Streaming video via Hangouts On Air

Even just a decade ago, streaming live video over the internet was a considerable undertaking.

As well as the cameras and crew, transmitting anything that resembled high-quality material took a plethora of specialist, and usually very expensive, gear. And the end result was usually not much larger than a postage stamp.

Live streaming, though, has moved on, both in terms of hardware and software technology. Today, it is possible to stream passable quality video using just a laptop. (In fact, you can join a Hangout On Air from a smartphone or tablet, but the host, for now at least, needs a computer).

Some of the most interesting work being done in this area comes from Google. Google’s presence in video, through its ownership of YouTube, is well known. Less well known is the way Google+, Google’s social network, and YouTube, integrate to provide live streaming services.

In fact, the Google group provides two streaming video options: YouTube Live, and Google+ Hangouts on Air.

YouTube Live is aimed more at YouTube channel owners, aiming to add live programmes to their content. As such, it competes with services such as Brightcove, or running a media server, such as Adobe’s, in house or in the cloud.

Google+ Hangouts on Air are rather different. Instead of being built on a YouTube channel, they are based around the Google+ Hangouts, or video chat.

The neat trick is the way that, by linking the Hangout to YouTube, Google allows event organisers or content owners to add both live streaming, and on-demand playback, of the Hangout. Hangouts On Air can be viewed by anyone, not just the 10 people who can take part in a Hangout. They can be integrated with Google+ Events, and even downloaded and edited later.

Google has an interesting technology hidden away in Hangouts on Air. The video quality is surprisingly good: for the technically-minded, a Hangout can stream at up to 720p.

There are enough controls to allow producers to create professional-quality programmes, and to add features, such as audience interaction, that TV cannot touch. And, as HOAs are internet-based, guests can be anywhere, as long as they have access to a camera, a laptop, and reasonably good bandwidth.

The potential for this is vast. Hangouts On Air could be used to add live video streaming to a physical event such as a round table discussion, as the basis for a webcast or webinar, or even to stream out a ‘live’ take of an interview or discussion being recorded for a publisher’s (or a company’s) website. The fact that it is free only makes it more interesting.

There are, of course, some caveats. Google (and YouTube) place some specific restrictions on commercial material in their content. This rules out some of the conventional ways to monetise video content, such as pre- or post-roll advertising, or the use of in-vision sponsor messages. (Thanks to +MichaelMason for wading through the small print).

But, for a lot of uses, these restrictions will not be a problem. Hangouts on Air are something content owners should look at with interest.

  • For more on the technical aspects of producing a professional-quality Hangout On Air, see this introductory article, and HOA video clip, on Audio Video Pro.
  • About stephenpritchard
    Freelance journalist specialising in business and technology, based in London (UK).

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