Ustream was launched back in 2007 when its co-founders Brad Hunstable and John Ham started helping American troops overseas communicate with their families online.
And the idea of live video streaming extended beyond the military.
Ustream has built up its presence in the United States, especially during major events such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 U.S. presidential elections and the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.
Its user-generated live videos also deliver unique content that conventional media companies would not show any interest to cover and viewers respond explosively.
A Ustream channel called “Decorah Eagles,” consisting of a live, round-the-clock footage of a pair of bald eagles and their three eaglets and unhatched eggs, set a Guinness world record with more than 100 million views.
After the successful launch of Ustream Asia by Japan’s SoftBank two years ago, now its new destination is Korea.
Ustream Korea is a joint venture between KT, holding 51 percent of shares, and SoftBank with the remaining 49. The Korean service is scheduled to start tentatively on March 20.
KT, which is recently stepping up efforts to expand business areas other than telecom services, has brought fresh air into its new affiliate by appointing the 42-year-old young CEO.
“Korea will (be involved in) major events this year such as presidential elections, the Expo and the Olympics. Ustream Korea will also have a good opportunity to gain momentum,” Kim said.
“We will first focus on marketing the brand and service. We aim to achieve bigger success than in Japan within two to three years.”
What would make the Korean service more unique and competitive may be its content generated by K-pop stars who are gaining popularity around the world recently.
Kim recognized the global competitiveness of K-pop as he witnessed the growth of Korean Wave in recent years.
He pointed out, however, that such “killer content” could have been better marketed, saying that a huge amount of K-pop music videos are still distributed at low prices.
“Despite its proved global power, the audience could get fed up with K-pop sooner than expected,” he said.
The Ustream platform, Kim said, would create a new playground for K-pop stars or other Korean musicians and entertainers who want to expand audience online around the world.
Even though he had confidence about the business model of Ustream, Kim admitted that challenges could come from anywhere in this ever-changing landscape.
Ustream maintains the market’s No. 1 position in terms of viewings, followed by other global players like Justin.tv and Livestream, both Internet start-ups based in the U.S. In Korea, there are already smaller local players to compete with.
YouTube, among others, also started making video live streaming available to a limited number of participants in its partners program last year.
“It’s good to have a big player in the market like YouTube because its entry indicates the market’s growth potential,” Kim said.
Kim, however, predicted that it would take some years for YouTube and other companies to fully embrace live streaming because of the large amount of costs needed to build up infrastructure.
A live chat window alongside the video player on Ustream also gives users a unique opportunity not only to watch events but also to jump in the conversations, which Kim calls is the key difference from YouTube service.
“Based on the fast development of network technologies, live streaming will become a global trend soon. Compared to other players, Ustream has secured an early edge,” he said. He added that it is a matter of time until the video version of Twitter comes out.
“We are still a small enterprise. But the new media business is not just about today’s revenue. What’s more important is its future value and social influence that attracts users.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org