Livestreaming vs. Live Broadcasting: A Necessary Introduction

Live broadcasting is the flip side of livestreaming. It’s active compared to the utility and passive types of livestreaming.

Being swallowed into cooking shows, watching the mundane acts of chopping, slicing and prepping isn’t about watching ingredients being turned into savory high-definition meals–it’s about the hosts. It’s the difference between watching Guy Fieri, Anthony Bourdain, Rachael Ray or Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg prepare a meal, or observing a relative or random stranger preparing a sandwich.

Cooking show analogies is how I’ve come to differentiate live broadcasting from livestreaming, two rapidly emerging trends delivering live content across similar devices with two key differentiating appeals–personalities and audience interaction.

Breaking down the livestreaming industry

If you’re not currently living in this new frontier of livestreaming, it might not be clear what the differences are between Facebook Live, Instagram live, Twitch, YouTube live, YouNow, and

From my perspective, the applications and platforms should be grouped in three categories:

  • Livestreaming
  • Live broadcasting
  • Vertically focused streaming

Vertically focused streaming is pretty straightforward and focuses on a specific industry. Twitch, for example, is an extension of the gaming category, and livestreaming is a way to explore and boast that vertical. Granted, as users have established themselves on the platform, they’ve started looking for non-vertical specific ways to entertain and engage their fans and ultimately evolve their content, but that’s an entirely separate conversation for a later date.

The two worth digging into are livestreaming and live broadcasting–passive versus active viewing.

Livestreaming vs. live broadcasting

A quick look back at the beginning of this consumer livestreaming revolution starts with Meerkat (yes, I remember Ustream) and helps provide context for what’s happening now. The app sparked this powerful mobile livestreaming movement but failed to capitalize on it, in part because it had a myopic view of the livestreaming market and all that it would soon be–and whatever it has yet to become.

Looking at the subtle but important differences between livestreaming and live broadcasting means examining the incentive and motivations, as well as the different behaviors behind each.

Meerkat took the approach of “livestreaming as a utility” and assumed that just the technical ability to livestream video to anyone, from a phone, was powerful enough to sustain itself. While incredibly useful, Meerkat’s subsequent journey for an identity and the burgeoning livestreaming app industry has shown otherwise.

Facebook’s advertising budget and methods for Facebook Live seem to indicate it thinks the same way, and that Meerkat’s problem was consumer awareness and education.

Livestreaming from a mobile device puts the power of distribution in the hands of millions or even billions of people. Anyone has the chance to be famous, and the power to gain an audience is in their own hands. However, if the market is limited to only people that want to be famous, the incentive for the average person to livestream regularly doesn’t add up and explain the full potential of this technology.

Live broadcasting, on the other hand, is about creating connections–something as pervasive as any other messaging service. Rather than trying to convince everyone that they can be famous and reach a wide audience, everyone wants to have meaningful connections, and this objective scales from those that just want to talk about their day to those that want a digital entertainment career.

How does that differ from livestreaming, Meerkat and Facebook Live? The biggest thing is in figuring out how to provide all people an incentive to go live. One step is to take gaming elements and make live broadcasting a game around leveling up and earning unique items. The other step is to add a financial incentive that anyone can obtain, not just the top digital influencers.

The Chinese consumer market is a great example of this. China is already looking at a $5 billion virtual gift economy in the next year. People buy virtual items with real money, which makes them valuable, and send them to broadcasters for any number of reasons, including being able to become part of the experience, rather than just watching.

It sounds simple to add micro-transactions or tipping to live video in order to spur personal revenue, but to be clear, virtual gifts are different from tipping. Tipping is boring and focused around money, while virtual gifts in the form of magic wands, donuts, cars, castles and more is a lot more fun and changes how it’s perceived.

Here’s where the difference in livestreaming and live broadcasting becomes even clearer. For people to get to the point of being able to earn enough virtual gifts from viewers, there must be a change in behavior from just livestreaming and showing people where you are.

Opening an app and having the camera begin streaming with an external facing camera assumes that people want to watch what’s around someone. Most of the time, they don’t. Instead of being a utility to show people things, a live broadcaster is the focus and the one to determine what’s important. People gravitate toward personalities and hosts providing commentary.

Keys to successful live broadcasting

Live broadcasting is the flip side of livestreaming. It’s active compared to the utility and passive types of livestreaming. Live broadcasting is both easier and harder than it looks. Most of the time, it’s those that can be charismatic or those willing to be real who tend to find the most success.

Take Matt and Glory, who go by the user name Slice N Rice on, for example. was their first attempt at live broadcasting, and they immediately found success, earning well over $10,000 and gaining 70,000 fans, because they were fun and real–even more than their recorded attempts with YouTube videos.

They connected easily with viewers, and live broadcasting provided that window to millions of people in real-time.

Both Matt and Glory understand that live broadcasting requires shouting out people’s names, incorporating challenges at milestones and reacting to the conversation happening during broadcasts. It’s the same skills news anchors develop as they appear live on TV.

In fact, a lot of those skills and techniques used by traditional news by having someone on-the-scene translate well for live broadcasting events. Instead of holding up a phone and showing a Comic-Con panel, we’ve found that having a dedicated host at events and getting one-on-one time with celebrities works better. Engagement across all metrics goes up, and viewers get a completely new, more personal experience.

As more people begin to use these different apps and platforms, whether you’re a viewer, streamer or broadcaster, the differences become obvious.

Trying to claim that all livestreams are the same–from live concerts to #challenges–just makes less and less sense as the livestreaming industry grows and matures. Calling it all livestreaming also makes this new area of technology even more confusing to consumers.

We know “going live” isn’t a fad, which is why it’s so important to understand its different markets and use cases inside the live category. What will ultimately drive growth and sustainability for platforms in the livestreaming industry? We’re betting on unique tools and features that will enable users to build better relationships, monetize and understand their audience.

Khudor Annous is head of marketing and partnerships at, the live broadcasting platform from app developer Cheetah Mobile.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Publish date: December 20, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT