Here's how the live streaming space will play out

Though the sequencing is rough, here's how the live streaming market timeline will unfold. We know this because we've seen this play out before, and history repeats itself. Until it doesn't.

  1. The first few apps try this idea fail, for a variety of reasons. Timing matters, distribution matters, whatever the reason, they die off. Remember this?
  2. Because of high profile failures, the idea goes into hibernation. It's always darkest before the sunrise, but also right after the first sunset.
  3. The conditions that make the idea possible, though, still exist. Everyone carries phones that can shoot video, all these phones are connected to networks nearly all of the time, apps can be distributed cheaply and easily through app stores.
  4. Someone decides to release an app doing this same thing, again, because damn it, the idea just makes too much sense, right? One-to-many broadcasting works has been democratized in every other medium so far, why not video? For some reason, it sparks this time, maybe because it builds off of the Twitter graph, maybe because the right set of influencers jump in. This is Meerkat. It looks like it was designed by an engineer, or maybe a 9 year old, with cartoony graphics and a bright yellow background. It doesn't matter, though, because it was first at the right time.
  5. A collective recognition from many in the tech community that it's go time for this space, at long last. Some of those who recognize this are some folks at Twitter, who spend a few days deliberating and then quickly shut off Meerkat's unfettered access to their graph. If you're still naive about platform risk when it comes to social networks, shame on you.
  6. Twitter buys Periscope, an app that is similar to Meerkat, but sleeker in design. People on social media beat up on Twitter for not playing fair, as if the business world were governed by any such ethos.
  7. All the media buzz further boosts exposure of and interest in Meerkat, because all PR is good PR in the early days, and that hubbub furthers interest in live streaming. Think of the possibilities, write many a pundit, but they are all obvious to most everyone.
  8. Periscope launches, the spin cycle picks up speed, like your washer at the end of a wash.
  9. Then the backlash. Many people get notifications about streams that are over before they can even see them. When they do get in, they realize the early streams are largely boring. Tech early adopters can be insular (yet another tech event Meerkat!) and uninteresting to the masses. Another Q&A with a VC? Yawn. Early live streams from the masses are the equivalent of early tweets about what people are eating for lunch. A few writers resuscitate previous pieces about the narcissism of this digital age and do a Find-Replace and substitute in live streaming for photo sharing or Tweeting or whatever social media they wrote about earlier.
  10. More backlash. Someone gets a massive cell phone tab for eating through too much bandwidth, and that's when there is enough of it at all; most times the cell networks can't support the load and so streams keep cutting out. How did we ever think this would scale? At the events you most want to live stream as a form of humblebrag, like a Taylor Swift concert or an NBA Finals game, the network is the least reliable because so many people are on their phones. It's the digital age's Tragedy of the Commons.
  11. Live streaming services work on solving obvious bugs that come with an MVP type launch. Better scheduling, recording, more reliable streaming through better video and audio compression, better discovery of interesting streams by topic, region, etc.
  12. The first new undiscovered live stream star is born. I don't know who that person will be, but that person comes along for every medium. They raise the bar on creativity. I'm not sure what they'll do to take advantage of the medium, but maybe it's a citizen journalist, maybe it's a snarky commentator, maybe it's someone unusually attractive, maybe that's all just one person. Their live streams attract hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of viewers. A year later, they give a TED talk, and then Kara Swisher interviews them on stage at the Code/Media conference.
  13. The collective of Vine stars starts dabbling in a spinoff focused just on live streaming, working through some of the challenges of shooting in real-time, without cuts.
  14. Buzzfeed Studios announces a new live stream division. Funny or Die release their first live stream event, it's of Seth Rogen walking around his house naked while smoking pot. Periscope opens up an LA and NY studio with high end audio and video equipment which the top live stream stars can use for their broadcasts.
  15. The first misguided celebrity tries to ban live video streaming at their concert, leading to a bunch of articles about how stupid it is, how you can't put the genie back in the bottle, and why would you try to suppress exposure when user attention is the most scarce and valuable resource in the known universe now?
  16. The first smart mega-celebrity launches a Meerkat. She is Taylor Swift. She instantly causes tens of millions of fans around the world, most of them teenage girls and their moms, but also many who are embarrassed to admit they're fans of her music, but also many who aren't (like me), to download live streaming apps for the first time, slingshotting them to a new plateau of traffic and prominence. In her first live stream, the largest in history to date, we see one of her cats dancing to Shake it Off. Millions of fans comment with emoji, but included are some spam comments, and so some engineers somewhere start beefing up comment moderation tools. Meanwhile, dozens of unlucky journalists have to write the obligatory story about her live stream, even though everyone already saw it and knew about it, and even though the Buzzfeed post on the live stream will get all the traffic anyway.
