How to build a live streaming application that will not cost a fortune?

Tips on creating an affordable live streaming app with high-quality video. It covers topics like selecting the right streaming technology, choosing a cloud provider, optimizing video encoding settings, and reducing bandwidth costs.

Vojta Šimko

Vojta Šimko

Product Manager

16 Feb 2023
10 min read

A brief look into the history and what have we learned by developing a live-streaming app?

A brief look into the history and what have we learned by developing a live-streaming app? Throughout the years, web applications eased complicated processes or enabled entirely new things to do in an online world. The demand for live streaming apps increased significantly, making it a potentially lucrative area to explore for those looking to develop live streaming app.

With technology getting better, applications started to be more interactive and media-focused. We went through multiple eras, adapting to the demands of each specific era. We had an era of multimedia with a focus on video content and VOD, and now we're seeing the fruits of it in short-video platforms like TikTok or Instagram Reels.

In recent years (read “in post-pandemic years”) we’ve started to see a growth in live-streaming and video-conferencing applications. People realized that there are tasks which can be done purely online without physical presence. Due to COVID-19 and lockdowns more and more people became interested in learning how to build live video streaming web applications.

As it goes the first to hit the market or adapt to the situation won. If you haven’t been living under a rock you know about the rise of Zoom, Whereby (Appear.in at that time) and similar. When lockdowns hit these video-conferencing apps came in handy for most of the people working from home and the necessity of live streaming app development became more obvious, even more for some companies it was a survival question, more and more entrepreneurs and developers were looking for guidance on how to create a streaming app.

Live streaming boom however didn’t have an impact on the working sector only. People wanted to be entertained, to exercise, listen to live music and much more. This need has driven a surge of live-streaming features in existing apps or entirely new apps with live-streaming at their core. It’s safe to assume the giant leap forward we’ve witnessed over the past few years in an online world is not over yet. There’ll be more applications using live streaming to do everyday jobs.

The global pandemic and related lockdowns have led to a growing interest among individuals and businesses alike in exploring how to build a live streaming app, as a means of providing virtual alternatives to traditional in-person events and services.

Technology has been here for a while… but how to build a live video streaming web application on the web was still a question.

You might be wondering what crazy things had to be invented during the pandemic to bring users that many new live-streaming features and apps. Boldly said - none (just a little bit before). Rather, the existing technologies and tools for video streaming app development were leveraged and perfected to meet the growing demand for live streaming services.

Technology for video conferencing (or video telephony) has been here for a long time. Almost everybody born before milenia can remember Skype video calls in the late-2000s.

When it comes to web technology everything relied on Adobe Flash until a spark came in the form of the introduction of WebRTC concept in 2011. However it was still a concept and it wasn’t until around 2018 before WebRTC saw its boom. Mainly because all major browsers implemented WebRTC in that period and it was ready for wide public use. That actually unleashed the opportunities for those who wanted to build live streaming app.

Server-side solution to solve WebRTC limitations when you are making a live-streaming app

With the introduction of server-side to WebRTC communication we’re no longer talking about peer-to-peer connection between two users - the server acts as a middleman orchestrating all the connections and optionally adding even more features.

Main relief is that participants don’t have to publish their media to each peer individually but rather only only once and the server will distribute it to the peers. This aids a lot with the CPU power and network bandwidth demand.

Optionally live-streaming server can have additional features and do optimizations such as:

  • Dynamic broadcasting - server instructs participants to stop streaming their video if nobody is viewing it saving a lot of bandwidth on publisher as well as receiver side.
  • Simultaneous broadcasting - participant streams multiple video resolutions at the same time, usually ranging from low to high and server picks the most-fit one for each other participant. Similarly to dynamic broadcasting - if nobody is consuming e.g. medium and high resolution participant streams only low resolution.
  • Individual and composed recording - server records individual or all participants to separate video files or to a single file with composed layout which can be similar to your application UI.

As it goes there are many products and services to cover a specific task and live-streaming is no exception. Some of the solutions are self-hosted, meaning you have to deploy them to your own servers or in a cloud (AWS, Google Cloud) and other solutions are hosted by the provider (SaaS). Now you start slightly understand why it’s an exciting challenge if you are interested in how to create a streaming app.

If you’re interested in comparison of live-streaming solutions, definitely checkout our other article where we compare most used ones.

