Live reporting and remote directing

I had this idea the day of the New Zealand earthquake. How cool would it be if people with smartphones (or camcorders with Bluetooth that can connect to their 3G smartphone), could report live from the epicenter? Or, any other event of interest (where the cell towers would have more luck being up and running).

I imagined it kind of like the current Qik and Ustream services, but much more focused. For example, the system would automatically band together videos from a similar geographical location, into a master stream, when a lot of people are searching for videos for that location/event. Depending on which individual videos are viewed the most, they would get shown more into the “master” stream. So the viewers can view either individual streams, or the master stream, which would result in much more information on the event since it would be switching to different cameras.

Viewers can also request the camera operator of a particular stream to move the camera left or right, and based on enough such requests, the system would request from the camera operator to move the camera accordingly.

Streams that get selected to be on a master stream, should stay on the servers for at least a week. Less popular individual streams can be deleted in 24 hours if storage is an issue. If the camera-man prefers it, each time his video is shown on a master stream, his username can also be shown as the channel logo (or below a channel logo).

Basically, this idea is remote “directing” of a live event, based on viewer statistics aggregation (crowd-sourcing).

Monetization is easy: ads on the bottom of the video feed on the client-side for the less popular events. Selling full master feeds to TV networks and big news web sites should be the primary goal though. Profits are split 50-50 between the streaming web site and the camera-men of a given master feed. Copyright of each clip remains the ownership of its camera-man, however the streaming web site can have an non-exclusive license that includes reselling (youtube and Vimeo already have such a clause, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary).

TV networks could potentially argue that this is destroying their business. However, it might just make their business better, because not only they would have more footage to show, but they won’t have to also pay for their own camera-man. Also, they could start broadcasting images from the event immediately, something that is not possible today (usually, we get live reporting from an event hours after the fact).

Of course, there’s a lot to be researched within such an idea. For example, how do you trust your users regarding abuse? Or, what if there’s a political event, and half of the viewers select streams that yield towards one opinion, and half on the other opinion. Should we let “democracy” determine how the “news” are reported, or the master stream should always be impartial and objective? How do we achieve that?

Hopefully, someone will come up with such a service. YouTube seems to have the bandwidth/servers, established mobile software, and engineering power required for such an idea to take off, but we haven’t seen anything like it from them yet. Hopefully they will wake up, will try to create something as fresh as this, and potentially socially important as this, rather than whoring their ass to Hollywood for movie content.


Devon Ayres wrote on September 6th, 2010 at 2:56 PM PST:

I was wishing for this, and got a tiny version of it during the Earl Hurricane. My boat was getting nailed and I lucked out to have a pair of honeymooners with their iphone doing video of the storm, which included my boat just outside their window. I am pretty sure an enterprising person could make money doing just what you describe during/after storms just to give people a glimpse of their boats/property. I would personally have been willing to pay a few bucks for the peace of mind.

Ed wrote on September 6th, 2010 at 10:12 PM PST:

In the case of the earthquake, communications infrastructure is typically either offline due to the disaster, or overwhelmed by phone calls. Due to limited bandwidth, it would not be a good idea to be using up bandwidth for non essential communications.

I have been in Seattle during some earthquakes – and within moments (I was on the phone during one event), all landline phone service and wireless phone service was “busy” for some time immediately after the quake. And those were not even severe quakes.

My Anonymous wrote on September 6th, 2010 at 10:12 PM PST:

I was in an earthquake (Newcastle, Australia, 1989). The whole place goes to hell when electricity goes off, and roads become blocked – Imagine an 8-lane X intersection without traffic lights.

As soon as the news hits the networks Everyone calls Everyone to make sure they’re still alive. You’d need two cans and a string for a chance of connection.

So I’d expect the mobile phone reception/bandwidth would be up-the-shit too. The state telecoms provider (Telstra) can’t even give you a reliable phone call from a train, as if they’d natural-disaster-proof their network.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on September 6th, 2010 at 10:25 PM PST:

Guys, earthquakes are just an example. There are many events in the world that need covering. Not all are disastrous. Plus, I did mention the cell tower problem in that paragraph.

Michael C. wrote on September 7th, 2010 at 1:01 PM PST:

“Hopefully [YouTube] will wake up, will try to create something as fresh as this, and potentially socially important as this, rather than whoring their ass to Hollywood for movie content.” — YouTube thinks that selling one-time-view for $5 is a good monetization strategy. We’ll see. I would not buy a movie for $5 even if it were downloadable, I will surely not pay $5 for just one view. But that is not the point. YouTube did not close free accounts. Free videos are still there, and if you are not a “partner” your videos are not infested with ads. Not yet, at least. So, doing “citizen journalism” and sending vids to YouTube is totally possible now. Everyone can create a channel and can create playlists, and can include videos made by someone else into the playlist. No live “directing”, but I would not want that, that would be too close to censorship.

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