Reputation on the line for Reddit’s tardy live streaming tests

Antisocial network Reddit is embarking on its first live streaming endeavor, in doing so threatening the established streamers Twitch and YouTube as well as the mainstream social media platforms. Reddit is certainly late to the party with a broadcasting toolkit feature, yet its diverse undercurrent of content and active user growth trajectory put the company in a unique position.

Over five days of testing ending August 23, Reddit rolled out its Public Access Network (RPAN) software, allowing select users to live stream on r/pan – a dedicated subreddit (channel). Particular emphasis has been placed on making RPAN safe and secure – “be like the lambeosaurus – feed on pine needles and have a good time” reads one of the RPAN rules.

Some users aren’t all that impressed though. RPAN is available on iOS and Android to “eligible redditors” on a first-come, first-served basis with limited broadcast slots available. So, a self-proclaimed public access network that isn’t actually all that public. Alas, Reddit will gladly take on this initial trickle of scrutiny for the five-day live streaming prototype, as stress testing its servers is absolutely necessary to avoid widescale crashes before (presumably) implementing the feature permanently.

On the positive side, early comments have praised the broadcast feature’s ease of use, allowing users to simply flick through streams – catching tidbits of various hobbies, skills or informative broadcasts.

This is all good and well but what of Reddit’s technology clout? Companies with access to far greater finances and infrastructure than Reddit regularly fail to deliver the level of QoE demanded today with increasingly high stakes. Well, they don’t make internet firms much bigger than China’s Tencent, which pumped $300 million into Reddit earlier this year in a highly contentious move among loyal Reddit users due to China’s censorship practices. A number of additional investors were involved in the round, including rapper Snoop Dogg, along with VC firms Sequoia, Fidelity and Quiet Capital.

Reddit’s own figures show 330 million average monthly active users and clocking in an average of 21 billion screen views on a monthly basis, across 130,000 active communities. The company is private but had an estimated market value of $1.8 billion in 2017 upon its last funding round of $200 million. Average amount of video viewing on Reddit amounted to 5 million minutes a day, according to 2018 figures from business statistics site DMR, with around 1 billion native views on the platform every month.

Forecasts are also lucrative, with Reddit projected to double its advertising revenues by 2021 to reach $261.7 million, according to a recent report from eMarketer. “The company has retooled its ad offerings over the past year, which included the launch of new ad formats like autoplay in-stream video, cost-per-click, app install and ‘Top Post Takeover,’ which allows brands to have their ads appear on the site’s front page,” said eMarketer forecasting director Monica Peart.

While the mechanisms powering Reddit’s live streaming are under wraps during the test stage, the company has blogged proudly about its machine learning developments. A post from July this year, published by Reddit’s Senior Director of Engineering Snehal Kundalkar, outlined recent tests whereby 2,708 chat messages were extracted from 13 subreddit communities. After determining that the optimum number of topics for the experiment was 9, two models were used for comparison analysis, called Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), a probabilistic approach for automatically drawing two distributions, and Non-negative Matrix Factorization (NMF), which factors the large document-word matrix into a product of two smaller matrices.

Results showed that LDA was a more promising model than NFL, with the former distributing messages across all 9 topics, while NMF categorized more than half of the messages into one specific topic.


“This is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it reduces the time required for manual review of the data. It also identifies areas proactively that are more likely to require human review, so certain reports can be prioritized for more urgent review. In the same vein, spam can be proactively detected and removed before it degrades the user’s experience. And more broadly, it opens the door to learn more about communities norms and trends that could inform product and feature developments,” concludes Kundalkar.


So, just when Twitch experienced arguably its most significant setback recently after its top streamer Ninja was poached by Microsoft, the Amazon-owned company now potentially has another competitor coming after its lunch. The live streaming dominance of Twitch is under threat – but at least the company can rest assured that it has the full support of the world’s largest cloud computing company, while Reddit’s live streaming scalability remains questionable.