. Robert Scoble has gone crazy about them.

The Good. Simple design. Almost Instantaneous. Qiks to Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.
The Bad. Several bad-quality videos. No mobile-to-mobile.
The Ugly. Requires a Nokia S60-enabled phone and must download software, barriers to entry for mainstream audience). Like other mobile products, you’ll require data plan (preferably unlimited).
[Update: Qik is working on both the Bad and the Ugly features that I didn’t like about them].

ComVU, a Vancouver-based company, launched the world’s first mobile Webcasting service in February 2005. ComVu PocketCaster streams video from your phone to your video blog or homepage.

The Good. Supports a wider variety of phones.
The Bad. The website surprisingly has no video player on its home page. Qik and Flixwagon are better choices for the average user, but PocketCaster studio seems impressive.
The Ugly. Monthly subscription fee– a barrier for mainstream, but maybe worth it for enterprises. Website is clunky.

Floobs, an upcoming company from Finland, allows users to create a free television channel for broadcasting live, or prerecorded shows.

The Good. I wish there was something to put here.
The Bad. This is their about page.
The Ugly. A beta that doesn’t know whether it’s public or private and hasn’t been completely translated to English.
[Update: Is in closed beta during spring ’08 before actual launch. Doesn’t change what I said about it now knowing whether it’s private or public]

Starting at $5.00/month, AT&T is letting users can share video mobile to mobile while on a voice call. See an example on the Tyra Banks Show.

The Good. Mobile-to-Mobile beats pointing your mobile browser to a Live TV site (and without investing in a data plan). Works with phones of different brands: (LG & Samsung). Going against a US mobile giant will be no easy task if the service isn’t better and/or cheaper.
The Bad. Five bucks a month (or pay as you go) is too much IF another service can deliver for free. No Website to view/archive videos.
The Ugly. Many people are wary of new contracts…you must have AT&T (or switch over) to take advantage — this may not create as much demand as the iPhone.

Mogulus, a New York startup which received $1.2 million back in May, is focused on live video production tools. The Mogulus tools allows users to “storyboard,” which allows for more TV-like content as users can drop recorded videos into the feed at cue and overlay graphics such as logos or titles.

The Good. Collaboration tools. One of only two companies with a Facebook application. Easy access to 26 videos. Nice editing features. Create a real channel. Very clean design/ presentation.
The Bad. I was getting slow load times to watch. A lot of steps just to start a channel.
The Ugly. Even slower load times when trying to produce a video.

Stickam, a Los Angeles based company that launched in March 2007, enables users to host live show stream and chat on their site as well as embed the stream in a personal site or blog. When not live, users can show pictures, audio, or recorded shows on a MySpace-like profile page.

The Good. More than just live streaming video, includes photos, videos, and audio right into profile.
The Bad. Pop-out boxes and opening new tabs almost never works.
The Ugly. If the average user waits 2.4 seconds for a page to load before skedaddling, I don’t know how Stickam has so many users with the very long load times.

Launched in May out of Israel, Blog TV, which received $3 million in seed funding from an Israeli VC, lets you start your own live show and chat. Users can record, broadcast video live, as the video will be automatically archived. The site also allows users to embed, rate, and recommend the videos.

The Good. Facebook app. Easy to watch, comment and share live video stream. [Update: The company has just added a feature letting you do a live split screen interview from different locations, record it and embed it in your site, which is new from what we can tell.]
The Bad. Design is a tad busy and rough on the edges.
The Ugly. The tag cloud for popular tags in the channels section need some serious fixing (000 0000008august252006 01 does not help one find a channel)

Operator11 launched an Alpha version of a service that has been described as a “cross between MySpace, Jumpcut, YouTube, and AOL chat rooms.” The site allows users to not only live cast themselves, but also mix the live feeds with that of their friends, as well as upload videos to mix in the production.

The Good. Quirky but innovative — one of those hit or miss things. The reverse web-conferencing tool and video-commenting are simple and useful.
The Bad. Eight months in alpha — when will it become a Beta version? The name’s a mouthful — and it has numbers, which is always confusing.
The Ugly. Video quality is sketchy, and the main page has no volume control. Needs some structure — when entering the site, you’re not exactly sure of it capabilities/purpose.

David Adewumi, a contributing writer with VentureBeat, is the founder & CEO of http://heekya.com a social storytelling platform billed “The Wikipedia of Stories.”

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