Streaming video is best known in the context of online channels like YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu, or news channels from your local news station to CNN and C-SPAN. Content produced by professionals – journalists, television stations, or even well-funded acting troupes – ruled the Internet at first, so streaming was left to the pros.
More access to better technology at home has enabled everyday people to stream their own content. Apps like Twitch, TikTok and Mixer are designed especially for streaming content, and other apps like Discord, Skype, and Facebook have integrated streaming technology into their platforms. So what is streaming and what kinds of things get streamed?
The video format includes movies and television, which involves motion caught on camera. Streamers put this video online. Sometimes it is pre-produced and other times it is live. Pre-produced content can include independent television shows and movies, which began to populate online spaces even before sites like Netflix began offering them budgets. Some of these pre-produced shows propelled their casts and crews into professional work: actresses Felicia Day and Amy Okuda began their careers on the streaming YouTube production The Guild while guitarist Steve Turberry has performed live with many of the best professionals to handle the strings.
However, most streaming, whether pre-recorded or live, is more personal, and that’s what makes it so popular. What do streamers stream about? Everybody has a story to tell, and streaming gives us all the opportunity to share our stories with the world. People will talk to their webcams about anything that might interest others, from video games to make-up tips to knitting to simply talking about everyday life.
Streaming is most famous for gamers. Some streams, like League of Legends commentaries, follow the action of everyone in the game, while other streamers focus on their own gameplay, even in team or party situations. There are a lot of solo streamers who play games such as Guitar Hero, Assassin’s Creed, or Resident Evil on their streams, providing either guidance or commentary as they go along. A lot of YouTube channels have huge followings from this sort of content, but streamers doing it live provides an interactive feel as viewers can comment on the action and laugh or lament with the host.
Twitch isn’t just a streaming platform. It is a library of add-ons for many games, including World of Warcraft, Stardew Valley, and Secret Life. Being both so embroiled in the gaming world and one of the first live-streaming platforms for amateurs intertwined the two, so for a long time, the majority of non-professional streamers were gamers. To this day, Twitch is associated with gaming, even though the platform hosts streams about other topics.
A more recent trend in streaming on Twitch and Mixer has been do-it-yourself and advice streams. Especially during the spring of 2020, when everyone was practicing social distancing, a lot of people took their interests to the Internet by streaming their hobbies and other knowledge online. Want to learn how to become a blacksmith? There’s a live stream channel for that. Need to learn about Borderline Personality Disorder for yourself or a loved one? Numerous streams have turned up discussing a variety of mental health issues, although there is some controversy around them as they are not moderated by professionals. Every day people are using live streams to talk about a lot of things that affect their lives. Some even use their streams to allow viewers to simply experience their day alongside them.
While Twitch or Mixer allow anyone to do this, TikTok requires users to have at least 1,000 followers before they are able to live stream. And even Twitch and Mixer have their limitations, as they will not promote streamers or make them affiliates unless they have a certain number of followers, active viewers per stream, or hours streamed on the platform.
Another popular streaming topic is solo sports, especially outdoor sports. Hikers, cyclists, and kayakers have taken their adventures live and online for viewers to enjoy. Martial artists, tennis players, and even team sports players share techniques in live feeds. Dancer Debbie Allen gave online dance lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it’s not just sports enthusiasts who might watch these streams, as streamers might explore picturesque vistas and see incredible wildlife. Nature lovers can even watch streams of established wildlife, such as a bird or sea turtle nests that are monitored by cameras with live feeds.
An unexpectedly popular form of this is following former reality show contestants and other celebrities, especially since a few of them venture into topics outside of the categories that made them famous. Russell Hantz, nefarious for his Survivor performances, shares his charity home building projects and has been known to interrupt a deep rant to admire a gorgeous view. Heavy metal band Dragonforce uses their Twitch channel for more than music: drummer Gee Andalone gave a tutorial on how to cook lasagna and guitarist Herman Li streams both his video game hobby and his enjoyment of Porches. Although these people were on TV or already famous, doing things outside what they are known for allows them to connect with audiences more personally.
