Streaming the Revolution: from Indymedia Radio to Livestream / UStream

Date: Nov 30th, 1999.
Location: Notre Dame, Indiana.

I had heard rumors of a big mobilization for the anti-WTO protest in Seattle, but I had ignored them and Seattle was very far from Notre Dame (and I was cheap). Also I was trying to complete my course work on time (ahem!). However for the first time I could follow everything online with Seattle Indymedia's radio station!

For the next ten years the best protest coverage was provided by Indymedia audio streams (sometimes also operating as pirate radio stations to broadcast over the air to the protest locale). The height of technology was someone sitting in a studio playing music and begging for cellphone calls from people on the streets who knew what was going on.

Fast forward twelve years to 2011. The first time I was enthralled by the use of live video streaming was the Arab Spring and notably Al Jazeera's coverage of the Egyptian revolution and the occupation of Tahrir Square. I watched as protesters with barricades defended the square from regime "thugs" and worried about a brutal military crackdown that could have wiped out the movement (or led to a violent civil war).

I also followed everything on Twitter.

The Occupy Movement further popularized the use of live video. The most popular movement video feeds regularly had 3000 people watching and peaked at over 10000. There were thousands of people watching the NYC police clear Ducotti Plaza at 1am. Currently the Quebec Student Movement (CUTV live) is getting 2000-7000 viewers at a time (total views is more) on their daily demonstration. They are now on their 27th daily evening protest and they currently last 5 hours (8pm-1am).

What has made this possible?

Live video is a product of technological change. The main causes are smart phones (that can do video and chips that are fast enough to process it) and wireless internet (3G). In 1999, streaming live audio was cutting edge and Internet radio was just starting. Now we are on the verge of a livestreaming video revolution. Or maybe not, as streaming music is a lot easier than being in front of a camera all the time. So we might just see livestream video in major mobilizations.

What will the impact of live video coverage of protests be?

For starters, I think it will familiarize protesters with how riot police operate. This could lead to new tactics. Riot police are already trained in how to deal with protesters and will gain less from live protest coverage. Also police are less likely to watch as the coverage has a pro-activist bias. On the other hand police have probably been doing their own video taping for a long time, and can now add private live video to their tools.

I suspect live video will mobilize people. Sure some people will sit at home and watch online, but they might be sitting at home anyways. As video broadens the audience, radicals will gain support from more moderate people and there might be a radicalizing impact.

Will we have an community-run live video website?

Currently all the live video is on commercial websites (and is often interrupted by annoying ads unless you pay to not have them). Indymedia radio was (and is) community run. Streaming live video is challenging in that it takes a TON of bandwidth. However it should be possibly for an Indymedia Live Video service to start - maybe this will breath new life into Indymedia!