History of IBM Watson Media

History of IBM Watson Media

In late 2015 and early 2016 respectively, IBM made key acquisitions in the video space. This saw the 100+ year old company acquire both Clearleap and Ustream. The entities were joined to form IBM Cloud Video. This also gave birth to IBM Watson Media, which was founded around creating an ecosystem of video solutions leveraging IBM Watson. As those solutions matured, and were integrated into the end-to-end streaming solutions, the IBM Cloud Video name was dissolved and the entire unit moved to be part IBM Watson Media.

Now IBM Watson Media has a rich history, a combination of activities done both after and before the acquisitions that led to its creation. This article documents this, noting past major events, awards and other occurrences in IBM Watson Media’s past.


Ustream was founded in 2006, the older of the acquisitions that formed IBM Watson Media. The service, SAAS (Software as a Service) based, enabled users to quickly sign up for an account and begin live streaming to viewers. The technology emphasized ease of use in its approach, a strategy that became a mainstay of the service.


As the reputation of these services grew, so did accolades. CNET’s Webware “Top 100” services of Web 2.0 was one of the first to recognize the live streaming service, winning the award in June of 2007 from a voting contest that saw 489,467 votes cast. That same month the service also won the “Viewer’s Choice” Award in the Internet TV category at the Under The Radar Conference in Palo Alto, CA. This was followed up by winning “Best of Show” at the Under The Radar Entertainment and Media Conference 2007. In August of that year, PC Magazine honored the service as an “Editor’s Choice”, noting the service “makes it so easy to broadcast live video, it’s only a matter of time before everyone’s doing it.”

In 2008, the service became a finalist for the SXSW Web Awards in the TV/Film category. It was also honored, for a second time, as part of CNET’s Webware “Top 100” services of Web 2.0 in April 2008. AlwaysOn honored the service too as a OnHollywood 100 company, with their editorial staff selecting it as “Best Up & Coming Company” and among the “Top 100 Private Companies”. PC Magazine also noted the service with their “Editor’s Choice” honor.

In 2009, the Shiba Inu Live Puppy cam, which was broadcast over the service, won the People’s Voice Award in the Viral category for the 13th Annual Webby Awards, with 500,000 votes cast. The service also won in CNET’s 2009 Webware “Top 100” award in the Photo and Video category, marking the third year it has won with nearly 630,000 votes cast. Yet again, the service was also honored by OnHollywood 100 in the “Top Private Companies” category.

In 2010, Fast Company released its annual Most Innovative Companies list, honoring businesses that define innovation. The service which would eventually become IBM Video Streaming was recognized as number 8 on the list of the “Most Innovative Companies in the Web” category. For the first time, the service also won Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards, winning in the Live Streaming Platform category. Also that year, the service won for “Best Use of Mobile Video” in the 14th Annual Webby Awards.

In 2011, the service was honored in the Mobile Video Platform category by the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards. The company was also honored by Achievers, noting it as one of the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces. That year the service was also selected by the Guiness World Records for:

“The most content ingested by an online video service is an average of 70.49 hours per minute, achieved by Ustream, as verified on 29 June 2011.

This average figure is based on a total of 37.05 million hours of content ingested by Ustream in the 12 month period of June 2010 to May 2011. Peak content ingestion was in May 2011, with 3.721 million hours ingested, or 83.36 hours per minute. This is close to double that of YouTube, which announced on its 6th birthday in May 2011 that its users upload 48 hours of content onto the site per minute.”

In 2012, the feature “Ustream Broadcast for Friends” was selected as the Best Streaming Innovation by the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

For 2013, Inc. 500 announced its 2013 Inc. 5000 List of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies in America.” Ustream, which would become part of IBM Watson Media, ranked #343 overall. The service ranked #27 in “Top 100 Consumer Products & Services Companies”, #64 in “Top 100 California Companies” and, our personal favorite, #17 in the “San Francisco Metro Area.” In addition, the service was selected as the ultimate winner for the Live Video Platform by the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Just a few of the early awards won. From left to right: CNET’s Webware “Top 100” services of Web 2.0, AlwaysOn OnHollywood 100, Streaming Media Readers’ Choice Awards, Inc. 5000 List of Fasting Growing Private Companies in America

In 2014, the company was honored in the awwwards for its 2013 in review coverage, showcasing video metrics during the year. Forbes also honored the report in their “5 Brands That Nailed Their Annual Reports”, noting that “the award for Most Engaging Report goes to Ustream.” The service itself also won in the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards for Live Video Platform and Video Advertising Solution.