There are many kinds of platforms for streaming but they can be broken down into two main categories: either the creator connects with the viewers, or the viewers connect with the creator.
Social media apps with live stream feature such as Facebook Live only make streams available to a streamer’s followers. TikTok goes one step further and requires a minimum of one thousand followers before users can stream in real-time. This forces creators to seek out viewers by connecting with them and encouraging them to follow in order to see the content.
Platforms like Twitch, Mixer, and YouTube take the opposite approach by making content browsable, so viewers can find and view streams without first following the creator. Popular streamers attract audiences the same way any other performer does. Twitch is an example of a platform that requires streamers to have a minimum number of concurrent viewers before accessing its higher perks, but viewers are allowed to seek out the content they want.
A lot of what we think of as streaming is produced by professionals. Netflix, Hulu, CNN, and other streaming services have been sharing information and entertainment with us online for a while. However, as more amateurs have come onto the scene, the most talented have been able to turn their streaming into viable careers or incomes. The odds of becoming the next big stream aren’t great, but it is very possible to earn money and merchandise from streaming.
Viewers follow their favorite streamers and take their advice and recommendations, so brands might give away merchandise or pay streamers a small fee to use their products on their broadcast. Sometimes, the merchandise is only loosely related to the topic, such as a potato chip brand and a popular movie critic stream having an exclusive deal that the streamer eats and promotes the brand while giving their review.
Large sponsors that give merchandise can increase one’s viewership, but individual sponsors who are willing to drop a dollar or two on a stream can come from surprising places. While paying sponsors are not easy to find, even $20-30 can help out at home or with improving the live stream. Some of the most popular streamers have so many individual sponsors that they can stream full time and really invest in it. Most will realistically make a little extra spending money. Accounts on Patreon or PayPal.me can help, as can content that attracts viewers.
Once again, it is important to emphasize that the likelihood of making more than some new friends and extra spending money is very low. However, a truly engaging stream has one of two things, if not both: a charismatic host or a compelling topic.
Being a charismatic host isn’t as hard as it sounds. The best way to be a good host is to be yourself. Talk about things you know, things that interest you, things you want to learn about, but always talk as you. Some streamers go through a lot of trouble to craft online personas that are more like characters than their real selves, and sometimes that works. In fact, another form of streaming so popular that even Game of Thrones actors made one is playing tabletop roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, on live stream for audiences. However, the most popular live streams are candid activities of regular people talking about things they know and are enthusiastic about. A good host can make even a less interesting topic fun, or even forgo picking a single topic and just offer commentary on a variety of hobbies, professions, and interests.
However, a good, compelling and consistent topic or set of topics can also make or break a stream, especially if the host is knowledgeable or informed. The reason, for example, that so many streams have sprung up around mental health issues is that people are sharing their common experiences through the experiences of the host. Even without a professional involved, such streams become almost like group therapy. Other streams might discuss politics and the economy, current events and culture, philosophy, history, or other academic topics from a unique angle determined by the personality of the streamer.
While having both charisma and a compelling topic is ideal, a lot of people worry about the charisma part. Some worry they don’t have enough and this discourages them from bothering. Even lacking what we would consider charisma can be canceled out by an interesting and informative feed, and for many people, charisma comes out when talking about things that interest or impassion them.
Streaming and live streaming aren’t the sole territories of pros anymore. Now that anyone can live stream, a lot of people are doing it just to reach out to others with their interests. This is part of the magic of the Internet – if no one in your town is into the same hobbies you are, you can find fellow enthusiasts all over the world by connecting online. Streaming connects us even more closely, whether we’re viewing our favorites or being the favorite of our viewers. So a fast, reliable Internet connection is a must for anyone looking to stream, whether just to their friends on Skype or audiences all over the world. Just tell us your zip code, and our comparison site will do the rest: we’ll show you all the providers and plans available in your area so you can invest in the service that will give you the best stream!