Understand live streaming: Three types explained

Understanding live streaming

Webcasting and live streaming are everywhere, but to understand live streaming you need a ground in the different kinds of tools that are on offer if you are looking to use live video on the web. We’ve broken these down into just three basic types to help you make sense of them and work out what you need to use.

1. Social media live streaming apps

The fastest growing – and newest – type of streaming is from the social media streaming app. This streaming is provided by the large social media platforms, like Facebook (Facebook Live) and Twitter (Periscope). Recently, Facebook launched live streaming video on Instagram – unimaginatively calling it Instagram Live too. There are other services in the pipeline for other social media firms as well.

There are two big advantage to using a social media streaming app…

Firstly it is unlikely you’ll have to pay for the streaming at all. These social media companies are creating their streaming apps to get you to use their services – and they generate income from advertising on their sites.

Secondly, if your company or charity is using social media already then you may have a fantastic audience that is ready and waiting for your live stream.

But while the streaming is free Facebook don’t offer the functionality that you’d hope to see from a service you pay for. Also Twitter and Facebook are not ad free and – as such – there’s no way of controlling the adverts that individuals see.


  • Free streaming
  • Often provides a ready-made audience if you are using social media already
  • Has huge base of viewers (social media users) available
  • Can be used at very low cost if you just download the app to your smartphone or iPad


  • Limited range of features
  • Free but advertising does exist inside the social media platform
  • Privacy issues – can’t be used for private viewing.
  • In some cases you may have to have a specific social media account to watch

Periscope, which is provided by Twitter, works well for pop-up webcasting – i.e. stuff that’s not planned but can attract an existing audience, using a phone or ipad to stream.

My guidance is to use in conjunction with Twitter.


Unsurprisingly, Facebook Live appears on your Facebook page or profile (depending on who is using it) and can attract huge audiences in the right situation. We did a Facebook Live event for the Science Museum and Evening Standard, featuring Will.I.am and Bill Gates. It was promoted in part by the Gates Foundation and appeared on their facebook page and at its highest point attracted a live audience of around 10,000 viewers. Here’s a quick post about it.

2. Live streaming platforms

There are an almost unlimited number of live streaming platforms aimed at both commercial and non-commercial markets that allow you to embed a livestream into your website. These providers simply provide a kind of ‘webcast player’ that you can put on your own website, sometimes a ‘microsite’ (a website designed to watch on) and a streaming software solution that you use.

Unlike the social media providers they don’t tend to put as many limitations on what you do (like the time length of a stream) but with some you pay for the service to unlock features that you can use.

YouTube live is an example – in that you can stream direct to YouTube and embed the stream into a website, as is Vimeo, which has live streaming too. There are lots – because different companies specialise in specific markets. Companies, for example World Television, offer to commercial companies for their streaming, while Ustream and Livestream tend to sell to smaller providers and to non-commercial users. It’s worth pointing out that YouTube could be classified with the social media services, but offers so much functionality it is best grouped here. However, it does (unless you pay for an account) show advertising.


  • You have full control and don’t need to worry about advertising – unless you use YouTube.
  • You can choose the perfect streaming service for your needs, as there are so many different ones
  • You can put your live stream webcast on a website or put behind a pay wall or lead registration service if you like.
  • Because these are purpose built services, they tend to have lots of features that you might not find elsewhere.
  • The services work on all browsers and technology and you don’t usually need to download anything to watch.


  • You usually have to pay for the service
  • There are so many different services that choosing one might take some time – we’d obviously recommend that you seek the advice of an expert, like us!
  • You may not have a natural audience – like you might if you use a social media streaming app.
  • Features can come with complexity, but again it’s probably sensible to seek the help of experts for bigger production jobs.

These services can be used in lots of different ways – events, different kinds of live broadcasts, conferences, press conferences, town hall meetings – and it’s all about (again) what you’re trying to do. Most people who are interested in this kind of streaming are looking to hold a webcast event (like some kind of meeting) and employ a service operator (like Alpha Media Events) to do the streaming, provide the cameras and sound equipment, etc.

3. Web video conferencing/Webinars

A lot of people who talk about live streaming and webcasting will include webinar systems, like Webex, Zoom and even systems like Skype. But while you can use these systems to hold live video conferences, many experts see them as distinct from live streaming and webcasting.

Why? Firstly, web conferencing is an invite-only, closed system. The stream can only be seen by a number of people who have permission to watch (usually from the person holding the conference). Often to watch you have to download a piece of software that gives you access to the video conference. Secondly, it operates as a video call, where two or more people can watch each other live, or where one person is visible.

Nonetheless, it can be a great way for some people to talk to an audience on video, live. In particular, they have functionality for two-way conversations and because you have to register and hand your details over to the host, you can capture leads as part of a marketing exercise.


  • Can be a cheap or cost-effective tool that you can use to engage an audience directly, particularly if you have a webex or similar system already implemented
  • Allows you to invite your audience directly and know exactly who his watching
  • Because you have an invitation process it’s easy to link it up to a lead-capture marketing exercise – so is one way you can lure an audience (with a good seminar or help session) and capture leads.
  • Gives your audience some tools to enagage directly with you. (Tools like Google Hangout, Zoom and Webex all have tools to chat via text with the facilitator/speaker and in most cases among delegates.)


  • You can only stream video to a limited number of people
  • You often have to download a piece of software to be able to watch or take part.
  • Additional functionality is limited – because you are using a system that’s really just for web conferences
  • You are usually limited in how you can brand the product – although some systems can be ‘white labelled’ if you pay for a specific licence.
  • You can’t make the web conference public. This means you don’t have flexiibilty either about how you present the webcast.

Please get in touch

Please contact us to find out more about how webcasting and live streaming can help you with your events, communications and marketing.

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