2013 Year in Review which won a sit of the day award, click to visit.

In 2015, Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards honored the service under three categories: Enterprise Video Platform, Live Video Platform and Video Advertising Solution.

The winning streak for the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards continued, as in 2016 it won its largest amount of accolades yet. This included wins in End-to-End Workflow Solution, Enterprise Video Platform, Live Streaming Platform and Media & Entertainment Video Platform.

2017 proved an equally great year award wise, as the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards honored the service for the following categories: End-to-End Workflow Solution, Live Streaming Platform, Media & Entertainment Video Platform, OTT Platform for MSO and MVPD and Small/Medium Business Video Platform.

In 2018, the service was honored at the Streaming Media’s Readers’ Choice Awards in another host of categories. This included: Closed Captioning Solution, End-to-End Workflow Solution, Enterprise Video Platform and Media & Entertainment Video Platform.

Large scale broadcasts

The legacy of IBM Watson Media has long stressed scalability as one of the cornerstones of the service. As noted in the white paper Live Video Delivery System Built for Scalability, this is achieved through a combination of multiple CDNs and the ability to seamlessly switch between these sources through software defined logic in the player.

This technology has been used to accommodate increasingly large broadcasts as time as gone on. In fact, the service has continually pushed the envelope to what is defined a large scale broadcast. Early on, these were sometimes humble milestones like the Shooters group in Olathe, Kansas who streamed a 10-ball ring game tournament in July 2007 and attracted nearly 20,000 people. As the service was used for high profile events, like the several from the United Nation such as the Millennium Campaign against global poverty and the 2007 Climate Summit to LinkedIn hosting live Q&A sessions, this number was quickly eclipsed. In particular, the election coverage that year continued to gain steam, with a broadcast from Mitt Romney called “Faith in America” in December of that year attracting 100,000’s of viewers. Not much later, an event with Barack Obama and Oprah at the University of South Carolina that same month attracted 77,000 viewers to the live stream and over 40,000 viewers on-demand.

Use of the service continued to grow, with red carpet coverage of The Bucket List premiere through Warner Bros. and Google Co-Founder and President Larry Page discussing Google’s strategy for expanding access to the Internet with the New America Foundation. With this growing use also came a new viewership record, as Steve Jobs’ keynote at the Apple WWDC (Apple Worldwide Developers Conference) was broadcast over the service in June of 2008. This stream attracted nearly 300,000 viewers total, with concurrent viewership reaching levels of around 60,000.

In September 2008, another record was broken for a multi-day event. That year, the service was selected as the official and exclusive live streaming provider of the Republican National Convention (RNC). During the four day event, from September 1st to the 4th, the total number of unique viewers (live and recorded highlights) was 7,016,000.  The convention attracted 1,593,000 unique live viewers and 5,423,000 unique recorded highlight views. In response, the RNC stated:

“Ustream gave the RNC the ability to communicate with the American public and our party members in an engaging way that has never been done before in previous elections. We were able to showcase the convention in the highest quality online and reach out to voters who couldn’t be live at the convention,” said 2008 Republican National Convention Spokesman Matt Burns. “We appreciate that Ustream brought mass exposure to our stream with distribution through Google News, large national blogs and news sites around the Web.”

In October, after a San Fransisco couple setup a live Shiba Inu puppy cam, the stream went viral. While it didn’t break a record, the 4 million audience it attracted in five weeks got national news coverage on CNN, the Today Show and NBC, with news anchor and managing editor Brian Williams citing it had “taken the web by storm.” Thanks to that coverage, the audience grew to 10 million by December. By June 2009, that number had grown to 18 million.

