The History of Live Streaming

Streaming is a lot older in its origins than one might intuitively suppose. If we look at the history of live streaming, one of the earliest streaming platforms was Muzak. This, along with similar audio systems, played continuous music. The original patent for Muzak technology was sought in the 1920s, before the computer was invented.

When we think of streaming live video, though, we think computers and the Internet. In fact, the full development of that capacity was more recent. Many technical advances in the 1990s and 2000s improved the bandwidth of networks. In turn, this increased the number of people and computers with access to those networks, creating the Internet as we know it today. Standard formats were also developed, along with protocols that we use to code online material and functions (TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, etc.).

Overall, the increase in computing and connecting capacity with the development of programming tools started to set things in motion. Along with commercial development of the Internet, this allowed the first true streaming media to be born. Now that streaming is here to stay, we wonder how we ever managed without it.

In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the history of live streaming–and the road we took to get here.

Early Efforts in the History of Live Streaming

Early efforts in the history of live streaming mostly constituted single-event broadcasts, rather than continuous multi-use streaming. In 1993, the garage band Severe Tire Damage became the first band to broadcast live over the Internet. For its live broadcast debut, the band live streamed a Xerox PARC concert to audiences around the world.

history of live streamingIn 1995, RealNetworks televised an American League playoffs baseball game over the Internet for the first time. Likewise, Seattle made another advance in streaming later that year, when the city’s Paramount Theater placed the first symphony concert online.

Continuing with this history of live streaming, the first continuous and regular streaming was likely Word magazine. Word magazine also launched its live streaming branch in 1995 (a big year for streaming). Although not live streaming per se (the music played from recordings), the magazine was the first to feature streaming soundtracks online. As you’ll notice, these pioneer streaming efforts concentrated on audio content. This is because audio doesn’t require as much data capacity as video.

Of course, these examples represented rather small-scale dipping of toes in the live streaming waters. They marked only a preliminary step toward the future of live streaming, when compared to the ubiquitous presence of streaming video today.

Bringing Live Streaming to the Public

Next, let’s transition our history of live streaming to how live broadcasts became more accessible to the public.

/blog/secure-live-streaming-service/Not surprisingly, the commercial development of live streaming required still further technological advances. Over the 1990s and 2000s, the typical power of a home computer increased by orders of magnitude. In 1995, for example, a top-line Dell personal computer had a 66 MHz processor and eight megabytes of RAM, and it sold for over $4,000. To reiterate, that’s over $4,000 in 1995. Hard drives at the top of the scale had a single gigabyte of capacity.

Connection to the Internet was equally primitive in the mid-nineties. In fact, most connections operated by modem over phone lines; the new standard was 28.8 kb. Though 1995 was only 20 years ago, only primitive technology was available to the public. The average individual’s capacity to receive, process, and appreciate streaming media was still quite limited.

Faster computers and faster connections, however, would solve that problem. Following our history of streaming video, the industry was poised to take off by 2005, with the founding of YouTube. Furthermore, the creation of software tools such as Flash Player also facilitated the streaming of video content.


From streaming radio to live video broadcasts

Streaming radio, however, was the pioneer in commercial streaming. Initially, listeners received radio streams on stand-alone Internet radio receivers. Moving the process to computers and, eventually, to mobile devices was a logical development.

history of live streamingFrom there, bandwidth of connections to the Internet and computing power available to the average person continued to increase. As a result, it was natural that the audio streaming by Internet radio soon graduated to streaming video as well. Data compression methods contributed a lot to this development. Why? Video files contain a lot of information. Compression allows live broadcast technology to efficiently transmit and store that information.

However, video streaming did show some pioneering efforts as early as the 1990s. The first large-scale on-line video broadcast occurred in 1996, when Marc Scarpa produced the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Likewise, U.S. President Bill Clinton also made use of video streaming for his Town Hall events. Other single video streaming events occurred from time to time in the last decade of the 20th century.

Live Streaming versus On-Demand Streaming

With that history of live streaming in mind, let’s turn now to the differences between live and on-demand streaming.

On-demand streaming (VOD)

history of live streamingWe sometimes apply the term “live streaming” where it doesn’t belong. Streaming from a recorded source, which is what one finds on YouTube, Netflix, and many other commercial streaming sources, is on-demand streaming. This video content is VOD, or Video on Demand. On-demand streaming provides content from a recorded source instead. With on-demand streaming, viewers can watch the content at will.


Live streaming

On the other hand, live streaming occurs only in the actual moment or recording video footage, in real-time. Live streaming comes from a content source such as video cameras and microphones. It is made available to viewers during the actual event. Streaming radio and much Internet television consists of live streaming.


Technological differences between on-demand and live streaming

As far as the “streaming” portion of the process is concerned, live and on-demand streaming are similar from the viewer’s perspective.

They are quite different in technical and procedural details from the standpoint of the producer or broadcaster, though. The main difference from a technical end is the use of temporary storage for the material in progressive streaming or on-demand streaming. This involves partially downloading, storing to memory, and playing a file piece while the next portion of the file downloads as well. In contrast, live streaming doesn’t employ partial memory capture. Rather, live broadcasts stream directly from the source to the user via a computer processor that finalizes the broadcast.

The Streaming Situation Today & Tomorrow

In today’s Internet environment, streaming, both live and on-demand, is everywhere. It’s passing beyond the confines of commercial operations like Netflix and social streaming platforms like YouTube. Individuals like you can easily stream live video on your website, by embedding the video on the page or by embedding recorded video files.

history of live streamingFuture developments may include increasing the “seamless” quality of embedded video. This implies a fluid integration of video content on websites, without requiring the viewer to react. This is already possible, of course, on desktop browsers with auto-play. However, most mobile carriers current block this access, for bandwidth concerns. It’s likely to become more common in the future, though, as bandwidth capacity on mobiles increases. In fact, optimizing for mobile devices is also ongoing. For example, websites can now configure video to play well on the smaller screens of tablets and smart phones. Video no longer requires a desktop or laptop computer to play well.


One thing is certain: streaming video is not going anywhere. It has already transformed the way we think of television and video content. And when it comes to streaming solutions, DaCast strives to offer you the latest information, comparisons, and features to help you choose the right service for your needs.

Not yet streaming with DaCast, and ready to give our streaming solutions a try? Click the button below to sign up for a 30-day free trial (no credit card required) with our online video platform. We’ll have you set up and streaming in a matter of minutes!


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Thanks for reading and, as always, best of luck with your video broadcasts!

18 thoughts on “The History of Live Streaming

  1. James Wasem says:

    Good history lesson! It’s interesting how “live streaming” is becoming a big buzz word, especially with the emergence of Meerkat and Periscope this year. Fact is, live streaming concepts are rather mature – it’s just the supporting infrastructure and user applications that are constantly changing. Exciting times! I’m really looking forward to some breakthroughs in encoding standards and refined delivery though. True quality control from beginning to end for a live stream is still elusive in most applications.

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  7. Leah C says:

    Love this article! I’m doing my uni research paper on live streaming and would love to use some quotes. However, I dunno if this is me being stupid, but I can’t seem to find the date it was written? Would help with my referencing 😉

  8. Liah says:

    Hi everyone, I need help for my essay. I am having difficulties understanding when ‘live streaming’ was invented… Please could somebody assist me. Does this article implicate 1990s-2000s? Thank-you.

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