Live streaming, a technology that has been around for years, became white hot this week after it was used to capture the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Minnesota.
Diamond Reynolds opened her Facebook Live app and live streamed what happened after the shooting that left her boyfriend Philando Castile dead and a country in turmoil.
"Live streaming is quite different ... than what we've seen before," said Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "Skype and Facetime are most often used as a one-to-one communication vehicles. But live casting is different in that it gives users a one-to-many live broadcasting capability – something that had only been available to broadcasting companies up until now."
Facebook Live automatically records live streams. That capability enabled Reynolds' video to be watched, shared and posted across the internet, across news outlets and around the world.
By seeing more than photos or a delayed video, the live stream enabled viewers to experience the incident along with the people actually in the car. It was more frightening and more intimate.
Not including all the times the video has been seen on YouTube and various news services, the video has been shared 5.2 million times from Reynolds' Facebook page alone.
Live streamed events seem to be a phenomenon that people can't turn away from, said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst.
"Live streaming is powerful, and I don't really believe we are ready for it yet," he said. "This is the next step into tomorrow. I believe this area will have lots of competition and it will be interesting to watch it mature as we all try it, use it, and get embarrassed by it."
Thomas Husson, an analyst with Forrester, said live streaming will be pushed ahead by the growing need for "real-time" information.
"Live-streaming technologies enable people to simply live and communicate simultaneously," he told Computerworld. "They no longer live and then post content online. It is a shift in how we communicate… With mobile, anyone can broadcast oneself with no limit."
Live streaming, as a technology, isn't new. It's the way it's being used and how frequently it's being used that is changing.
Apps like Periscope, Meerkat, Facebook Live and Stringwire have made broadcasting and watching live streams easy, compelling and fun.
According to a 2016 survey from AYTM Market Research, 7% of those surveyed said they regularly use live streaming services to broadcast, while 10% said they watch live streams regularly. Twenty-eight percent said they have watched a live stream at least once.
Along with the crushing amount of attention that this week's Facebook Live broadcast received, live streaming and other social media have been in the news a lot recently.
Last month, a group of House Democrats held a sit-in to push for a vote on gun control measures. However, when the Republican leadership ordered C-SPAN's cameras shut off, the group turned to their smartphones and apps like Periscope and Facebook Live to live stream their protest.
Eventually, C-SPAN and major news channels picked up their live feeds and carried them as well.
Later this summer, NBC, which will be airing the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, announced that it will live stream 4,500 hours of the games.
There are many issues – such as privacy, security and network bandwith -- that will arise as live streaming gains even more traction. Such issues may come to a head relatively quickly as people realize the power of a live feed.
Pushing this technology ahead is the fact that apps now are able to offer high-quality live streaming from almost any device. Users are discovering these abilities and are quickly jumping onboard.
"Despite the tragic circumstances of this week's [shooting aftermath] broadcast, it really showcases Facebook Live capabilities and potential," Olds said. "The thought that someone was able to get into the tool so quickly and be able to broadcast high-quality video from the side of a street is something that most people will find surprising."
As people become increasingly comfortable with sharing and receiving information via live streams, the technology will be increasingly incorporated into the enterprise, as well.
Live streaming already is being used in health care. Patients in remote areas can share images of injuries, for instance, with doctors or specialists in other locations.
"I think that live casting will be used increasingly in business in a variety of ways," said Olds. "Chief executives can live stream meetings to all hands, regardless of where they are in the world. Companies can also communicate live to large groups of customers, perhaps introducing new products, or offering timely information about existing products."
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