The next milestone came in January of 2009, when the Inauguration of Barack Obama occurred. During this day, the service powered more than 3.8 million streams, with 400,000 concurrent viewers watching Inauguration events at any given moment during the speech and swearing in.

In July 2009, Michael Jackson’s memorial service saw massive viewership over the service, with nearly 4.6 million total streams and 1.6 million total unique viewers tuning in, including the breaking news feed from CBSNews.com that was broadcast over the service. Engagement was also high, with more than 12,000 messages sent per minute in the chat modules.

Working with partner MySpace, a record was set as in November 2009 with more than two million unique viewers on a single stream as fans tuned into the exclusive red carpet broadcast for the movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon. That month, a different kind of record was set when musical artist Shakira debuted the music video “Give it Up to Me”, featuring Lil Wayne, off her album She Wolf. In that instance, nearly 95,000 unique viewers tuned into a stream which only lasted 10 minutes.

In May 2011, a live stream of the Decorah Eagles exploded, attracting over 70 million viewers in just 29 days and eclipsed over 100 million viewers total by the end of the summer.

In 2012, the Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on October 3rd in Denver, Colorado attracted 3.5 million viewers. Of similar scale, although from a single broadcast, the NASA Mars Curiosity rover landing attracted an audience of 3.2 million viewers. One of the biggest viwership stories, though, was former vice president Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Project”. In the words of the Climate Reality Website: “The goal of 24 Hours of Reality is to focus the world’s attention on the full scope and scale of the climate crisis, once and for all dispelling doubt and putting the issue front and center in public consciousness.” While being broadcast over the service for the 24 hour period, it attracted a huge 16.8 million viewers.

In 2013, the multi-day Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival saw huge viewership. Running for three days in June, over 11 million fans tuned in and watched for an average of 35 minutes. Although the audience was predominantly US based, which accounted for 82%, viewership was global and watched across a variety of different devices. One of the biggest tests of the service also took place that year. As documented in articles like this one from Engadget, Sony selected the service to host their Playstation 4 announcement. Viewership turned out to be massive for this event, attracting 8 million viewers during the live broadcast of the 125 minute conference. Concurrent viewership was also huge, with 1 million concurrent viewers during the peak in the broadcast. What’s more, average viewing time for the event was around one full hour.

In 2014, the Climate Reality Project returned with a new broadcast called “24 Reasons for Hope.” This one once again attracted huge viewership, with 16 millions views from 8 million unique viewers.

For total metrics, in 2011 the service surpassed over 2 billion viewers in a single year, with an average of 49 million hours of content viewed each month. By 2013, over 2 billion viewer hours were consumed over the combined service since it started and over 2.1 petabytes of video content was being stored as well.

Putting two billion in perspective

Elections and politics

With Ustream launching in 2007 and the looming United States elections in 2008, the technology became adopted as part of changing tactics. Presidential candidate Chris Dodd was the first to use the service, hosting a live event from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on May 18th, 2007. He again used the service later that month and also in June, making a direct address to a live audience both times. Presidential candidate John Edwards followed suit, doing a live stream of his own over the service in late June.

The two candidates made a habit of reaching their base using the service, with both Dodd and Edwards addressing them after the Democratic debate on CNN in July of 2007, reaching thousands of viewers for their live stream addresses. That same month, Ustream provided the live streaming for the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, Illinois. This featured, then, presidential candidates such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark and more.

The next month, candidates on the other end of the political spectrum started to pick up on the service, with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee broadcasting an address given to a large audience in Orlando, Florida at the IAMAW Staff Conference. Meanwhile, Edwards continued to push how the technology was used, broadcasting out a New Hampshire house party where he accepted the Carpenter’s Union endorsement. In October, Obama jumped on the service as well outside of the convention setting, doing an address to his base on the video streaming service that was embedded on his website. He used the service again in November for a discussion on US Foreign Policy. As time went on, more candidates embraced the service, with presidential candidate Mitt Romney using it in late November of 2007 after a televised debate on CNN and again in December to a then record crowd on the service. Obama also continued to embrace the service, streaming a rally with himself and Oprah at the University of South Carolina. Presidential hopeful John McCain also used the service for the first time in December, utilizing it for engaging sessions with private house parties.

