YouTube has been steadily expanding into the livestreaming business, from concerts and obscure sports to the 2012 Olympics, and now, to political coverage of the upcoming U.S. election. Today marks YouTube’s first livestream on their "Election Hub": the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, will begin streaming at 7pm EST tonight in partnership with ABC News.
Olivia Ma, YouTube’s News Manager, billed YouTube’s Election Hub as “a one-stop channel for key political moments from now through the upcoming U.S. election day on November 6” in an official blog post. Besides live coverage, the Google-owned Web hub also offers reporting, commentary and analysis from ABC News, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed, Larry King, The New York Times, Univision, The Wall Street Journal, and YouTube’s very own mega-personality and news commentator Phil DeFranco.
YouTube tried its hand at livestreaming in 2009 with a U2 concert, again in 2010 with broadcasting cricket matches in India. Those proved successful enough for the Google-owned company to offer livestreaming in a limited capacity last April to select partners, following with another livestream of a concert, this time Coldplay in October, and Professional Bull Riding coverage in December 2011. The relative success of those events, and slow and steady build up of livestreaming infrastructure led YouTube to try its hand at a major global event, this year’s Olympic games in London, England.
“We used the Olympics as an opportunity to challenge our capabilities and set some high quality-of-service and streaming goals going forward,” said Jason Gaedtke, YouTube’s director of software engineering.
The Olympics effort required YouTube to build a large-scale streaming platform manned by 25 employees around the globe, with as many as 100 high definition livestreams in action at one time. It was an ambitious, if not exhaustive effort: a YouTube spokesperson told us that one lead manager on the project went 20 days “of working 20+ hours monitoring the Olympics livestream nonstop.” (That employee is now on a hard-earned vacation.)
The end result? 231 million Olympic streams watched across the globe, with 72 million of those coming from YouTube’s own Olympics channel.
YouTube’s Election Hub is definitely smaller in scale and won’t have nearly as large of an audience as the Olympics, but it could widen YouTube’s demographic and help shift the site’s stereotype of being just for kids, viral videos and copyrighted clips. If viewers miss the livestream, the footage is offered for playback much like DVR.
By building up its livestreaming offerings and capabilities, Google is not only showing how serious they are at rivaling television in content and ad sales, but also a platform and distribution method.