How to build a video streaming app – the complete 2023 guide
Every video you watch online is delivered via streaming technology. At its core, a media streaming app allows people to attend events regardless of location, or access video content online without the need to download it onto a device.
Video streaming is the internet’s response to TV broadcasting, but it’s a lot more accessible. Businesses from all industries can greatly benefit from media streaming app development – streaming is by far one of the most effective and convenient ways to engage with your audience.
In this article, we introduce the key concepts and facts you should be aware of before you embark upon building a custom streaming application. Let’s dive straight in!
What is a streaming app?
A streaming app encompasses the software and hardware used to transmit video content to viewers. In this context, we can also talk about live streaming applications, which enable real-time transmission of videos, as they are being captured. By default, video data is large and requires dedicated technology and devices.
A streaming application will include:
- video encoders, necessary to compress large files,
- video transcoders that enable multi-bitrate and adaptive bitrate streaming,
- a Content Delivery Network (CDN) – a network of servers strategically distributed in a given region to deliver content to a user via the nearest server,
- HTML5 video player, which is the most popular video player (it replaced Adobe’s Flash Player).
There are endless possibilities when it comes to video streaming use cases. They are commonly used to provide access to virtual events, online education, sports coverage, concerts or local government meetings. They are also widely used by marketing and sales for pitches, product demos or explanatory videos, which are particularly useful for those who engage in comparison shopping. Also, the health sector is increasingly benefiting from live video streaming app development for remote patient monitoring.
What’s new in the video streaming app market
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has fast-tracked digital transformation globally, has had a tremendous impact on the video streaming market segment. More people started consuming video content online, watching and playing games and attending fitness classes or big events, as businesses turned to live streaming to generate more revenue while people remained in lockdown.
Take a look at the below graph which shows subscriber growth for the most popular streaming services in Q3 2020.
The future outlook is even better: the global video streaming market is projected to grow from $473.39 billion in 2022 to $1,69 trillion by 2029, at a tremendous 19.9% Compound Annual Growth Rate. This market is expanding rapidly, which also means it is a good time for entrepreneurs to look for underserved niches and offer new video streaming services as long as they are prepared to face tough competition.
Check out some of the below video streaming stats if you need more convincing:
- Revenue for the entire video streaming app industry reached $72.2 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach $115 billion by 2026.
- The total number of hours watched on the four major video streaming platforms in April 2019 was 1,97 trillion. In April 2020, the number increased to 3,93 trillion, representing a massive growth of 99%.
- The number of live video streaming subscribers is expected to grow to 91 million by 2024.
- 80% of U.S. consumers prefer to watch a video from a brand instead of reading their blog article.
- A staggering 90% of users discover new brands or products via YouTube.
Types of streaming apps
There are four different types of streaming apps. Each app will require different considerations in terms of the relevant tech stack.
Live broadcasting apps
This is one of the most popular types of streaming apps. It allows to broadcast and record videos simultaneously, allowing users to watch them in real-time, without the need to download. The most popular live broadcasting apps include Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Livestream and Twitch (we wrote a separate article on building an app like Twitch.
Audio streaming apps
The principle is the same as with broadcasting apps, only we take video out of the picture. Audio streaming apps allow users to listen to music online, in real-time, without having to download it. The best known apps in this category are Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and Tidal. Do note, however, that Spotify also enabled video podcasts to its anchor creators in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, also to capitalize on the booming video content popularity.
Video on Demand (VoD) streaming apps
With VoD streaming apps, users can watch their favorite TV shows online whenever and wherever they want. They can also pause it, resume and rewind it as they wish. Netflix, Amazon Video, Disney+, HBO Max and Hulu are all examples of this type of video streaming platforms. These are usually subscription-based.
TV live streaming apps
TV live streaming apps simply allow users to watch TV online. The principle here is to allow access to those programs and TV shows that aren’t available via on-demand video streaming services. Hulu is a VoD streaming service, but it also offers a TV live streaming plan, just like Amazon Prime Video and YouTube TV.
Video streaming app architecture
Streaming software creators will have to make several tech stack considerations (in addition to programming languages, databases and other typical elements) that I list in the following section. Before you delve into them, I suggest that you revise your software development goals and the problems you intend to solve. Do note that building a live video streaming application will require additional tech stack considerations (they are discussed in the following section right below.
Key tech stack considerations for a custom streaming app
A relevant queueing system
A video streaming app requires an appropriate queueing system for the processing framework. Apache Kafka or Amazon SQS are two of the options to consider. They can be used to ensure fault-tolerant processing, secure storage and effective geographic distribution of the video content.
There are two protocols you should be aware of: RTMP, used for high-definition streaming and WebRTC, used to support real-time communication. The first one allows the transmission of high-quality audio and video content and is a good choice if you plan to broadcast conferences or concerts. It’s processing time is longer than that of WebRTC. The protocol is suitable for supporting real-time communication and video calling platforms (e.g. Zoom, Hangouts), however, it offers lower transmission quality than RTMP.
Reliable storage system
Ensuring reliable storage is also an important part of video streaming app development. Your video content has to be stored in a place that will allow for distortion-free streaming without failures. Cloud services will be a great choice in this case, as they are affordable and easy to scale.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
The right CDN will ensure the availability and good performance of the video stream – it’s what places the content as close to the user as possible, increasing the overall speed of your live streaming application. AWS CloudFront is a popular option that powers various popular streaming services, including Netflix AWS Media Live. For real-time WebRTC video rooms, consider Amazon Chime. If you need to build an interactive live stream, Agora.io may be suitable, especially if you find AWS too slow.
