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The history of live streaming (and how a bunch of nerds opened for the Rolling Stones)

October 20, 2021 - Erikka Innes

The history of live streaming

Live internet streaming didn’t start all that long ago - in fact it debuted only ten years after the official birthday of the Internet, which is touted as January 1st, 1983. Since then, live streaming technology has developed a lot. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but when the Internet first started there was no music or video. Let’s go back in time and see how far this technology has come!

1993: The first live streaming event on the internet is created by a garage band On June 24th, 1993, the band Severe Tire Damage was playing a gig at Xerox PARC. While this was going on, scientists were working on new technology called MBone. MBone was an experimental network for carrying IP multicast traffic. (IP multicast is used to stream media to multiple viewers.) It just so happened that the Chief Technologist at Xerox PARC, Mark Weiser was the drummer for Severe Tire Damage. They decided to test the network’s capabilities by broadcasting their band playing. This first stream was everything you’d imagine — super slow frame rate, very pixellated and it involved a bunch of nerds jamming together. See for yourself: https://player.vimeo.com/video/56349011

Additionally, in order to stream the content, they used half the bandwidth of THE ENTIRE INTERNET.

1994: The first virtual concert live streams on the internet

In this situation, Severe Tire Damage reappeared to open for The Rolling Stones. Surprise! Because the internet was still small, and there was one Mbone network, the band connected about twenty minutes before The Rolling Stones concert started, and described themselves as being part of the first ever virtual concert, because they were popping in to play from California and then The Rolling Stones concert was going to happen in Texas. The news media was watching, and got a big enough kick out of their surprise performance that some articles spent more time on Severe Tire Damage than they did describing the rest of the concert (which was probably epic). When asked to comment on their extra act, The Rolling Stones told The New York Times “the surprise opening act by Severe Tire Damage was a good reminder of the democratic nature of the Internet.” (Reference: https://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A04EEDE1F31F931A15752C1A962958260

1995: The first sporting event live streams on the internet

The internet company RealNetworks created a media player that could handle live streaming - RealPlayer. To show off RealPlayer’s capabilities, the company broadcasted a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners. The demo was interesting, but live streaming didn’t catch on.

1997: RealVideo launches

RealVideo was a program that let you commercialize live streaming. Things weren’t quite in place for this to catch on, but it remains an important milestone in live streaming.

1999: The first presidential webcast streams on the internet

Bill Clinton appeared at George Washington University in Washington DC to speak in a webcast titled ‘Third Way Politics in the Information Age.’ Viewers online could submit questions and have them answered.

2008: YouTube hosts a live event and streams it from San Francisco and Tokyo at the same time

YouTube’s live event, named YouTube Live streamed from San Francisco and Tokyo. It included performances from artists like Katy Perry, Smosh, MythBusters and Bo Burnham. They continued offering occasional live streams, but their broadcasts were a bit slow so this didn’t take off for YouTube. It did put live streaming on the map though.

2011: Twitch launches a live streaming platform for video games

Originally justin.tv, which was founded by Justin Kan. He broadcast his life 24/7 and popularized the idea of live or "life" streaming. Later he rebranded his company as Twitch and opened it up to many users. Twitch capitalized on YouTube’s inability to capture the live streaming market. They focused on live streams of gamers and within two years they had 45 million viewers each month. Their success led to other social media platforms rushing to add live streaming capabilities.

2015: The live streaming app Periscope launches

Periscope was an app bought by Twitter before launch. It allowed users to live stream immediately. When it became obvious through Periscope that live streaming was popular and could be lucrative, other social media platforms followed suit. Facebook Live appeared in 2016. Today popular social media apps have great live streaming - YouTube and Instagram included.

Today there are a number of trends in live streaming that are pushing the value of live streaming even further. People can easily give broadcasts talking about their company or work. There’s live shopping, where products are modeled and talked about by influencers live and viewers can purchase while watching.

2020: api.video and the history of live streaming

api.video wants to help developers build the incredible video products they dream of. That’s why we offer an end-to-end solution that lets you build live streaming features into your website or mobile app with ease.


  1. The Not-So-Ancient History of Live Streaming - https://switchboard.live/blog/live-streaming-history/
  2. The Fascinating History of Live Streaming - https://restream.io/blog/history-of-live-streaming/

Erikka Innes

Developer Evangelist

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