What costs are involved when building and running a live-streaming application? Tips for Managing Expenses When Learning How to Create a Streaming App

As mentioned above live streaming solutions can be categorized by where they’re hosted - self-hosted and SaaS (Software as a service). Giving definitive answers on which solution will cost you more is not possible as it mostly depends on usage and type of streamed media. However, let's take a look at what you should consider.

Self-hosted

As the name suggests you’re hosting the streaming solution on your own servers. Be it a physical or virtual server you’ll always pay for data traffic coming in or out of the server and uptime of the server (tenancy in data center or provision of virtual server). Moreover, the creator of the solution takes some fee for running their product on your server. The problem here is that the fee is usually calculated by time the server instance is running and in the worst case by time and number of CPU cores. Therefore, the general rule here is that a self-hosted solution will pay off when your application is highly used with streams occurring 24h a day leveraging the server uptime.

Tips for saving some money on live streaming app development

Based on our experience with building live-streaming applications we’ve put together a few tips on how to save some bucks. Some of them are obvious while others we’ve learned the hard way. You may find it helpful before you start to google how to make a streaming app.

Try before you fly

It's good practice to do a few testing sessions in your application to monitor what’s happening on the server and how much data is transferred during that session. You won’t be surprised after a couple of sessions that the costs for data transfer or usage grew rapidly.

Optimize UI of the application

Whether you or your live streaming app development company is using a self-hosted or SaaS solution, lowering the amount of transferred data is always a good consideration. Best way to achieve that is to show as few video streams as possible and group the remaining under some “..and X others” element. It’s also a big plus when your chosen streaming solution has features to support lower data transfer such as dynamic broadcasting or simulcasting.

Start building the app on free tier

A lot of money can be saved during live video streaming app developmentdevelopment by starting off on a free tier if your chosen live-streaming server or service provides it. SaaS solutions are even better in this manner because you don’t have to pay for server uptime (If you’re considering AWS EC2 instances on Free tier they might not be suitable for streaming server sadly)

Always cleanup after yourself

During development of live streaming software or even in production you should always think about destroying resources when you’re done with streaming. Depending on the streaming solution it might be necessary to create some resources related to the streaming server itself (e.g. initiate a new server instance or create a “session” on the server). This can bring unpleasant costs when not destroyed when you’re done. It's good practice to do research and maybe draw a couple of diagrams before deep-diving into developing a live streaming video streaming app and implementing complex infrastructures.

Configure auto-scaling with caution (self-hosted only)

Autoscaling configurations are always about a balance. Being too precautious you’ll end up with a lot of instances running for nothing on the other hand your streaming server might not be available for a moment. It’s also important to choose proper metrics based on which you’ll start and destroy live-streaming server instances.

SaaS

With SaaS you’re just a user of someone’s service and you don’t care about servers, where they’re located and their maintenance. You also pay for it either solely by usage or constant (monthly) fee plus the usage. How much and what is the usage depends on the business model of the solution provider. In most cases usage is metered in the amount of data transferred, minutes connected or other metrics. However there are also downsides to SaaS. Since you’re not the only one using the service there might be strict rules on what and how much you can use. Some services might restrict you to only one video+audio track per participant others might restrict the total number of concurrent participants.

This list would surely go on with many points but they would be tied to specific use cases or won’t be as effective as the others, depending on how your live streaming app development company is going to solve tasks.

To sum up… when you start to develop a video streaming app and find yourself choosing between self-hosted and SaaS options for a video streaming app, it's important to consider factors such as server costs and usage restrictions, as well as the potential for cost savings with high usage in a self-hosted solution down the road. Or trust and delegate this choice to your vendor of video streaming app development services.

Conclusion

So… how to effectively build a live streaming app that won’t cost a fortune? It all starts with choosing the right streaming solution that fits your technology needs as well as budget. Going with the high priced ones is not always a guarantee of good product and support and going with cheap ones can cause blockers down the road. For more information definitely checkout our comparison of streaming technologies in a dedicated article.

Then with the right solution chosen you should stick with the best practices described above. Highest costs occur when the application consumes bandwidth or server capacity recklessly without thinking about any optimization. Keep an eye on costs also during application development. It can reveal approximate costs per-user/per-meeting when it’ll be in production as well as specific points where the application should be optimized.

So… how to effectively build a live streaming app that won’t cost a fortune? It all starts with choosing the right streaming solution that fits your technology needs as well as budget. Going with the high priced ones is not always a guarantee of good product and support and going with cheap ones can cause blockers down the road. For more information definitely checkout our comparison of streaming technologies in a dedicated article.