Live streaming is a booming industry. More than 25 percent of all internet users watch live streams at least once a month. That’s more than a billion people. Businesses and other organizations have universally found live streams to be engaging and effective communication tools. In this post, we’ll look at UStream and a number of online video platforms (OVPs) as a UStream alternative.
I often describe online video platforms, also called video streaming platforms, as being like Swiss Army Knives for online video. An OVP provides a number of tools to help you stream, embed, monetize, and distribute your video content. Different OVPs have different pros and cons. Therefore, it’s worth comparing a few options before selecting the one that best fits your needs.
Why HLS live streaming?
HLS live streaming refers to a particular streaming delivery protocol. HLS live streaming, or HTTP Live Streaming was developed by Apple as an alternative to Flash-based online video. Flash can cause security problems, and this is being phased out.
Today, HLS live streaming is supported on desktop computers, Android and iOS mobile devices, tablets, smart TVs, and most other devices. It’s the most popular (86%) and widely compatible streaming format. We recommend that everyone use the HLS live streaming protocol whenever possible.
All of the major OVPs support HLS streaming, including the ones we’ll consider below. With this in mind, let’s look at UStream and a number of UStream alternative platforms.
Introduction to IBM Cloud Video (UStream)
UStream was launched in 2007 as a streaming solution aimed at helping members of the military stationed overseas to connect with their families. After IBM acquired the company in 2016, the service is now officially known as the IBM Cloud Video unit.
Since IBM’s acquisition of the company, Ustream has begun a market pivot. IBM seeks to position the company as an enterprise content delivery network. More than ever before, Ustream is targeting major corporations that are able to commit to high pricing and large contracts. This may be a drawback for smaller users, and, as we shall see, is already affecting their service.
Ustream / IBM Cloud Video includes basic video hosting and streaming on all plans. They offer three tiers of “Pro” broadcasting. The Silver plan, at $99 per month, includes only one live channel and includes Ustream branding. To access advanced features like full branding control, video embedding control, and more than two live channels, be prepared to pay $999 per month.
What you need to know about Ustream
- Ustream / IBM Cloud Video does offer several APIs, including a Channel API (the equivalent of our video content management API). However, most of these APIs are not available at pricing plans below $999 per month.
- It does offer advanced channel customization–banners, widgets, ads, iFrames–but only at the Platinum level ($999 / month). Likewise, if you want full branding control over these pages and the video player, you will need to upgrade to the Platinum plan.
- Ustream includes stream auto-archiving and social integration at all plan levels.
- There are no caps on bitrate or resolution.
- Enterprise plans are available, but only on a custom-pricing basis. These plans add internal video communication, video content marketing, OTT management, and a number of other features. They are not, however, within the budget of many broadcasters.
UStream alternative platforms: Livestream, JWplayer, and Dacast
So viewed the pros and cons of Ustream itself. Let’s take a look a some of the Ustream alternative platforms.
Livestream is an online video platform originally launched as Mogulus in 2007. Based in New York, Livestream integrates basic OVP offerings with hardware such as cameras and encoders. Their service includes live streaming, video-on-demand, auto-recording of live streams, and so on.
The best part of the Livestream service is their hardware and software integration. However, compared to other offerings on the market, this service is somewhat expensive. Livestream formerly offered a free ad-supported service, which ended in 2016. In 2017, IAC subsidiary Vimeo acquired Livestream. Since then, Livestream has eliminated it’s more basic plan in favor of two more costly options.
Livestream’s Premium plan starts at $75 per month when billed annually ($199 per month billed monthly). This includes ad-free live streaming with auto-archiving and studio software included. However, many features that are often necessary for professional live streaming, such as white-label design, password protection, and referrer restrictions, are only available at their Enterprise Plan level.
The Enterprise plan costs $999 per month billed annually, or $1299 on a monthly basis. Custom plans are available for large-scale businesses with even larger budgets and specific needs.
What you need to know about Livestream
- Livestream offers free access to its live production switcher software with its basic plan.
- They do offer video APIs for live streaming and content management. However, they are only available to custom Enterprise plans costing more than $799 per month.
- Enterprise plans are also the only Livestream plans able to take advantage of monetization features.
- Phone support is available for users on the Premium plan or above.
JW Player, as the name of this Ustream alternative implies, is mostly known for its web video player software. However, it’s recently begun offering a basic live streaming OVP: JW Live.
This product is currently only available to Business and Enterprise users of JW Player. The Started plan offers only an HTML5 player. The Business plan costs $50 per month and offers HLS and MPEG-DASH live streaming delivery, real-time analytics, advertising monetization, and email-only support.
A custom-priced Enterprise plan adds access to DRM (Digital Rights Management) playback, a video recommendations engine, and email responses from support within 2 hours.
What you need to know about JW Player
- JW Live does not offer a video API for integrating video features into existing digital media workflows. However, they do offer a player API.
- JW Live supports monetization via VAST/VPAID advertising integration.
- The Business plan for JW Live includes email support. Enterprise plans include the option to add “Plus” or “VIP” support for additional fast response to support requests. Phone support is not available.
- JW Live delivers streams via HLS, as well as using MPEG-DASH in some situations.
The last platform we’ll look at here is Dacast. Based in San Francisco with offices in London, Beijing, and the Philippines, Dacast is an API-based online video platform.
Dacast pricing starts at $39 per month for the Starter plan. This plan includes access to almost all of the Dacast features, including 24/7 customer support, full white-label branding control, and security features. These features include password protection and geo/referrer restrictions. This is a great starting plan for those new to broadcasting, and you get access to top-tier features at a low cost.
The Scale Plan, which is still quite affordable at $188 per month, adds support for monetization via a paywall and access to our video API. This plan also adds a direct m3U8 link, which allows streaming on Roku TV or other set-top boxes.
What you need to know about Dacast
- HLS stream delivery with RTMP ingest is the default at Dacast. We are currently testing a beta solution for Scale plans and above that uses direct HLS ingestion. In our testing, this approach has reduced latency to about 10 seconds.
- Dacast is a fully white-label platform. You can even access the Dacast platform on your own domain. Contact sales for more information on this option.
- The partner system allows you to become a streaming reseller.
- Dacast Event and Scale plans offer integrated monetization/payment systems to quickly and easily start charging for your videos. The platform supports both pay-per-view (transactional) and subscriptions for live streaming and VOD. Our Player API also enables the support of ad insertion.
- Dacast offers 24/7 customer support to all users.
- Dacast video content management API enables full programmatic access to the live streaming, video-on-demand, and management platform. This supports building custom apps or content management systems. Comprehensive documentation is available to simplify implementation. This API is available for Scale plans and above.
Now, you can let the data speak for itself! After our review of Ustream and Ustream alternative platforms, including Dacast, which platform do you think is the best for you? Whether you want to stream live video on your website, promote your business or services, offer online trainings or live events, and so much more, it’s worth taking the time to choose the right fit for you!
Any questions or feedback? Let us know in the comments section below! We love to hear from our readers, and we will get back to you as soon as we can. For regular tips on live streaming and exclusive offers, we also invite you to join our LinkedIn group.
If you’re ready to give Dacast a go, click below to sign up for our 30-day free trial (no credit card required). You can test out all the Dacast features for yourself!
Thanks for reading, and as always, best of luck with your live streams.
By Max Wilbert.
*Note to our readers: This post has been updated to reflect the most accurate information as of mid-2018.