BY RYAN TATE
Police scanner tracking Boston radio chatter last week. Photo via Ustream
Ustream reports more than 2.5 million people tapped its livestream of Boston police officers closing on bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, marking a spotlight moment for a site that’s usually overshadowed by YouTube.
Ustream’s founder and CEO Brad Hunstable called the livestream of Boston police radios, which was tuned into by more than 265,000 people simultaneously at its peak, “eye opening” and a validation of the site’s utility to “impactful citizen journalists.” The live data was, of course, sometimes misinterpreted and misused, but there’s no question the use of Ustream during the manhunt was a landmark in the San Francisco-based startup’s six-year quest to “bridge the gap between the physical and virtual live experience.”
Since its March 2007 founding Ustream has burst into the national consciousness only a handful of other times. Once was when a Bay Area couple livestreamed video of their puppies, born to a Japanese hunting dog, clocking more than 29 million views over the course of two litters.
Another bump came when Charlie Sheen began posting curse-laden rants to the service, drawing an audience of around 3 million . The Occupy Wall Street protests also brought considerable attention to Ustream, which hosted around 700 Occupy-related channels.
Ustream has streamed from other major events – the 2008 presidential inauguration, Michael Jackson’s funeral, the Syrian uprising, Hurricane Sandy – but was often overshadowed by other media. As a rule, consumers have preferred television and radio for live coverage, and YouTube for on-demand viewing after the fact. With its focus on live internet streams, Ustream has been stuck in a relatively obscure niche. But as people spend more time with tablets and mobile phones, as well as with TV alternatives like Netflix, that may be changing.
The proliferation of mobile devices helps grow not only Ustream’s audience but it’s content base as well. With more and more people toting camera-equipped smartphones and tablets, the service is well positioned to become a sort of crowdsourced, mobile-era CNN. Its distributed user base is a major news asset, ideal for covering any event that can be directly recorded by ordinary people, like a natural disaster or crime. Professional news-gatherers still have a lock on gated events like government news conferences and professional sports matches, dangerous areas like war zones, and news occurring far from wired population centers, for example in third world countries. For everything else, why not try Ustream?