Live streaming took off in 2016. Has the platform reached its peak?

With the November launch of live video on Instagram, publishers now have yet another tool to add to their live-streaming arsenal. This year, events like the US presidential debates drove viewers to live streams in unprecedented numbers, while brands began to experiment with the space—many of them for the first time.

There’s even more on the horizon for next year: Twitter has begun rolling out a feature that makes live streaming easier, pushing its integration with Periscope deeper into the center of the platform’s experience. Platforms are also beginning to support live 360° videos. According to MarketsandMarkets, the live video streaming market is expected to grow to $70 billion by 2021, from $30 billion in 2016.

Over the past year, the usage of live video has changed dramatically. Facebook Live opened to the general public in April. Since then, the number of users broadcasting at any given moment has quadrupled, according to the company. Live videos also receive 10 times more viewer engagement than regular videos. Due to its built-in user base, Facebook Live has also attracted a fair deal of creativity and attention from brands. The year’s top live brand video in the UK featured live giveaways, a scavenger hunt, live fitness classes and more. Brands even began experimenting with live ads, including Carl’s Jr., who created live ad experiences on Twitch.

Across platforms, live streams are becoming more sophisticated. E! News features live-streamed shows that are nearly indistinguishable from the network’s traditional content, and even produces sponsored live streams that begin to monetize the platform. A November stream of a Tough Mudder event, featuring multiple camera angles and drone shots, racked up close to one million views.

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Screenshots from Periscope.
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But consumers still demonstrate an appetite for more raw, unfiltered content. Chewbacca Mom, a whimsical and unstaged stream that went viral last spring, is still the most popular live stream of 2016.

It’s this sector that Instagram is hoping will flourish on its platform. Unlike Facebook Live, Instagram Live videos disappear as soon as the stream is over. The format is designed to capture spontaneity in a way that might not be possible on Facebook, where videos are archived. “You can be comfortable because you know they’re not going to stick around,” Kevin Weil, Instagram’s head of product, told the Verge.

Publishers are already beginning to explore Instagram Live, offering unfiltered and exclusive content that’s only available to those who tune in. Refinery29 used the platform to take viewers behind-the-scenes of a fashion shoot, while Allure streamed a class with a makeup artist. “At the get-go, there’s less pressure to have full production — and in return, the audience loves the raw feedback,” Gerilyn Manago, social media editor at Allure, told Glossy.

While brands have yet to tackle Instagram’s service, live streaming on social media platforms can help brands connect with a demographic that is enviably young and engaged. According to marketing and research firm Wildness, 70% of US youth (aged 12-24) prefer to stream their content, vs. watching a broadcast. More than 30% said they watch sponsored content on streaming platforms. Live streaming is already becoming the norm in digital-saturated China: According to research from L2Inc, two-thirds of beauty brands in the region are active on at least one live-streaming platform.

If there is a “peak live,” we have yet to reach it. Brands will continue exploring this space well well into 2017. Looking to the next generation, it’s perhaps wise to follow the lead of Time Inc. digital director Will Lee, who recently told Digiday “There can never be enough live, for us.”