Google announced today on its official blog that Hangouts On Air is now universally available for all Google+ users. For those unaware, Google Hangouts is a social feature of Google+ where people can video chat with one another while using the social networking service. It’s a bit like a group Skype or Apple’s FaceTime, but with the ability for multiple people to video-chat together at the same time.
Hangouts On Air takes this concept much further. Here’s an introductory video from the official Google Blog:
Hangouts On Air allows anyone with something to say to broadcast to the world in front of a global audience. You can broadcast your live hangout directly from the Google+ stream, your YouTube channel or your website. To get things going and create more buzz, Google announced a number of celebrity Hangouts On Air for the coming weeks including the CBS Morning Show, Conan O’Brien and Jamie Oliver, as well as some interesting social causes. Previously, Google broadcast live town hall political debates and live music concerts.
Will we see this in-app, too?
We can probably expect the Google+ app to be updated soon to take advantage of this new feature. Already, users of the Android Google+ app can start hangouts, but currently it’s limited to just nine users. The possibilities here are pretty endless if Hangouts On Air is extended to the app. The ability to view Hangouts and participate in them while mobile will be a great boon and make them very flexible. Meanwhile, close integration with YouTube should hopefully allow even non Google+ users to at least view Hangouts On Air.
Other players in the market
Within the Google Play store, there are already many apps that facilitate video sharing, a number of which we featured in a list last week. For example, the Vimeo app allows users to upload, manage and view clips from their smartphones and check out recommended videos from Vimeo’s curated channels. Meanwhile, Socialcam from popular online web-sharing service Justin.TV, also faciltates easy sharing of video clips which are then stored in the cloud and viewable from any device.
However, no other app offers the same collaborative experience that Google’s new Hangouts On Air could. Sure, there are video-chatting apps like Skype, and something like Tango Video Calls is great because it allows group video chats in-app, but these are only with your friends or contacts, not strangers.
It seems that Hangouts On Air, once it’s fully integrated with the Google+ Android app, will offer a unique collaborative video sharing experience that no other app currently permits. With Google’s massive infrastructure and huge user base (especially via YouTube) it has the potential to be a real game changer.
Google+ needs greater reach, but there’s much potential here
Google+ may not have the reach of Facebook or Twitter, but the video hangout feature is a unique selling point for the service and it’s the only social network that offers anything like it. However, a few months ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that visitors spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between last September 2011 and January 2012, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period. It’s going to be tough for Google to bring over more users to Google+, but tight integration with YouTube and further promotion within could help.
It’s clear, too, that most of Google’s revenue from Android comes from advertising and in-app purchases. Earlier this year, Cowen analyst Jim Friedland predicted that Google’s mobile ad revenue will hit $5.8 billion this year. That figure is expected to increase to a $20 billion revenue stream by 2016. If Google can find some way to monetize these Hangouts On Air especially via mobile apps, it could be looking at a goldmine. Focused video content means a perfect target audience for advertising, and unlike on your TV where you can simply fast-forward your DVR to skip the ads, the potential to advertise to a highly motivated mobile audience as they watch video on their Android tablets or smartphones (with no ability to ignore them) could see a very reliable future revenue stream for Google.