Social news and content sharing site Reddit this week begun testing a new live streaming feature called Reddit Public Access Network, or RPAN. The five day test lets users broadcast live streams via the Reddit mobile app, with streams hosted on the Reddit website. While the company says the test is “first and foremost […] about having fun as a Reddit community”, it added that if the feature proves popular it’ll explore how it might work as a permanent feature.
The move suggests Reddit is gearing up to compete in the live streaming space, alongside the likes of Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And based on its audience size alone, it could be a serious contender – Reddit is the sixth most popular site in the US according to Alexa, while in the UK it’s the third most popular, ranking above Facebook.
The fact that streams must be filmed via a users’ mobile phone means that gaming live streams common on Twitch and YouTube aren’t really possible on RPAN, since these require a direct feed from the streamer’s PC or games console. But RPAN would still compete with both platforms, as mobile live streams are a big feature of both. ‘IRL’ streams (where the streamer is out in the real world, rather than playing a video game) consistently rank as one of Twitch’s most viewed categories. One point of differentiation for RPAN is, as with other content on Reddit, streams’ visibility is determined by a voting system rather than how many viewers are watching each broadcast.
The feature, which has so far only been rolled out to a limited number of users, seems to have proven popular. The top rated post on Reddit’s dedicated forum for discussing RPAN is a petition to make it permanent. But this success may be due in part to the novelty factor – popular streams so far have included a user counting to 6969 on a click counter, and a man reading out the script of Bee Movie (an internet in-joke). Whether this sort of content could sustain a permanent live streaming feature is questionable.
RPAN would also likely need significant adjustments to be made if it were to become permanent. To try to avoid the obvious challenges of illegal and dangerous content being broadcast, Reddit is only enabling streaming during set hours to ensure moderators can track content. And RPAN currently only allows a maximum of 26 concurrent live streams, an extremely low number given Reddit’s vast user base. If Reddit wanted to remove these restrictions for a permanent roll out, it would have to find other ways of handling moderation.
But making RPAN a permanent feature would fit well with the company’s push into both video and advertising. While Reddit has always allowed video content to be shared through links to third-party sites, it began letting users upload videos directly to Reddit a few years ago. And the company has also been expanding its suite of tools for advertisers as it seeks to attract more ad spend. Reddit has introduced video ads and cost-per-click ads over the past few years, and has partnered with Oracle for brand safety verification.
Should Reddit make RPAN permanent, it could be a valuable new source of video inventory. But the company has so far avoided running ads on user-uploaded content – video ads are only currently available as native posts on the site, rather than pre, mid or post-roll.