“New digital technologies are best tested whilst taking a shit. It’s where most of my encounters with live streams happen. I would be mid-shit, strolling through my Facebook feed, when I stumble upon a live stream of Sky Sports’ pre-match banter. It feels like I’m watching the interns at Sky Sports at work. Someone is holding a camera for the first time and the interviewer asks the same question over and over. They are not taking this seriously. Yes, I’m on the toilet, but they should make an effort to create good entertainment. They’ve lost my attention.
“I wander over to the last page on my iPhone and find a folder with apps I hardly use; Ikea, Busaba, FlightRadar24 and, finally, Periscope. I bet it hasn’t been opened in a year. A map of England shows a bunch of streams. Their thumbnails remind me of Chatroulette - half naked men lying on their beds in dark rooms, looking into the camera. I find one where it looks less likely for me to encounter a dick. A man is explaining why the gun he’s holding is the best gun he’s ever owned. It's not an interesting story but the fact that he is in England and owns a gun is. But it’s still not enough keep me viewing the stream much longer.
“It seems like boredom is fuelling these live streams. Kids with nothing to do, trying to interact with the world. It’s not for me, at least not this kind of streaming.”
The advent of live streaming seems to have carved a whole new space for brands, broadcasters and advertisers to place their content – but, as Art Director at B-Reel London, Pieter Konickx’s experiences of live-streaming above allude to, what exactly is live streaming good for? Is it just the latest flavour of the month or does live content warrant a permanent place at the table? LBB’s Paul Monan finds out more…
The consumption of live content is shifting. The way in which audiences consume TV seems to have moved towards a model of convenience. Whether it’s binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix or catching up with Eastenders on iPlayer, we want our content on demand, as and when it suits our time-starved schedules.
There’s no longer the need to watch your favourite show live when you can download the latest episodes straight to your smartphone, ready for the morning commute. And anyway, live content is demanding of its consumer – you have to be in the right place at the right time if you want the full, intended effect (who’s even home in time to watch Eastenders these days!?).
Yet the relatively recent rise of apps, such as Periscope, and platforms, like Facebook Live, demonstrates that audiences have an insatiable appetite for a different type of live content. The global online music platform Boiler Room rakes in huge audiences (as many as 400,000 at a time) when broadcasting intimate DJ sets live, whilst Twitch, the world’s leading social video platform for gamers, is pulling in 100 million community members a month to watch more than 1.7 million broadcasters talk about video games. These numbers are, frankly, massive.
With live-streamed content reaching so many people, there’s an opportunity for brands and advertisers to utilise this emerging space and engage a large number of consumers across a number of platforms.
“Live streaming has been growing lightning fast and within the past year, just among the digital platform space, not including traditional broadcasters, the market has consolidated to two major platforms – Facebook and Twitter, soon to be joined by a third, from Google,” says Chien-Wen Tong, Head of Digital Strategy and MEC Wavemaker, MEC Global Solutions. “The size of their global audiences is in the billions, with direct access to the constantly evolving cast of celebrity content creators, and a full set of complementary advertising products.
“Having all of this means live streaming is going to be a major part of our future. These global platforms going live makes for an exciting proposition for consumers – being able to witness, participate and experience events across the world in real time really taps into the ‘fear of missing out’ in the biggest way. A few things that live streaming makes sense for include extensions of event brand sponsorships, getting behind the scenes and tapping into geographies and audiences brands haven’t explored yet,” explains Chien-Wen. “Brands should think about using live when authenticity and access are more important than perfection and high production value.”
For Jeroen Matser, Head of Strategy at B-Reel London, the rise of live-streamed content isn’t necessarily a recent phenomenon, more a natural progression in a world where anything over 24 hours old is deemed irrelevant. “In our experience live-streaming isn’t new,” he says. “It has actually been around for years, but the combination of camera-phone penetration and bandwidth increases has finally made live video streaming the next frontier for the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, and everyone else competing for audience and usages such as Snapchat and Twitter.”
As well as Facebook, Twitter and Google, live-streaming app Periscope is proving to be a popular platform for brands and advertisers too. “We’re big fans of Periscope,” says Darren Reynoldson, Creative at Kingsday, the creative agency behind this year’s live-streamed ‘Command Cupid
’ campaign that used the iOS and Android app to great effect. “However, from our experience Facebook Live is a more successful platform. Everyone’s already on Facebook, so the threshold to engage with your content is much lower. So the viewer numbers were much higher so it’s a much better ROI.”
All of these platforms are providing brands with the ability to engage with their consumers in a much more organic way. “The problem with a lot of traditional advertising is that, by its very nature, it’s considered by many to be quite contrived and fake,” believes Darren. “If done properly, live streaming can offer a more direct connection with an audience. If a stunt is streamed live there’s much less debate about if it’s for real or not. So it can really help with a brand’s credibility and immediacy.”
The sweet spot for branded live streaming is to provide audiences with content around experiences that are time sensitive and not available any other way, believes Sergio Lopez, Head of integrated Production Europe at Craft, who produced the award winning Survival Billboard campaign in collaboration with creative agency m:united/McCann London, for the launch of Xbox’s ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ game.
“It is key in live streaming that we think about what the audience wants and promote the event,” explains Sergio. “People are busy. They are only going to take the time to engage with a live stream if they are aware of where and when it is, and what they are going to take out of it. Early adopters will most likely be millennials but I don’t think it’s limited to that. If a brand had the exclusivity to stream the last concert the Rolling Stones will ever do I would be surprised if they didn’t break the Internet and have a much broader audience.”
