After a year of ascendency, it’s clear that live-streaming is here to stay. If 2015 was characterised by whispers of impending disruption brought about by the likes of Twitter’s acquisition of livestreaming platform Periscope for a reported $86m (then still in Beta mode, no less), 2016 was the year that it really established itself as a part of the social media furniture. As with all new technologies, however, the industry is still very much going through a period of trial-and-error, as media owners and brands seek to add livestreaming to their arsenals for the first time. To help us take stock of where we are and what we’ve learned about live-streaming so far, our friends at We Are Social hosted Live Streaming 101, featuring an eclectic mix of speakers from BuzzFeed, Twitter and First Direct. Here are the key things that we took away from the morning.
1) 2016 was a watershed year for live video
Live streaming made its mark on the year almost straight away, when half a million people tuned in to a live feed of, erm, a puddle. #DrummondPuddleWatch fleetingly captivated the nation as a live video of people trying to traverse a puddle in Newcastle became one of the most bizarrely addictive memes of the social media era. Then, in May, ‘Chewbacca Mom’ became an instant celebrity as she livestreamed a video of herself trying on a mask that she’d just treated herself to. Her hysterical laughter proved infectious as the video racked up 160m Facebook views. Livestreaming also cemented its role as a journalistic tool, particularly within the context of breaking news, as livestreams reached huge audiences in the wake of events such as the Brussels bombings and Orlando massacre, as well as in studio settings during the EU referendum and US election. In the words of Andy Dangerfield, social media editor UK at BuzzFeed, ‘For years people have been asking whether social media will change the face of journalism. 2016 was the year that happened’.
2) Live video is where Twitter sees its future
Also speaking at the event was Helen Lawrence, head of creative agency development at Twitter, who laid the platform’s cards firmly on the table when stressing that the future of Twitter lies in live TV. Since acquiring Periscope in 2015, Twitter went on to secure the global streaming rights to ten NFL American Football matches for the 2016 season, and Lawrence spoke to us about the latest developments at the company. In October, Twitter launched Periscope Producer, which enables more sophisticated broadcasting of live video, offering dual screen broadcasts as well as various new features such as custom graphics and overlays. Twitter also seeks to take control of the live-streaming space by investing in politics and sports streams. Accepting that people generally gravitate toward the largest screen in the room for most of their TV/video consumption, Twitter has made Periscope compatible with the likes of Apple TV, Playstation 4 and Xbox. Twitter is the perfect platform for live streaming, argues Lawrence, as our favourite shows are enhanced by the Twitter conversations around them.
3) We now know what makes a great live video…
According to Dangerfield, a successful live video needs to be simple, engaging and original, while a dash of absurdity and a sense of jeopardy are the secret ingredients of a video with real viral potential. To illustrate his point, Dangerfield looked to one of Buzzfeed’s most successful livestreams to date, of an attempt to explode a watermelon by wrapping it in elastic bands. The idea is clearly absurd, and as the number of elastic bands mounted, the sense of jeopardy was palpable. The video hit 10m views.
All speakers at the event were in agreement that engagement with your audience is fundamental to a successful live stream. The ability to let the audience impact the narrative is one of the biggest differentiators from other forms of video, and it needs to be taken advantage of. Rebecca Dye of First Direct offered a case study of a livestreamed competition they ran, where a machine-operated claw controlled by user comments allowed the audience to win prizes by choosing which numbered ball the claw would grab.
Dye also used lessons learned from First Direct’s first foray into livestreaming to provide tips for others. Ultimately the competition had a reach of 2.9m on social media, but that level of engagement took time to develop. It’s therefore important to consider the length of the stream and ways to make it engaging over a prolonged period. Other issues they experienced were technical (the claw broke) highlighting the importance of having a contingency plan in place, and the time of day, as they received several complaints from people who missed the competition because it took place during working hours.
4) …And what makes a bad one
Being responsive to your audience is key. As Helen Lawrence put it, ‘If you’re not reacting to your audience, there’s no point being live’. Despite the earlier point about making sure livestreams are long enough to build engagement, Dangerfield pointed out that a lot of livestreams have been guilty of being too long and losing the audience’s interest. As a result, it’s crucial that a plan is in place to make sure livestreams keep viewers’ attention. A lot of livestreams are recorded on mobile and are often lower quality and more susceptible to technical malfunctions than normal video. In the case of the latter, Dye advised to ‘style it out’ whenever something goes wrong. In the case of the First Direct competition, the team used humour to turn the situation around by successfully getting the audience to use the #PrayforClaw hashtag and transforming the hitch into an engaging element of the stream.
5) There’s much more to come
Twitter’s intentions are clear, and the next phase of livestreaming’s impending domination of broadcasting and social media were also touched upon. In addition to drones, GoPros and other devices making livestreams more original, creative and engaging, there are a number of new platforms picking up momentum which are set to place live video even more firmly in the mainstream. Younow, a livestreaming hub that effectively operates as the YouTube of live video, is gaining traction. Alively is hoping to make livestreaming the norm for contacting friends, allowing users to send livestreams privately to groups of friends while their comments and reactions appear on screen. And perhaps most exciting is Hype, created by the makers of Vine, which hopes to bring about the next phase of livestreaming; using Hype, broadcasters can layer live video with photos, GIFs, other videos, music, and pull their favourite user comments into the video itself. All of which adds to a sense that livestreaming is here to stay and may soon play a much greater role in the way we consume media.