  17. The first live video stream is mentioned in a TV show, probably CSI Cyber.
  18. Jimmy Fallon launches a recurring segment around live streams from the stars. The first guest is Matthew McConaughey, he live streams while driving around in a Lincoln, muttering to himself. The video goes viral, predictably, and it pops up in your Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline a lot, and though you were too cool to post a link to it because it was too obvious a play for social media distribution, you take note of the volume of mentions on social media.
  19. The MTV Music Awards is the first to be live streamed on purpose. MTV arms a bunch of guests with a dedicated WiFi network and high end smartphones (let's be honest, it's probably Samsung) and has them live stream throughout the program. Many people watch the MTV Music Awards again for the first time in ages, sitting with four connected devices so they can follow along with multiple live streams at the same time. During  a performance by Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift live streams herself and her famous, beautiful friends dancing and singing along in the front row, and then the TV cameras catch her dancing and holding her phone to live stream and that plays on your television set at the same moment, and it feels magical, like some form of digital cubism. Kanye's live stream is just continuous pans over to Kim Kardashian's cleavage.
  20. Later, Kanye West briefly live streams himself having sex with Kim Kardashian, but just for a moment, leading millions of people to rush to follow along at the same moment, bringing down the power grid along the Western seaboard.
  21. AT&T and Verizon raise their data fees as they see their network usage rise. They can actually handle the traffic, they just want more money because why the hell not. Ben Thompson links back to his piece on how lots of us didn't really understand what we were bargaining for when we fought for net neutrality.
  22. Thanks to finally having achieved a critical mass of user density, live streaming captures its first journalistic coup. I don't want to speculate on what it will be, but it will be a prolonged and serious event that people have time to hear about and follow live, like the OJ car chase. Some citizen will be there up close for some reason and that person's live stream will be better than anything TV news cameras can capture. Everyone on Twitter and Facebook link to that live stream, and soon even CNN and Fox News and whatever TV news channels are left in the world are just showing that stream live, too. A few reporters rush to write think pieces about how the medium has finally grown up.
  23. Obama live streams from the podium at one of his speeches. As he pans across the faces of the crowd, we see people of all ages and races, and he intones, “The Constitution begins with 'We the people'...” This is the Obama we love, they write.
  24. Netflix signs up its first live streaming show. Directed by David Fincher, it's a show about a powerful VC, played, in a huge coup for the tech industry, by Marc Andreessen. It's released all at once as a continuous 24 hour live stream. During the show, we follow along as Andreessen takes meetings with a variety of people during one packed day in his life. Every so often, he turns his cameraphone on himself to address the audience through the fourth wall in an exaggerated Southern drawl, like Francis Underwood.
  25. Your mom emails you an article from USA Today and asks if you've heard of live streaming. Apparently it's a thing now.
  26. The first live stream ad unit. Until now, the ads have been organic, some live stream stars talking about products and services that pay them for some air time. This, however, is an official ad, from a new live stream ad platform. It runs as a pre-roll before the live stream begins, and the revenue is shared with the content creator. You guessed it, it's an ad for Squarespace, the all-in-one website builder.
  27. Facebook adds a live video streaming button to its app, then shortly after that spins it out into a separate app altogether. They name it Live, and some other company that launched an app called Live that did the same thing a year earlier complains that Facebook stole their name, but no one really pays any attention.
  28. Google launches a wearable VR camera, it is a 360 degree camera helmet that covers your entire head and makes your head look like a fly's eyeball. Some site publishes a piece on how this is the future of VR, and Gruber excerpts a passage and files it away for claim chowder. One of the first beta testers of the camera gets beaten up while walking around the Mission.
  29. Apple files a patent for a compact VR camera that will fit in an iPhone form factor. 
  30. Years later, bandwidth has improved to the point where people can live stream VR. Sort of. The experience is janky, the video super low-res, but it's possible. The first VR live streaming app launches in the iTunes App Store. It's called Cyclops.
  31. VR cameras are too bulky, the video stitching too slow to process in real time, the bandwidth requirements for streaming too onerous. The only people who own such a camera and even know how to set up such a stream are tech early adopters, and so the first VR live stream content is dull, stationary, uninspiring. You get a demo of the product from your geekiest tech friend, and the only VR live stream you can find at that moment is of a pasty-faced VC unboxing the second generation Apple Watch and walking you through its UI. Despite raising a ton of money in a seed round, Cyclops sees little adoption, burns through a ton of cash, and gets acqui-hired by Google. The app shuts down.
  32. The conditions for live streaming VR still exist, though. Somewhere, a young and tech-savvy adult movie star places an order on Kickstarter for a second generation live streaming VR camera which supposedly solves some of the first generation software user experience issues. Wouldn't it be crazy if we could suddenly be in any 3-D immersive environment we wanted at any time? It would be like teleportation! Seriously, maybe, just maybe, there's something there.