YouTube has taken a big step into territory dominated by television networks with the launch of live streaming functionality, which will allow its partners to broadcast live on the web to the video site’s vast global audience.
YouTube has been working on adding live streaming for several months and said it would initially make it available to a limited number of its partners “with accounts in good standing”, with the aim of expanding the service later.
“The goal is to provide thousands of partners with the capability to live stream from their channels in the months ahead,” the company said in a blog post.
The company, which is owned by Google, has experimented with live streaming before, hosting a live interview with Barack Obama, US president, and broadcasting live coverage of a U2 concert, for example.
But this is the first time YouTube has made the service available to multiple partner companies. Thomson Reuters is among companies testing the live service, and Stanford University is also experimenting with streaming.
Other companies, such as UStream, already offer live streaming. However, none has the vast audience of YouTube, which is the world’s largest online video provider and has more than 2bn views per day.
The launch comes as YouTube attempts to get more professionally made content on its site. The company has been in negotiations with Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies about the creation of content channels organised around particular niches, such as fashion, food or video games.
Live streaming will be a component of the company’s new channel strategy, although it is unclear whether the site will have enough marquee programming – such as live sport – which can attract the large audiences coveted by advertisers.
Josh Siegel, YouTube product manager, told the Financial Times the live launch was “like re-creating YouTube from scratch ... could this be analogous to television? Definitely”.
The site is also making a push into live sport, he added, although he did not provide any specific information about the sports that might one day be available on YouTube.
“We’re going to see a lot of activity in the sports area. We’ve been ramping up a big development team … and we expect to see that content coming on to the site.”
YouTube’s live streaming launch comes as the media and technology sectors continue to converge at a rapid rate.
Netflix, the largest DVD subscription and movie streaming service, has moved into original programming, spending an estimated $100m to buy the rights to a US remake of the House of Cards series.
Facebook has also made a push into online video, striking a deal with Warner Brothers to make the Hollywood studio’s movies available to stream to users of the social network.