Later this week, YouTube will broadcast select live performances from the second weekend of the Indio, California, music festival Coachella. It's not the first time — in fact, it's something YouTube has done for the past few years. This year, however, the stream will showcase something wholly new: Some of the performances will be broadcast live as they happen in immersive 360-degree video.
BuzzFeed News first reported that YouTube was preparing to launch live-stream 360 video in February, but the company had not previously confirmed it. But now it's official, and Coachella will serve as the premiere stage for YouTube’s new live-streaming 360 video technology. It will bring the immersive video format to real-time broadcasts from the music festival, letting people tune in — and look all around as if they are there — in the very moment that the music plays.
While there are a few companies that already offer live 360 video streaming — NextVR is focused on broadcasting sports games in virtual reality, and Medical Realities broadcast a surgery live just last week — the format has never before been available on an existing, widely available platform like YouTube. Previously, live 360 broadcasts were confined to dedicated apps, which made discovery difficult. Broadcasts also tended to be for scheduled, rights-negotiated programming.
With YouTube’s new live capabilities, 360 broadcasters can go live anytime, and watched practically anywhere by anyone. What’s more, it also opens the door to more people creating live 360-degree broadcasts, as anyone with a YouTube-compatible 360-degree camera can start a stream.
“It’s not just about pushing the boundaries, but making it accessible,” Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, told BuzzFeed News. At launch, YouTube’s live 360-degree videos will be viewable on iOS and Android in the YouTube app, as well as on the desktop (an experience that shares more with Google Street View than true 360 viewing in a headset) in order to bring videos to as wide an audience as possible. Simply put, you don’t need any specialized equipment to view the live 360 broadcasts: “The beauty is all you need is a phone or the web app without any additional hardware,” Mohan said.
To broadcast, however, people will need a 360-degree camera that can stitch video from multiple lenses together in the camera software itself. Currently, 360-degree video is typically stitched by software in post-production — that is, once it has been exported from the camera into a computer. At launch, the only cameras YouTube will support are the ALLie and the Orah 4i. Support is on the way for the Ricoh Theta S. YouTube is also releasing its Live 360 API today, which means more cameras will likely be available soon.
"Consumption [of 360-degree content] is doubling every three months,” Mohan said (while declining to provide actual view counts). “Live 360 is just another way to turbocharge that.”
Indeed, adding live streaming gives YouTube a slight leg up in its fierce, if nascent, competition with Facebook to be the place for next generation video. As people start to consume ever more video, especially on mobile, media platforms are entering an arms race where the weapons are different kinds of video. Today’s news represents a new salvo — VR, live, 360, and live 360 are each attempts on YouTube’s part to stay ahead of the curve and become the de facto place for live 360 content, in part by ushering in the format itself.
“One billion users think about YouTube as a place to access video content — 360, live 360, VR, they’re just modes of consumption," Mohan said. “YouTube should be for all of it."