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Has Live Video Arrived in the West?

Visiting the live-video app or website of YouNow can quickly become a voyeuristic journey into the narcissism of American Millennials, or their counterparts in other parts of the world. At any moment, hundreds or thousands of them are cursing, crying, laughing, rapping, singing, playing guitar, gossiping or even sleeping. They use the front-facing camera of their iPhone as friends or strangers watch and comment via text.

As live-video apps Meerkat and Periscope have demonstrated, user-generated live video is easier than ever to broadcast—and there’s some kind of audience out there for it, though some challenges remain. And its international. In China, live-video service YY is a $3.5 billion-valuation Internet company whose core product allows female singers to perform live for an audience of males, many of whom pay for the privilege.

Adi Sideman, CEO of YouNow, is uniquely positioned to run such a business in the West. A software engineer and filmmaker with a master’s degree in “interactive telecommunications” from New York University, he began building media applications for user-generated content starting in the 1990s. After running a firm that built user-generated media apps, he spun out YouNow from that firm in 2011. It now has 40 employees.

Growth was stagnant until last year when he overhauled the service to allow anyone to broadcast. Previously, there were only about 20 channels and broadcasters had to wait their turn. YouNow, which has raised $11 million, now draws 100 million monthly video views thanks to more than 150,000 daily broadcasts from about 50,000 broadcasters on average. The U.S. is YouNow’s top market, though 20 percent of streams come from Arabic-speaking countries and 15 percent from Germany.

We spoke to the 45-year-old Mr. Sideman, whose favorite word seems to be “inevitable,” about the expected entrance of other major companies to live user-generated video, including Facebook, and why Meerkat and Periscope will be successful.

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