As the new year started, candidates increased their adoption of the service. Mike Huckabee, teaming up with actor Chuck Norris, spoke directly to viewers on one occasion and then hosted a virtual BBQ over the service on another. John McCain and Mitt Romney also used the service that month, for a combination of caucus speeches and direct addresses to voters. Shortly after, Obama streamed out Senator Ted Kennedy endorsing his candidacy and would use the service an additional two times that month, live streaming a rally in Denver, featuring Caroline Kennedy, before video-conferencing a talk with a Baptist organization.

Moving from individual politicians to parties, the Republican Party tapped Ustream as the official live streaming solution for the 2008 GOP National Convention. In a statement, Republican Convention President and CEO Maria Cino noted that: “Partnering with Ustream.TV sends a clear message that the Republican Party wants the Internet generation and all people – from Party loyalists to casual observers – to be part of the 2008 Republican National Convention, anyone with computer and Internet access will be guaranteed a front-row seat to history through www.GOPConvention2008.com.”.

Live streams from the 2008 election cycle. Left to right: “Fiestas for [John] McCain”, Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America”, Obama rally with Oprah Winfrey, Ted Kennedy endorses Barack Obama

The service was also used when Obama later clinched the Democratic nomination, with this moment broadcasted out for viewers. Obama continued his use of the service throughout the election process, such as one done on July 3rd 2008 named “The Call to Service”. As August rolled around, the streaming solution was also used for the Democratic National Convention, through The Big Tent In Denver project, and was the official live streaming provider of the Republican National Convention from Minneapolis in September. Leading up to the 2008 election, Obama and McCain continued to stream in October, doing three and six live stream respectively. On election day, each candidate did multiple broadcasts, while ABC News live streamed election coverage using what would eventually become IBM Video Streaming. When election day was over, more than a million people watched live streaming coverage from the service, ranging from small election parties to professional broadcasts.

Barack Obama Channel Page for 2008
Barack Obama Channel Page for 2008

After the Barack Obama inauguration streams that happened in January, the service continued to be used as a way to get the message out. This included a live address from President Barack Obama in February through Air America. Partnering with CBS, Obama’s State of the Union in 2010 was also broadcasted using the service. As time went on, later election coverage shifted from the politicians to more traditional news sources, with PBS for example doing coverage of the 2010 elections using the service while CBS continued to broadcast State of the Union addresses and other venues, like the GOP Candidates Debate in 2012.

While much of the use for politics of the service originated in the US, parties on a global scale did also use the service. For example, the Irish National Labour Party streamed their 62nd National Delegate Conference live in mid November of 2007. London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick also live streamed an address to voters in April of 2008.

Fundraisers and other events

In its past, the precursors to IBM Watson Media were also heavily involved in fundraising as well. One of the earliest was an event called From the Frontlines that was done in in partnership with Hotair.com and Moveamericaforward.org. Conducted in June of 2008, it was able to raise over $1 million during a live 8 hour stream-a-thon, which supported efforts around care packages to troops.

The service was also involved in a variety of noteworthy causes. Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Project” is one example, but there are many others. Some examples include the Budapest Water Summit attended by UN leaders and worldwide dignitaries. Yet another is the Concert For Valor – a free concert to honor veterans that was live streamed – which took place in 2014 and featured artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Metallica, Zack Brown Band and Rihanna.

A lot of citizen journalism also took place over the platform, with individuals sometimes placing themselves in harms way to spread the message over live video. Examples include documenting Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Ukraine protests in 2013, students occupying the Legislative Yuan in Taipei in 2014 and more. In the case of the protests in the Ukraine, a specific user, EuroMajdan, attracted large viewership, with more than 15 million viewers from a global audience.