To begin with, you’ll have to decide where you’d like to have your video streaming available - would it be a web app, mobile, smart TV, Tesla screen, or all of them? There are different options available that support HTML5 streaming, including open source software.
Key tech stack considerations for live streaming app development
To build a live streaming platform, you will have to make the same considerations as in the case of a video streaming app AND make sure the stream happens in real time.
Live video streaming has somewhat different requirements than VoD streaming. It involves processing large amounts of data and then transferring it via a communication channel while using a limited bandwidth capacity. The goal is to reduce any lag time to offer users a rewarding live experience.
Ideally, you’d want to maintain the lowest latency possible – under 500 milliseconds is considered a live stream, however, in reality, most streams are delayed by 1-5 seconds. You’ll have to adapt to the kind of content you stream: latency won’t matter as much when streaming a yoga class, but it will matter greatly when streaming a World Cup match.
Achieving low latency is quite a challenge from the technological standpoint: original data must be stored across hundreds of servers around the world for the sake of proximity and processed without fault. It doesn’t mean, however, that it’s impossible.
Live streaming app development also requires selecting the appropriate streaming protocols. WebRTC is a browser-based protocol that will allow you to meet the <500 millisecond real-time latency requirement while enabling two-way video chat communication.
Alternative: a managed streaming solution
The above considerations should be made when you plan to build a custom tool from scratch. Alternatively, you can look into using a dedicated managed streaming solution like Amazon IVS, which is available around the globe over a separate managed network of infrastructure that is optimized for live video. AWS Elemental with the MediaLive service is also a good option.
Steps involved in streaming app development
Step 1: Find your niche
With multiple live video streaming platforms available on the market across various industries, the competition is fierce. As an owner, you cannot create a new live streaming app based on assumptions. Study your market segment and review what the competitors have to offer. Interview a potential user base to find out what are some of the specific issues that they face. This will help you establish how your application will address them.
Step 2: Pick a monetization strategy
The best plan(s) will take user needs into account. The three most popular monetization models include:
- Paid app, in which users simply pay to download the app.
- Subscriptions, in which users pay a monthly fee to use the video streaming service,
- Selling advertising space, where the app is free but comes with adverts, which may be detrimental to user experience
Many apps offer more than just one monetization model, so you don’t have to decide on just one. If you need more inspiration and possible pricing strategies, take a look at an article where we discuss SaaS pricing models that might as well be applied to live streaming apps, as well as this article about building an app like Twitch.
Step 3: Pick a suitable team
You can, of course, assemble your team in house. You’d have to hire backend and frontend developers, business analysts, UX experts and graphic designers. Alternatively, you can outsource your video streaming app development to an external company like ours – with the relevant know-how.
Video streaming app development isn’t complicated, but does require specific knowledge and experience. This is about choosing a partner who has extensive experience in 3rd party solutions that you plan on utilizing in your project. If you want to host your live video streaming app on AWS, go with an experienced partner.
Once you choose the right partner, they will be able to help you with the following points.
Step 4: Pick the right tech stack
In addition to the programming languages, video streaming app development will require components like:
- media processing platform (AWS Elemental Media Convert)
- Server / compute layer: Amazon EC2, Amazon EKS / AWS Lambda
- Storage (Amazon S3)
- streaming protocols (RTMP, M2TS, Apple HTTP Live Streaming, WebRTC, RTP/RTSP)
- database providers (Amazon RDS, Amazon DynamoDB)
- push notifications
- messaging queues (Amazon SQS)
- Managed live streaming: Amazon IVS, AWS Elemental MediaLive, DaCast, Wowza)
- Managed chat for streaming: Amazon IVS
These technologies must be selected and also optimized for good performance in case of low internet speed or limited online access.
Step 5: Understand legal requirements
Depending on where your application will be available, you will have to remain in compliance with various legal regulations. As users register on your platform and you store their personal data, compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR or CCPA is required.
Step 6: Work on the UX/UI
The live streaming app design will be just as important as the relevant tech stack and compliance with legal regulations. In this highly competitive segment, an impeccable UX/UI design may make your app stand out from the crowd. Live streaming apps must be easy to use to allow users to focus on consuming the content rather than figuring out how the app works.
Step 7: Think about features that will add a competitive edge
Regardless of the type of the live streaming app you decide to build, you have to think about ways your tool will stand out from the competition. Today’s users prefer applications that give them concrete personalization options, such as curated content, meaningful recommendations and updates about new videos that a user might find interesting.
How much does streaming app development cost?
The cost of developing a video streaming app is substantial: a working prototype would cost around $50,000-75,000, while a full-fledged platform may cost $250,000- $500,000. This cost includes software development for web, desktop and mobile apps. A lot of work goes into optimizing streams and building a scalable architecture. DevOps services will also be required to optimize use of storage and retrieval services. The final price will also be affected by the cost of the streaming engine integration.
If you’d like to receive a detailed estimate and know what services you will require, take a look at our App Development Cost calculator which will give you an idea how much an MVP of your live streaming app will cost.
Streaming app development with RST
Streaming platform development isn’t complicated, but certainly requires technical knowledge that comes with experience and familiarity with the live streaming market. We supported numerous clients in building and releasing custom video streaming apps and we’re fully prepared to help you with your next project. We’re an AWS Certified Partner so we’re equipped to implement various AWS solutions to speed up the development process. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will take it from there.