It would seem that it’s the millenials who are the driving force behind this shift in live content consumption. “For these younger generations, the way they consume media and connect with friends is basically a constant dip into a whole range of live-streams from individuals and sometimes brands,” says Jeroen. “For this audience the concept of ‘live’ probably has a different meaning than what it meant to previous generations. Tuning into something that is happening ‘now’ is the default view on the world. It makes the concept of a ‘live’ video stream somewhat obsolete and archaic. Everything is live nowadays.”
Whilst live streaming is an ideal way for brands to showcase authentic content, it’s a space that looks to be ridden with possible potholes. Not only can there be complex legal, ethical and policy issues with live content, but with a distinct lack of censorship and editorial control compared to more traditional methods of advertising, there’s a danger that someone or something goes rogue.
“There always remains a risk of stumbling upon someone keen to show off their private parts in a live stream environment, but in general the usage guidelines and ability to report abuse help filter out the bulk of this material,” believes Jeroen. “What’s more interesting is that it creates situations that are entirely new - the sad example of a woman live-streaming her black boyfriend being killed by a cop on Facebook live being the most high profile one of recent weeks. Again, this in my view is just a natural progression of the notion of people now broadcasting everything they do.”
Having navigated the necessary legalities, the next challenge is getting the audience to tune in. The whole point of a live broadcast is that it is live and in real time – the audience must all be engaged at the same time for the full effect, otherwise they’re going to miss out. So how does a brand strategise for a live stream when there’s no way of knowing whether the audience will be tuning in?
“The live component should be part of the campaign, not the whole,” explains Sergio. “There should be all type of contextualised content that comes out of the live stream in order to reach the audience that didn’t tune in for a series of reasons, whether it’s because they couldn’t, they didn’t know about it, or they didn’t care at that point.”
“A solid strategy and adaptable approach will ensure that you can find an audience in the short term and build a loyal audience in the long term. Similar to best practice in other social media mediums, being engaging, maintaining a regular schedule, and unique perspective will help people keep the channel in mind,” adds Chien-Wen. “The major advantage platforms such as Facebook Live provide is the data around the audience you have. That is unlike any other traditional live broadcast, and for content creators and marketers of the future, the data is the soil from which a content creator can grow their audience and adapt their content to keep them engaged.”
With Periscope utilising the inbuilt – albeit high-quality – cameras on iPhones and Android devices, and with the ability to stream on Facebook Live via your phone too, live as a platform provides new creative and technical challenges for content creators who are having to approach production methods from a fresh perspective.
“I think it’s great. It provides more tools to express creativity and engage with audiences,” believes Sergio. “The creative challenge is to tell stories in a different way. I don’t think production methods need to be fully re-thought for live content, it is more a matter of identifying what is the right approach. As in non-live content, there is a place for live content with high production values and there is a place for very nimble events.”
In May, Kingsday embarked on an ambitious project with Nissan to celebrate the UEFA Champions League, creating a live 360 film
focusing on the real time experiences of the fans on the streets of Madrid. “The main challenge we came across is that just streaming from one camera really limits how something looks and it can make things a bit amateurish and boring – because we’ve all become so used to multi-camera live broadcasts on TV,” explains Darren. “So to compete you have to have multiple cameras. For the UCL Trophy Tour we had three cameras: two mounted in the car transporting the trophy and a camera on the back of a motorcycle following the car. It felt much more professional than a typical live stream, and because we had all three streams passing through our control room in Holland, we could cut between all the cameras to make it much more interesting to watch. Accordingly, the viewer dwell-times exceeded our – and our client’s – expectations. In the end we had over 740,000 people watching our Trophy Tour stream.”
The success of the UCL Trophy Tour stream demonstrates that live streaming is a platform that has genuine potential for brands and advertisers to engage effectively with consumers - but it still has a long way to go before it garners real traction. “Our industry as a whole is still evolving and struggling to move away from the traditional captive audience, one-way conversation, paid media model,” says Sergio. “Live streaming will not have a lot of traction until we provide content that people want to engage with live. I believe that all platforms have potential when used in the right way – augmented reality was very niche until Pokémon Go came along.”
For Darren, however, it wouldn’t be a surprise if in the future live streaming to social channels is as commonplace as live TV shows. “I see it as freeing up broadcasting in much the same way as Uber and Airbnb opened up their industries to the masses to participate – it’ll become so common that it’ll just become part of the new media landscape.”
And Darren may well be right. Theun de Bruijn, Technical Director at B-Reel London, has already replaced traditional TV consumption with the new wave of live stream channels. “On a personal note, I’m spending so much time on twitch.tv it’s gone a tad beyond an addictive tendency. Arriving home in the evening, in need of a little palette cleanser from a full day of activities, being able to tune into live broadcasting talent is a surprisingly effective way to get some mental distraction,” says Theun. “Live streaming has come in and replaced the typical ‘sit-down-on-the-couch, let’s-watch-some-telly’ behaviour for me. And considering the viewer numbers involved I’m not the only one.”
With Twitch being watched by millions of people a month, Theun is obviously not alone in his viewing habits. Live as a concept has already proved its potential. If brands and advertisers can curate the right content on the right platforms then they have the ability to unlock potentially huge audiences.